Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 28

Responding to Moldova’s appeals after years of procrastination, the European Union has decided to institute an EU Special Representative to Moldova, with a focus on Transnistria conflict settlement (AP, February 8). The decision must be welcomed as progress. But it follows the EU’s style of progress in this region: too little, very late, inhibited by a Russia-first approach, and with a mandate that seems likely to be restricted by Franco-German objections.

The assumptions behind EU policy on this issue are stated in a restricted-circulation paper from the EU’s Paris-based Institute for Security Studies (Dov Lynch, “Moldova and the Conflict in Transnistria: What the EU Can Do?” January 27), prepared for the EU Council, which has the power to approve the Special Representative’s appointment and mandate. Correctly identifying some of the causes of deadlock in the decade-old negotiations on Transnistria (Tiraspol’s stonewalling, Russia’s misuse of “peacekeeping,” militarization of Transnistria, Russia’s stake in the freeze so as to maintain its presence, international neglect of the problem, and the OSCE “being torn apart from the inside”, the policy prescriptions stop well short of seeking remedies to these problems.

Instead, EU policy — and presumably the Special Representative’s mandate and instructions — seem intent to press for a political settlement while Russia’s troops remain in place (Russian-flagged and Transnistrian-flagged), within the thoroughly discredited “pentagonal” format that excludes the West, and under the cloak of that same OSCE “torn apart from the inside” by that same Russia. All this would only ensure a settlement shaped mainly by Russia along NATO’s and the EU’s own border.

According to the ISS report, “The negotiating mechanism that exists is not in itself bad, especially as all main actors are represented . . . The Special Representative should seek to forge agreement on a constitutional settlement, most elements of which are already agreed.” To this the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs added, “The established negotiation mechanism has acquitted itself well for all . . . [They] need to return to the joint work on the basis of suggestions that took a lot of effort to be agreed upon” (Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, January 13).

Such convergence is a tribute to some EU policymakers’ inclination to approach the situation in Moldova not on its own merits, and not from the standpoint of European and Euro-Atlantic interests, but primarily as an experiment in EU-Russia cooperation for conflict-settlement in Europe and for a long-awaited first vindication of European Security and Defense Policy.

The above-referenced negotiating mechanism is, in fact, generally deemed to be inherently (“in itself”) bad, because it ensures Russian overrepresentation while excluding any form of Western representation (EU, United States), equalizes Tiraspol with Chisinau, and includes Moldova’s neighbor Ukraine while excluding Moldova’s other neighbor, next-of-kin Romania, a NATO and soon-to-be EU member. The suggestion that “all main actors are represented” inadvertently signals that the EU does not aspire to be a main actor. Such a signal definitely does not reflect the EU’s actual intentions; the EU does aspire to play a major role, but its debut is not conveying that impression, and may embolden Russia to dig its heels in Moldova.

The reference to “agreement” having been reached on a political settlement alludes to the project for Russia/OSCE-mediated “federalization” under mainly Russian guarantees. In reality, no agreement was reached, because Moldova realized at the eleventh hour that the project would have turned it into a Russian protectorate. That project is now definitely off the table, thanks to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin’s reorientation toward the West. If the EU now tries to resurrect that project, it would only saddle itself and NATO with the security problems resulting from a Russian satellite and military exclave on the EU and NATO border.

As the demandeur in quest of a symbolic success with Moscow’s help, the EU is undermining its own position from the outset in three basic ways. First, it has placed Moldova in the EU-Russia “joint neighborhood,” with decisions on Moldova to be made jointly. Such placement flies in the face of geography, Russia being some 800 kilometers away from Moldova, while the latter is situated directly on NATO’s (and soon-to-be EU’s) border. The unwarranted “joint-neighborhood” approach can subject EU policy to a Russian veto that, coupled with Russia’s military presence, could lead to another OSCE-type deadlock. Second, the EU does not seem prepared to press for withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova. The planning sequence envisages “political settlement” first, and dealing with the Russian-flagged and Transnistrian-flagged troops later, partly through “confidence-building measures” as a substitute for a real policy on this issue. And, third, the “settlement” would legalize and cement (as Russia and a helpless OSCE had sought) the power of the Moscow-installed armed leadership in Tiraspol; and even give it, through “federalization,” a share of power in Chisinau.

Such a policy by the EU would amount to a travesty of Europe’s notions of federalism. It would also snub Voronin’s appeals to Europe, possibly pushing him back into Russia’s arms. The ISS paper indeed criticizes Voronin for having allegedly complicated the conflict-resolution process by his break with Russia, and it places on him the onus of improving relations with Moscow. Democracy is also a major dimension absent from EU policy planning regarding Transnistria. Moldova’s Western-oriented civil society groups deem the democratization of Transnistria a sine-qua-non component of a political settlement, and they have developed a settlement concept along these lines. The EU, a custodian of democracy in the aspirant countries on its new border, has yet to take note of this.