Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 225

The European Union’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner joined the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Moldova, Borys Tarasyuk and Andrei Stratan, to inaugurate the EU’s Border Assistance Mission (BAM) for the Ukraine-Moldova border. The ceremony took place in Odessa, en route to the EU-Ukraine summit, which the European leaders attended in Kyiv. The BAM is deployed to the field as of December 1.

The mission, the first of its kind for the EU, stems from its concept of a common foreign and security policy and European neighborhood policy, as well as from a June 2005 joint request by Presidents Vladimir Voronin of Moldova and Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine to the EU to deploy such a mission. The EU responded unusually fast, and a tripartite agreement to organize the BAM was signed by Ferrero-Waldner with Tarasyuk and Stratan on October 7 at the Palanca crossing point on that border.

The three parties’ respective priorities overlap but do not fully coincide. Moldova’s primary goal is to curb Transnistria’s unlawful, massive transit and export trade that sustains the secessionist leaders and enriches their accomplices in Ukraine as well. Cutting down decisively on Tiraspol’s income should soften up its defiant position in the deadlocked negotiations toward a political settlement. Kyiv’s primary goal is to substantiate its aspirations to the EU by demonstrating a commitment to European border- and customs- management standards and suppressing organized crime at the border and in Ukraine itself. The EU’s primary goal is to validate its common policy and demonstrate its capacity for external border management, which forms an instrument of the EU’s neighborhood policy.

Suppressing the traffic in arms, drugs, and human beings is an official rationale for the mission, but the extent of those types of traffic may well have been exaggerated by sensationalist press reports. The real issue is suppressing the regular commercial contraband of which Transnistria is both a source and a corridor.

BAM’s staff consists of 69 experts, seconded by 16 EU member countries from the ranks of customs services, police, and border police, to be assisted by some local auxiliary personnel. Hungary’s Brig.-General Ferenc Banfi is BAM’s commander, with a Finnish Colonel as his deputy. The mission will coordinate with the office of the EU’s Special Representative for Moldova, Adriaan Jacobovits de Szeged, who is remotely based in The Hague. BAM is also tasked to provide on-the-spot training to Ukrainian and Moldovan customs and border officials. BAM will operate on a two-year mandate at a total cost of €7.5 million, from five stations along the Ukraine-Moldova border, and with a headquarters in Odessa, the port of which is deemed to be the key transit point for Transnistria’s smuggling. (That perception apparently overlooks Vynnytsya oblast as another major corridor for Transnistria’s contraband).

BAM’s deployment constitutes a big step forward for the EU in terms of asserting its presence in neighbor countries with EU integration aspirations. The move implicitly takes this area out of the ill-conceived notion of an “EU-Russia common neighborhood.” The EU is stepping in after the OSCE’s border-monitoring ambitions were quashed by Russia’s termination of the OSCE’s border operation in Georgia this year.

However, BAM’s size is clearly too small and its resources too meager to attain its goals, and its mandate looks too weak to suppress Transnistria’s contraband. BAM’s success or failure will depend on three uncertain factors: cooperation by the Ukrainian authorities, political consistency in Brussels and by EU diplomatic representatives in the field, and strengthening BAM’s mandate and resources.

Ukrainian good-faith cooperation is the key factor to BAM’s credible start. The signals thus far are mixed. BAM’s mandate and priorities were set when Petro Poroshenko headed Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (until September) and had packed the Ukrainian Customs’ top management with his shadow-business associates, primarily from Vynnytsya oblast. The border monitoring mission’s initial motivation was to close the “black hole” of Transnistria. However, during the negotiations on BAM’s mandate, Kyiv successfully insisted that BAM should encompass the entire Ukraine-Moldova border, thus moving the mission’s focus away from Transnistria. President Viktor Yushchenko’s special representative for negotiations on Transnistria, Dmytro Tkach, now argues as did Poroshenko (author of the “Yushchenko plan” for conflict settlement) that there is no “black hole” there, although Tarasyuk’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs does recognize that fact and calls for closing that hole.

For now, BAM’s small manpower and modest budget will be dispersed along the 800 kilometer Ukraine-Moldova border, instead of the 420-kilometer Transnistria sector. Moreover, there is no agreed definition of what constitutes contraband on that border. Moldova takes the position that all cargos that carry Transnistria’s export-import documents, which are not recognized internationally, and do not clear Moldovan customs, constitute contraband by definition. Moldova wants the producer and trading firms in Transnistria to register with Moldova’s authorities and pass the goods through Moldovan customs or joint Moldovan-Ukrainian customs.

The key issue of definition remains in suspense because the EU has not pressed for defining Transnistria’s export-import operations overall as contraband. Kyiv (that is, Tkach and the presidential staff in charge of the Transnistria dossier, not Tarasyuk) insists that only the clandestine trafficking of arms, drugs, and humans be defined as contraband, while Transnistria’s export-import trade in goods and commodities be regarded as legal. This stance forms part of Kyiv’s policy of seeking an early political recognition of Transnistria’s existing authorities.

Ferrero-Waldner’s speech at the Odessa opening ceremony seemed to hint that she is close to Moldova’s position on defining Transnistria’s external trade as contraband unless registered and taxed by Moldova. If this becomes BAM’s operating principle, it could substantially contribute to settling the Transnistria conflict. But, if Kyiv’s policy, BAM’s small resources, or EU political decisions result in tolerance of Transnistria’s external economic relations, then BAM will end up unintentionally legitimizing Transnistria’s secession on the economic front and consolidating it politically.

(Interfax-Ukraine, Moldpres, Euroreporter, November 29-December 1; see EDM, October 13, 18, November 7)