Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 207

Both officially and unofficially, Moldova will again top the European security agenda at next month’s OSCE year-end ministerial conference. This will again be an exercise in futility, unless the European Union and the United States decide to act on their own, outside the OSCE’s framework though not without its cooperation, and outside the Moscow-beloved “existing format of negotiations” though engaging Moscow directly.

New ideas and new channels are obviously necessary. The resumption of negotiations on Transnistria with the 5 + 2 format — now adding the United States and the EU to the previous “five-sided” format of Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, Chisinau, and Tiraspol (see EDM, November 1) — demonstrated that this format is incapable of even tackling, let alone solving, the most pressing issues, foremost among which is withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova’s territory.

While that negotiating round was in progress in Chisinau and Tiraspol, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov declared that Russia cannot evacuate its military arsenals from Transnistria in the absence of a political settlement of the conflict. In keeping with Moscow’s policy, Ivanov mentioned only the eventuality of removing arsenals, not troops. Russian troops would stay on to guard the arsenals and “keep the peace” until a political settlement is in place, he said. Then, “Whatever version of a settlement is adopted, there will still be a need for military guarantees; everyone acknowledges and understands this … We need a political resolution [of the conflict] first, and then military guarantees.” At the same time, Russia “does not insist on having a monopoly on the peacekeeping operation,” Ivanov said; “dozens of countries” may be eligible to participate in the operation (Interfax, October 28).

Ivanov’s statement reaffirms a Russian policy that dates to 2001 on the informal level and became official policy in 2003. It maintains that: 1) Moscow can not override Tiraspol authorities’ objections to removal or scrapping of the arsenals, as long as Transnistria’s political status has not been determined; 2) Russia’s troops must therefore protect those arsenals for the [indefinite] duration, and the “peacekeeping” component of those troops will stay on, pending a political settlement of the conflict; 3) Once a settlement is attained, Russian troops will stay on, turning from “peacekeepers” into “military guarantors” of security in Moldova.

This logic has become the standard one in Moscow’s statements and in its conflict-settlement proposals, including that presented by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs last month to the participants in the negotiations.

Interviewed in Chisinau by a large group of Russian journalists, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin dismissed Moscow’s excuses for refusing to withdraw its forces: “Russia’s troops actually provide a political cover to protect Tiraspol’s authorities … When Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and anyone else in Russia tells us that they cannot withdraw their arsenals because of a certain [Tiraspol leader Igor] Smirnov, I say: Smirnov is a citizen of Russia, and most of the ‘ministers’ in Transnistria’s ‘government’ are from Russia’s Federal Security Service`” (Moldova Suverana, November 1). Until now, the OSCE Mission has regularly claimed — by way of excusing Moscow — that Tiraspol “does not allow” the Russian troops to be withdrawn and has also linked troop withdrawal to political settlement (de facto “synchronization”). On these key points, the American-led Mission’s position differs from the State Department’s official position.

Within the OSCE in Vienna, the United States takes every opportunity to call for the complete and unconditional (i.e., no “synchronization”) withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova, in accordance with the OSCE’s 1999 Istanbul summit decisions. By the same token, Washington as well as NATO in its collective capacity would only meet Russia’s desire to ratify the 1999-adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe after Russian troops withdraw from Georgia and Moldova. However, it has become clear since Istanbul 1999 that the OSCE is unable to enforce its own documents because of Russia’s veto power; and that the promise of CFE Treaty ratification is not a sufficient incentive for Russia to withdraw the troops from Moldova. This issue can only be pursued effectively by the United States and the EU directly with Russia at high levels.

Thus far, Washington seems reluctant to do so. The White House declined proposals to include this issue on the agenda of President George W. Bush’s recent summit meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At their latest summit in September, the agenda was said to be too small to accommodate anything other than U.S. top-priority issues. Meanwhile in Brussels, some officials seem inclined to fall back on an earlier idea: a limited internationalization and some civilianization of Russia’s “peacekeeping” operation in Moldova.

The idea that is now being tested out envisages a “peace-stabilization force” in which Russia would provide 50% of the troops (this is phrased as: “no country could provide more than 50%”); some measure of Ukrainian participation is also taken for granted; the command would be an (unspecified) international one, not Russian; and the multinational contingent would include police elements, alongside the military. This solution is described as a transitional one; but there seems to be no clear idea yet about its duration, or what would follow after the transitional period.

This concept is reminiscent of, and possibly inspired in part by, ideas that were under discussion between the OSCE’s Chisinau Mission and Russian officials in 2000-2001 on modifying the Russian operation’s format. It was then envisaged that Russia should provide 50% of the troops; any Ukrainian troops would be counted as part of Russia’s 50%; but there was no agreement on command arrangements or the composition of the remaining 50% of the contingent. Moscow was amenable to a token Finnish participation; but it ruled out any Swedish contribution; and it also ruled out participation by any NATO member country.

Notably, some EU officials propose that deployment of a peace-stabilization force must precede a political settlement in Transnistria, rather than awaiting a settlement. The EU’s Netherlands presidency had proposed in 2003 an international “peace-consolidation” mission as a post-settlement operation. That was clearly the wrong sequencing, and it must be righted this time around. On the positive side, the 2003 proposal underscored the need to civilianize — in fact, largely demilitarize — the peacekeeping contingent. Any new EU proposal can do no less than the former one in this respect.

If the EU’s proposals (when they materialize) concede more than 50% participation to non-EU countries (Russia, Ukraine, possibly some others) from the outset, then the EU would have to accept a Russian-dominated command. Moscow could settle for some form of “joint” (as distinct from international) command, which is presumably unacceptable to the EU, but could tempt the OSCE.

Entrusting the OSCE to mandate and — albeit nominally — to run this operation would be the worst possible mistake. The OSCE is not an independent security actor. Its supine acceptance of Russia’s killing the OSCE’s own Georgia Border Monitoring Operation must discourage any idea of placing the OSCE, if only nominally, in the driver’s seat in Moldova. However, the OSCE can play a useful auxiliary role, for example in terms of verification of Transnistria’s armaments and troops, along the lines of its erstwhile Kosovo verification mission. In Kosovo, however, the United States and NATO did all the heavy lifting, with the EU taking charge of reconstruction.

The most convincing idea remains that of Moldova’s presidency and government, supported by the community of civil-society experts: withdrawal of Russian troops and deployment of an international mission of observers, military and civilian, including Russian ones, under international leadership immune to Russian dictation.