Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 77

There are at least four obvious flaws with President Vladimir Voronin’s circular argument regarding Russian troops in Moldova. First, the Transdniester forces–with which Moscow scares Chisinau–are Moscow’s own creation, armed and staffed by the Russian Federation’s military. And Moscow insists that Transdniester’s forces be authorized as part of a Russian-brokered settlement of the conflict. Second, Russia officially maintains that it cannot remove the arsenals because Transdniester’s leadership does not permit the removal. That, however, is a recipe for keeping the troops in place indefinitely to “guard” the immense stockpiles, the withdrawal or scrapping of which could take as many years as Moscow and Tiraspol–jointly or separately–decide. Third, Moscow clearly plays on the fear it instilled into Chisinau when Russia’s 14th Army, “yielding to the people of Transdniester,” opened the gates to the arsenals in Tiraspol. That carefully choreographed spectacle could any time be reenacted if only for a fraction of the military stockpiles. Meanwhile, Moscow and Tiraspol reject any international inspection or evaluation of those stockpiles. And, fourth, while ignoring Moldova’s sovereignty in Transdniester in every possible way, the Kremlin turns to Moldova’s legal government for one thing only: the stamp of approval on Russia’s military presence there. In sum, those are blackmail tactics which aim to keep the Russian forces in place indefinitely. The OSCE sees through the bluff, but has yet to call it.

Voronin also called for the removal of Russian “peacekeeping” units from the separation zone, specifically from the bridgeheads on the two banks of the Dniester. He described those units as unnecessary since the risk of renewed hostilities has disappeared. Those Russian units amount to two battalions which rotate for “peacekeeping” duty. The 2,500-strong Russian troop contingent as such does not have any “peacekeeping” or other legal cover. Russia would like the OSCE to bestow a legal cover on that contingent troops as “guarantors” of the eventual settlement, of which Moscow wants to be the main broker and ultimate arbiter. It can only succeed if the OSCE goes along with that basic concept.

Putin’s and Primakov’s discussions with Voronin did not cover the troop withdrawal issue at all, and covered only briefly and in general terms the issue of Transdniester’s political status. It is a measure of the new Moldovan leadership’s naivete that Voronin abjured the “internationalization” of negotiations on the Transdniester problem. He insisted before and during his Moscow visit that “everything can be settled locally.” In their public remarks during the visit, Russia’s leaders and Voronin practically ignored the OSCE’s–not to mention Ukraine’s–official roles as mediators.

Yet at the same time Voronin declared that he places high hopes on Yevgeny Primakov’s mediation. Primakov is Putin’s appointee as chairman of Russia’s state commission on Transdniester settlement, and flew on April 18 to Moldova for detailed discussions on the Transdniester status issue in Chisinau and Tiraspol. At the moment, the Kremlin senses a good opportunity for a quick settlement with a new and cooperative communist regime in Chisinau.