Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 183

President Vladimir Putin has released former Prime Minister, and presidential counselor-in-waiting, Yevgeny Primakov from the post of plenipotentiary representative of Russia for the Transdniester settlement negotiations. By the same decree, Putin abolished Russia’s State Commission on Transdniester, a joint governmental and parliamentary body, of which Primakov was the chairman. Putin has tasked First Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov to serve as Russia’s representative for the Transdniester problem. One of Transdniester’s leaders broke the news in the Moscow press on October 1, before any official announcement was made.

With this, the control of Moscow’s Transdniester policy passes from one old KGB hand to another, by decree of a younger. Trubnikov, an intelligence general, has the overall authority for relations with CIS countries in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and reports directly to Putin. Those wide-ranging responsibilities may either prevent Trubnikov from focusing in any sustained way on the Transdniester problem, or serve him as an excuse if he decides to disengage personally from the process as Primakov did before him.

Primakov served in this capacity from June 2000 until now. Some international diplomats hailed his appointment, on the assumption that he would use his political weight and access to Putin in order to place the Transdniester problem on the front burner of Russia’s policy and accelerate the negotiating process. Primakov, however, proceeded to distance himself from the negotiations most of the time, citing his multiple responsibilities as an excuse, and delegating subordinate officials with no real authority. That tactic served to prolong the stalemate and appeared designed to demonstrate that international mediation efforts are futile in the absence of active cooperation by Moscow on its own terms.

The demonstration succeeded mainly because Moscow condoned Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov’s intransigence in the negotiations with Chisinau. The Russian side, through its calculated passivity, seemingly allowed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) ample scope for mediation. The failure of that mediation leaves Trubnikov, not to mention Smirnov, well placed to continue obstructing the negotiations, unless Western powers, within and especially outside the OSCE, press Moscow to comply with its troop withdrawal commitments without introducing conditions.

On October 1-2, Trubnikov held talks in Chisinau and Tiraspol with the respective leaderships. His stance regarding the withdrawal of Russian combat hardware and troops was awaited in both places with trepidation. In Chisinau he declared that Russia would live up to its obligations, under the 1999 OSCE summit agreements, to scrap or withdraw the heavy weaponry and ammunition and to withdraw the troops.

The stipulated deadlines for the two processes are December 2001 and December 2002, respectively. The scrapping process, however, is far behind schedule, and has moreover come to a halt after a brief first phase during the summer months. As U.S. Ambassador William Hill suggested in a hearing of the U.S. Congress last week, so much time has been wasted since 1999 that the December 2001 deadline has become unrealistic. The OSCE appears to deem the December 2002 deadline for the second process as still feasible. The organization now expects Russia to complete both processes by that date.

Seven years ago this month, in October 1994, Russia’s then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin signed with his Moldovan counterpart Andrei Sangheli an agreement which obligated Russia to withdraw the weaponry, ammunition stockpiles and troops completely within three years. That deadline came, and went, in October 1997. At the 1999 OSCE summit, Russia obligated itself to vacate two bases in Georgia, including Gudauta by July 2001. At present, however, Moscow is still in occupation of that base and categorically insists on retaining it.

On October 3 in Vienna, the OSCE issued the latest in a series of announcements with regard to financing the liquidation of Russian heavy weaponry and ammunition in Transdniester. It termed the scrapping of 40,000 tons of ammunition–much of it expired–a great challenge and it confirmed the OSCE’s willingness to finance the operation through a special fund, created through voluntary contributions from member countries. In June, the OSCE mission in Chisinau created a tripartite working group–OSCE-Russia-Transdniester–to develop and oversee the program and the operation. The leadership of Transdniester, however, seems set to obstruct both the political and the technical process.

On October 1, Transdniester troops stopped the chief of the OSCE’s Chisinau mission, Hill, at the Transdniester “border” and forced him to turn back. On the same day, the OSCE mission’s military attache–a Dutch officer–was similarly stopped and turned back by troops of the left-bank Transdniester at the “border” of a right-bank area under their control. Last week they meted out the same treatment to the OSCE mission’s deputy chief, a German diplomat. Hill had been headed for a visit to the Russian-owned Rybnitsa steel plant, the largest industrial enterprise in Transdniester and indeed in all of Moldova; the military attache and the deputy chief of mission had, each, been headed for meetings with the Russian military. In August, Hill had been blocked at the same “border” for several hours by a familiar crowd of professional protesters whom the Transdniester authorities periodically deploy. Moldova’s President Vladimir Voronin, a Transdniester native, has since May been officially barred from visiting that region unless he applies to Smirnov for permission.

The OSCE’s weak response seems only to have encouraged the recurrence of such indignities. The organization cites an agreement it had signed earlier with the Tiraspol leaders, which stipulates freedom of movement for the mission’s personnel in Transdniester. The Tiraspol leaders now say, however, that the stipulation does not bar them from stopping the diplomats on unapproved visits. For its part the Russian side, whose troops and security apparatus control Transdniester, has been content to sit back and watch the OSCE’s discomfiture.

On October 1, Transdniester’s authorities took the symbolic step of issuing the “republic’s” passports. Smirnov personally handed over a batch of passports–crimson red and carrying a coat of arms almost indistinguishable from that of Soviet Moldavia–to a group of Transdniester “citizens.” In parallel, Transdniester’s leaders and Moscow encourage the conferral of Russia’s citizenship on local residents. While in Tiraspol, Trubnikov renewed Russia’s demand that Chisinau authorize the opening of a Russian consulate in Transdniester. The foremost task of such a consulate would be to confer Russian citizenship on local residents (Flux, Basapress, Interfax, October 1-3).