Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 74

Javier Solana’s ill-prepared, mishap-filled visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi (see EDM, April 11) culminated with an incident that was kept under wraps for some days before finally going public in Brussels. The European Union’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy was, in effect, set up by Putin to hold a meeting with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian secessionist leaders, Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoiti, whom Putin had brought to his residence for this purpose. Bagapsh’s and Kokoiti’s preparations to go to Sochi had been publicly reported during the preceding days (see EDM, April 6). However, Solana seemed caught off-guard and accepted Putin’s entreaty to meet and hold a conversation with the two.

Rightly aghast at the prospect that this meeting can be construed as precedent-setting, EU officials in Brussels contend (still off-the-record) that Solana “delivered a strong message” during the brief discussion: namely, that those conflicts can only be resolved politically, not through force; and that the EU supports Georgia’s territorial integrity. These talking points sound, however, no different from Russia’s standard rhetoric. While Russia and the EU may differ over the meaning of those phrases, the EU is not being heard objecting to Russia’s military seizure of Georgian territories and their ongoing, manifest incorporation de facto into Russia.

Last week in Brussels, after three months of desultory discussions, the EU finally rejected even the most modest options for a Border Monitoring Operation (BMO) in Georgia, which could have replaced the 150 well-equipped observers and eight posts of the OSCE’s BMO after its Russian-dictated termination. Instead of a mission that would have met the two basic requirements — presence on and reporting from the border — the EU decided to send three observers, to be stationed in an office in Tbilisi and travel periodically to the border.

On April 11-13, the EU’s newly appointed Special Representative for Moldova, Ambassador Adriaan Jakobovits de Szeged of the Netherlands, paid his first visit to Moldova in that capacity. Tiraspol leaders Igor Smirnov and Valery Litskay seemed pleased to confirm at the concluding news conference, “The EU does not have and will not soon have a conflict-resolution plan … In this respect, the key event will be the Russia-EU summit on May 10 in Moscow, when the [Moldova/Transnistria] issue will be in the focus.” To Tiraspol’s delight and Chisinau’s dismay, the EU envoy confirmed that any EU participation in conflict-resolution negotiations would only be possible at the request of “both sides” (Interfax, April 12). In practice, this means subjecting the EU’s participation to Tiraspol’s veto — or that of Moscow behind Tiraspol’s.

It also implies continuing to treat Moldova and Transnistria as co-equal parties. This notion seemed to pervade Jakobovits’ remarks to official interlocutors in Chisinau. “Dialogue among the sides,” “search for a common denominator,” “mutually acceptable solutions” were the EU envoy’s key words in this fourteenth year of the conflict and of the “negotiating process.” He urged the Moldovan parliament leaders to establish links with the Transnistria Supreme Soviet, again implying equivalence between a democratically-elected body and the antithesis of one.

The EU insists on treating this as a conflict between two parts of the country, instead of recognizing it for a Russia-Moldova conflict. This evasion partly explains why the Special Representative avoided any discussion of Russia’s refusal to withdraw the troops from Moldova while on his visit to Chisinau (Moldpres, Basapres, April 12-13). The EU in Brussels is similarly failing to react to Moscow’s official statements (which are multiplying in the run-up to the summit) about retention of Russian troops in Moldova indefinitely.

Jakobovits urged Chisinau to concede a “far-reaching autonomy” to Transnistria, based on existing “positive models of autonomy” in Europe. He overlooked the fact that none of those positive examples could have been created if Russian troops were in place there; and none would have been possible if one of the sides had been led by citizens and officers of Russia on assignment there, as is the case in Transnistria. The envoy stated that the 2002 “Kyiv document” (mainly Russian-drafted) and the 2004 “mediators'” document (mainly Russia-OSCE) contain some valuable parts that can serve as a basis for resuming the negotiations. In Sochi on April 5, Solana had said that he “highly appreciated” parts of the Kremlin’s 2003 Kozak Memorandum (see EDM, April 6). All of those documents envisaged Moldova’s “federalization” under mainly Russian “guarantees.”

In his meetings with Moldovan parliamentary leaders in Chisinau, the EU’s ambassador successfully insisted on conducting the entire dialogue in Russian, instead of allowing the use of Moldovan/Romanian, “in order not to waste time with the translation.” It is a measure of the Moldovan parliamentarians’ tolerance — sometimes to the point of national self-denial — that they accepted such an affront with barely a murmur. One parliamentary leader remarked sotto voce that, had this occurred in a parliament in the Baltic states or Ukraine, practically everyone would have left the room in protest.