The European Union is launching a Border Assistance Mission (BAM) on the long border shared by Ukraine and Moldova, including the Transnistria sector. The European Commissioner for External Affairs and Neighborhood Policy, Bettina Ferrero-Waldner, signed the relevant agreement with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Moldova, Borys Tarasyuk and Andrei Stratan, on October 7 at the Moldovan border checkpoint of Palanca. BAM is scheduled to become fully operational on December 1.
The deployment of BAM responds to Presidents Viktor Yushchenko and Vladimir Voronin’s joint letter in June of this year, when they appealed to the EU to deploy a border-monitoring operation on the Ukrainian-Moldovan border in order to help curb the smuggling of goods and other forms of illicit trafficking, rife on that border. As presently conceived, BAM should be able to achieve a number of useful goals, but it seems of modest value in terms of its initial main goal of advancing the resolution of the Transnistria conflict. That initial goal has apparently been largely superseded by other objectives, of unquestionable value to Kyiv and Brussels, but only indirectly related to conflict-resolution in Transnistria.
The EU’s move shows some pluses and many minuses at this initial stage. On the plus side, the response is unusually quick by EU standards. As a further plus, it minimizes the OSCE’s role, placing all responsibility firmly in EU hands. The OSCE had earlier claimed this BAM mission for itself, despite Moldova’s lack of confidence in the OSCE and clearly expressed preference for the EU. It was only in the spring of 2005 that the EU decided to step in, having seen how easily Russia had killed the OSCE’s Border Monitoring Mission in Georgia.
Further on the plus side, the BAM represents an instrument of the European Neighborhood Policy and is designed to introduce European standards of border- and customs-management on this long border between two aspirant countries. In this sense it represents an overdue assumption of EU responsibility in its immediate neighborhood. Moreover, BAM takes this part of the EU neighborhood in a practical sense out of the “joint EU-Russia neighborhood,” a Brussels bureaucratic construct that often inhibits EU policy initiatives. BAM can also help Ukraine advance its candidacy to the World Trade Organization by complying with WTO standards for the transit of goods (Moldova is a WTO member already). BAM can also help both countries increase their budget revenues by curbing corruption at the border, reducing smuggling and enforcing customs procedures.
On the minus side, BAM’s size is clearly too small to fully attain those goals, and its mandate too weak to play any significant role in Transnistria. With a budget of only 7 (seven) million Euros for an initial period of 24 months, BAM will consist of a stationary core group of 15 full-time EU employees, and a mobile staff of 50 personnel seconded by border and customs services of EU member countries. The core group’s permanent station has not yet been determined. For that station, Ukraine favors Odessa while Moldova favors one of several small towns on Ukrainian territory directly adjacent to Transnistria.
With such meager resources, BAM will monitor the entire 1,200-kilometer length of the Ukraine-Moldova border, including the approximately 400 kilometer long Transnistria sector of that border. The mission’s powers seem sweeping: it is authorized to make unannounced visits to any location on the Ukraine-Moldova border, inspect border checkpoints and customs posts on either side of the border, as well as inland police stations near the border, and stop and inspect cargoes in transit on suspicion of carrying illicit goods. Moreover, BAM “aims to build capacity for border- and customs-management along the entire Moldova-Ukraine border, … offer on-the-job advice and training to Moldovan and Ukrainian border and customs personnel, [and] provide guidance on anti-corruption strategies and programs.”
All that seems an inordinately tall order for a mission of this size and with these resources. Asked by the press in Brussels how can 50 persons possibly monitor the 1,200-kilometer border, the EU’s High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, characteristically replied that they cannot watch that border’s “every millimeter.” For his part, in the discussion with Solana, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov acknowledged that “this is a small beginning, but a beginning that had to be made,” and expressed hope that the EU would in time supplement BAM’s personnel and budget (BBC, October 6).
Ukrainians also hoped that BAM would assist with building border installations and donate equipment, according to Tarasyuk. He called attention also to chaotic circumstances on the Ukrainian-Russian border in the Luhansk sector, which he had visited recently. Tarasyuk is urging the EU to take a BAM-like initiative in that sector of the Ukrainian-Russian border as part of the EU’s Neighborhood policy.
(EU press releases, Interfax-Ukraine, UNIAN, Moldpres, October 4-8)