JOINT MILITARY EXERCISE HAS POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 135

At the same time as President Vladimir Voronin’s visit to Moscow, a Russian-Moldovan joint exercise began at the Kantemirovskaya Division’s training grounds in Naro-Fominsk, Moscow Region. Moldovan Defense Minister Colonel Victor Gaiciuc attended the opening phase of the exercise. Russia’s Defense Ministry has ensured ample media coverage of the exercise in spite of its small scale–a Russian company in infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and a Moldovan motor-rifle platoon. According to official accounts, the exercise is the first step toward creating a joint Russian-Moldovan “peacekeeping” battalion.

Where that battalion might eventually be employed is not specified. Transdniester’s supporters in Moscow profess to worry that the planned joint battalion might be used for peace enforcement against Tiraspol. The central government in Chisinau, however, might do well to consider the implications of forming a “joint” unit with Russian forces, which forces would moreover be equipped with IFVs. Deploying such a unit in Transdniester would enable Moscow to circumvent its international obligation to withdraw all combat hardware (including IFVs) from Moldovan territory by December 2001 and all troops by December 2002. Apparently, official Moscow miscalculates that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe might ultimately condone such circumvention.

The holding of this exercise in itself reflects official Chisinau’s familiar hesitancy about how to manage its relations with Russia. It was former President (1996-2001) Petru Lucinschi who began involving Moldova in “peacekeeping” exercises with Russian troops, as part of concessions designed to win Moscow’s support for his reelection, and despite the seizure of part of Moldova by Russian and proxy troops. It would be difficult to imagine Georgia or Azerbaijan holding joint exercises with Russian troops, as long as the Russian military or forces armed by it occupy parts of those two countries.

By selecting–from among all possible units–the Kantemirovskaya Division as parent unit of a Russian-Moldovan battalion, Moscow apparently expects some propaganda mileage out of the unit’s name. The division is named after Dimitrie Cantemir, a Moldovan prince who grew up at the court of the Ottoman Sultans, only to sign an alliance treaty with Tsar Peter I in 1711, turning Moldova into a vassal of Russia and allowing the Tsar’s army to establish itself in Moldova. That same year, however, the Ottomans decisively defeated Peter on Moldovan soil, and Cantemir fled with the Tsar to Russia. Initially showered with privileges there, members of the Cantemir family ended up in Siberian exile. The 1711 campaign helped keep Moldova out of the Russian Empire for another century, until 1812 when Russia annexed what is the Republic of Moldova today.

While clearly overestimating the propaganda mileage obtainable from such a history, the Kremlin has reasons to hope that Chisinau might go along with the deployment of a “joint peacekeeping” battalion in Transdniester. Such a turn of events would only exacerbate the international implications of the Moldova-Transdniester problem. While the current Moldovan leadership carries a heavy ballast of Moscow-centric views, it has nevertheless started on an upward learning curve and can probably be dissuaded from concessions that could be fatal to the state (Flux, Basapress, July 9-14; Izvestia, July 10; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Itar-Tass, July 11-13; see the Monitor, April 20, 24, May 2, 14, 22; Fortnight in Review, May 11).

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