Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 77

Meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on April 16-17, Moldova’s Communist President Vladimir Voronin came close to consenting to the transformation of his country into a Russian military outpost and political satellite.

The deal is not yet quite sealed. As newly elected president, Voronin has shown how far he can go in telling his interlocutors–both publicly and privately–that which the interlocutors wish to hear. In the process, he can take contradictory positions, shift gears and–above all–improvise. He has no foreign policy and diplomatic experience whatsoever and no competent advice in that sphere, and he acts on instinct rather than information. But he is amenable to persuasion by those who have the means to offset Russia’s influence. Given the wish and the will, it may still be possible to pull him back from the brink of the precipice, onto which he stepped in Moscow.

Inaugurated as president on April 7, and invited the same day by Putin, Voronin rushed to Moscow only nine days later for his first visit abroad. In the meetings with Putin and other Russian officials, Voronin practically disavowed the 1999 resolutions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which require Russia to withdraw the heavy armaments from Moldova by the end of 2001, and all the remaining arms and ammunition as well as all the troops by the end of 2002. Voronin, however, declared in Moscow explicitly that the observance of OSCE’s resolutions and of their deadlines is not a matter for Moldova to deal with, but only for Russia and the OSCE. Practically, the statement implies that Moldova would desist from calling for the withdrawal of Russian forces. And that would make it easier for Moscow to wave off Western remonstrances.

Since the OSCE’s resolutions on troop withdrawal were passed, Russia has done nothing to comply, and the OSCE–that is, the Western powers in the organization–have done little to ensure Russia’s compliance. That background explains up to a point Voronin’s weakness in Moscow.

The Moldovan president agreed orally with Putin’s position that the Russian troops should stay in Moldova’s Transdniester region as long as necessary, in order to “protect the arsenals” of those same troops. That circular proposition is supposedly meant to prevent a takeover of the arsenals by Transdniester forces. The idea had earlier been inspired by Moscow to then-president Petru Lucinschi, and served to justify his failure to mobilize international support for the removal of foreign soldiers from his country. Voronin took a step further down that road. He declared in Moscow that the Russian troops should stay put “until they take out the last cartridge.” He even stated that “there are not enough” Russian troops to stand guard on the military stockpiles.