Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 225

With the ink barely dry on the documents of the Istanbul summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the breakaway regions of Transdniester, Abkhazia and Karabakh seem confident enough to act defiantly. The leaders in Tiraspol, Sukhumi and Stepanakert have announced that they are not bound by the summit’s relevant decisions and that they will continue to seek recognition of their secession from Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, respectively. Those secessions enable Russia and its allies to maintain forward-based military forces, outflanking Moldova and Ukraine from Transdniester, Georgia from Abkhazia and Azerbaijan from Karabakh.

The breakaway leaderships appear to count on three factors. First, undiminished Russian political and military support, which made the three secessions possible in the first place, and which an increasingly nationalist Russia does not seem about to withhold from these clients. Second, continued OSCE impotence, which the breakaway regions have over the years learned to exploit. And, third, the expectation that the West will not press Russia and its clients to comply with the Istanbul decisions during Russia’s parliamentary and presidential elections. In these circumstances, the OSCE faces one of the most serious tests of its credibility. In the final analysis, the Western powers are being tested, because it was not the OSCE as a multilateral organization but the Western powers which moved the Istanbul summit decisions concerning Moldova/Transdniester and Georgia/Abkhazia; and the United States who had, before the summit, energized the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations over Karabakh (see the Monitor, November 19, 22, 24; and the Fortnight in Review, December 3).

Transdniester poses the most immediate challenge. The OSCE summit required Russia to remove its military arsenals from Moldova by 2001 and to withdraw the troops to Russia by 2002. On December 1, 1999, however, Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov “forbade” the Russian troops from complying and publicized the “decision” in a manner designed to suggest that he was disobeying Moscow.

In his messages addressed to the Russian troop commander, Lieutenant-General Valery Yevnevich, and to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the Transdniester leader called for bilateral negotiations between Russia and Transdniester regarding the future of the Russian arsenals and troops. Smirnov–who is a citizen of Russia, as are most of Transdniester’s leaders–“warned” that Transdniester would “resolutely halt any unauthorized steps” by the Russian military to scrap untransportable ammunition and combat hardware or to remove the arsenals to Russia. Smirnov insisted, first, that the OSCE summit decisions had contravened earlier documents signed by Russian and Transdniester leaders concerning the status of the Russian military property in that territory. Second, he complained that the Istanbul decisions were decoupling the issue of the troop withdrawal from the final decision on Transdniester’s political status–which Tiraspol interprets as recognition of its secession. And, third, he charged that the OSCE decisions had ignored several referenda, conducted earlier in Transdniester, which had stipulated that “the presence of Russian troops remains the main guarantee of stability in this part of Europe.”

Transdniester’s would-be foreign minister, Valery Litskay, put the OSCE itself and the organization’s Chisinau Mission on the spot. Litskay argued in successive post-summit statements that Transdniester was not bound by the summit’s decisions because it had not been invited to participate and to sign the documents. Preparing to board, with OSCE Chisinau Mission chief William Hill, a flight to an international conference in London, Litskay disclosed that the mission had proposed the inclusion of Transdniester’s representatives in the Moldovan delegation to the Istanbul summit, but that the Moldovan central government had opposed such a step. “In view of this fact, our position shall be stronger: The implementation of the summit’s decisions will be impossible without Transdniester’s participation,” Litskay concluded. Hill responded by expressing “regret that the Moldovan leadership did not include Transdniester’s representatives in the delegation.” The Moldovan Foreign Ministry differed, noting that such inclusion would have been counterproductive because Transdniester does not recognize Moldova’s integrity and would have used its participation at the summit to press for recognition.

In Moscow, the first deputy chief of Russia’s General Staff, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, almost openly anticipated Russian noncompliance with the OSCE summit’s decisions. Citing Tiraspol’s resistance, Ivashov stated at a briefing that “as long as Chisinau and Tiraspol don’t agree with one another, Russia declines any responsibility for the nonfulfillment of [OSCE] commitments” (Itar-Tass, Tiraspol Television, Infotag, December 1-4).