Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 152

The secessionist leadership is reacting with great unease to the scrapping and prospective withdrawal of combat hardware from Transdniester. Some in Tiraspol would like to get their hands on part of that weaponry. Others profess to want the tanks and armored vehicles converted for civilian use. On July 19, members of “radical” groups–those tolerated and encouraged by Transdniester’s leaders–forced their way into the OSCE office in Tiraspol and enacted a vociferous scene. In an accompanying gesture, Transdniester’s authorities launched “judicial” proceedings against the Russian troops’ commander, Lieutenant-General Valery Yevnevich, for his role in the scrapping of weaponry. In Moscow, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov publicly rebuffed Tiraspol by declaring that Yevnevich was acting as ordered.

Moscow, however, has a track record of broken promises to withdraw the troops from Moldova. In 1994, then-Prime Ministers Viktor Chernomyrdin and Andrei Sangheli signed an agreement on the withdrawal of Russian arsenals and troops within three years. In 1998, Russia made the same promise at the Council of Europe, as one of the conditions imposed by the CE for admitting Russia as a member. No international organization held Moscow accountable for living up to those commitments, however. Nor did the Moldovan leaders of that time seriously attempt to mobilize international political support for sending the Russian troops home.

In order to ensure Russian compliance by December with the CFE Treaty and the 1999 OSCE decisions, the organization–that is, its Western members–may have to contend with several looming hurdles. First, Moscow may slow down or stop the process under some pretext, before or especially after the OSCE’s year-end meeting, on the lines of the 1999 and 2000 precedents. Second, it may drag its feet on the scrapping and withdrawal calendar that it promised last month to submit. Originally, Moscow had promised as far back as 1994 to submit a withdrawal schedule for discussion at the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, but never submitted any serious document.

Third, Transdniester leaders may organize “popular rallies” outside Russian military units in order to prevent the scrapping/removal of weapons or even seize weapons. Transdniester pioneered that method in 1992, and it is currently being emulated in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia (see the Monitor, June 14). And, fourth, Moscow may renew the demand to retain some heavy weaponry for Russian “peacekeeping” or “guarantor” troops in Transdniester, as Yevgeny Primakov was demanding some months ago. Primakov, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plenipotentiary envoy for the Transdniester settlement negotiations, submitted his familiar blueprint to Russia’s Duma for approval last month. It envisions a “common state” of Moldova and Transdniester and a mainly Russian troop contingent to remain stationed in that “common state.” Defense Minister Ivanov, for his part, insinuated in a military press interview that compliance with the CFE Treaty could enable Russian troops to stay on as “peacekeepers” afterward (Itar-Tass, July 12; Krasnaya Zvezda, July 26; Izvestia, August 1).

Only an unrelieved insistence by the OSCE and by Moldova on full Russian compliance with the 1999 decisions can dissuade Moscow and/or Tiraspol from raising those hurdles between now and December. The withdrawal of the troops themselves will then become the goal for 2002 (Roundup based on recent reporting by Flux, Basapress, Infotag and Russian agencies; see the Monitor, May 22, July 10, 16, August 2).