Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 139

On November 30, in its strongest-ever international statement, Moldova decried the “foreign military occupation, namely by the Russian Federation, of a part of Moldova’s territory,” demanded those troops’ withdrawal, described Trans-Dniester’s authorities as Russian-installed proxies, and characterized the negotiations with them as a discredited process. President Vladimir Voronin had authorized the statement, delivered by Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Stratan in the OSCE Permanent Council’s session, preparatory to the organization’s year-end conference. Moldova, in common with Georgia and others, noted the growing indications that the December 6-7 OSCE event will once again fail to deal with the interrelated issues of Russian military presence, secessionist conflicts, and de facto border changes through force.

Amid signs that Moscow may succeed in eliminating those issues from the OSCE Political Declaration and blocking or watering down other final documents, Stratan warned that the year-end conference would in that case “seriously affect the OSCE’s image and viability.” Responding to persistent calls by the European Union (at Franco-German insistence), the OSCE, and some U.S. diplomats for continuing Moldova-Trans-Dniester negotiations in the Russian-controlled format, Stratan broke precedent in declaring:

“We are facing a group of foreign citizens, directed from outside to occupy a part of our national territory, relying on the foreign military presence for protection, clinging to the status-quo to serve the interests of mafia-type clans. Why, then, is Moldova being insistently urged to resume those negotiations, in a format that has proven so ineffective? Has it not become clear to all that negotiating for negotiating’s sake simply reinforces the illegal and anti-democratic authorities, the interests of which clash with those of the local population?” Moldova therefore asked the OSCE yet again to condemn those authorities and freeze their leaders’ criminally acquired financial assets, some of which were laundered in Western banks.

Noting that the “local majority population is being discriminated against in its own land,” the statement went on to redefine the basis for any further negotiations: recognizing that the “left-bank districts [as distinct from ‘region’] form an integral part of Moldova. This is not negotiable. Only the status of these districts [not ‘region’] within Moldova can be negotiated.” Overdue for more than a decade, this clarification aims to avoid legalization of Tiraspol-based Russian minority rule over Trans-Dniester’s Moldovan-majority districts. The negotiations that Moldova has quit were headed toward that minority-rule outcome.

In another precedent-breaking move, the Moldovan statement called for thorough international inspection of Russian military units and arsenals in Trans-Dniester, including Trans-Dniester-flagged forces, as well as of arms-manufacturing plants in the area, and of the Tiraspol military airfield. It also drew attention to the heavy weaponry that the Russian army transferred to Trans-Dniester-flagged forces, instead of eliminating it, as the CFE Treaty requires. The statement called for a full, transparent quantitative assessment and prompt internationally monitored disposal of those arsenals. Moldova’s call for action stands in contrast to the OSCE’s lip service and, ultimately, resigned attitude toward these issues of international concern.

Finally, the Moldovan statement ruled out any national consent to the stationing of Russian troops or to ratification of the 1999-adapted CFE Treaty in these circumstances: “There will never be a freely expressed agreement by Moldova’s constitutional authorities regarding the presence of those forces on Moldova’s territory. It is absolutely necessary that [the OSCE] once again urge the Russian Federation to complete the withdrawal in a transparent manner and without any further delay. [This] is a precondition to the adapted CFE Treaty’s ratification [and] corresponds to generally accepted principles of international law.”

The United States and EU responded with statements prepared in consultation with Moldova. The two Western statements differed almost strikingly from one another. Washington blamed Tiraspol directly and Russia indirectly for the collapse of negotiations. It concluded, “Five years have now passed since the OSCE Istanbul summit at which the Russian Federation committed to withdraw its forces from Moldova . . . [Those] commitments were never conditioned on the conclusion of a political settlement. The time for excuses is long past. Once again we call on the Russian Federation to immediately resume and quickly complete the withdrawal of its forces from Moldovan territory.”

By contrast, the EU statement failed to even mention the words “Russian forces” or “withdrawal.” It only made a passing, obscure reference to Istanbul commitments without specifying what they entail, and suggested that such a formula be adopted in the final documents. It supported Russia’s position calling for resumption of negotiations “in the existing format” (which excludes the West), specifically on the basis of the January-February 2004 documents. Drafted primarily by Russia, those documents would turn Moldova into a Moldova/Trans-Dniester “federation” under mainly Russian political, legal, and military guarantees, with Russian troops in place.

Furthermore, the EU statement urged Moldova and Trans-Dniester (on an equal footing) to adopt a plan on military confidence-building and security measures, submitted by the OSCE’s Moldova Mission in June. Prepared by the Mission chief, American diplomat William Hill, with his French military deputy and OSCE Vienna staff and forming a part of the “federalization” package, the military plan would legalize Trans-Dniester’s army (Russian under Trans-Dniester’s flag) on a par with that of rump Moldova in the proposed “federation.” The ultimate stated goal is “demilitarization”; pending which, two armies with the respective defense ministries would exist in parallel for an unspecified, open-ended period; and Russian “peacekeepers” would stay on (“demilitarization” apparently not extending to them). The U.S. State Department is not known to have endorsed this American diplomat’s plan (some State Department officials have explicitly distanced themselves from it). It now fell to the EU to urge Hill’s plan upon Moldova. The EU’s collective position at the OSCE (and to some extent also in Brussels) on Moldovan issues is mainly driven by the Franco-German tandem.

Ukraine’s response statement seemed in its key parts to speak for Russia. It insisted on Moldova’s “federalization,” criticized Chisinau explicitly for having repudiated it, and omitted (as Russia would) any mention of the Istanbul Commitments, let alone Russian troop withdrawal. It also served notice that it would continue trading with Tiraspol despite Moldovan and EU requests to stop that unlawful trade or at least permit customs inspection. Considering the current political situation in Kyiv, it seems unclear from whom the Ukrainian envoy received his instructions. The Ukrainian statement, in effect, pressed for creating a precedent in Russian-sponsored “federalization,” even as Ukraine now faces that same danger in the eastern part of the country.

On the eve of the OSCE Permanent Council’s session, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Moldovan ambassador and issued a communique criticizing Chisinau for “damaging [bilateral] relations.” Clearly referring to Voronin primarily, it charged, “Moldovan officials are permitting themselves harsh, unbalanced statements about Russia, questioning Russia’s impartiality as mediator in the Trans-Dniester conflict, claiming that the existing format for negotiations is allegedly ineffective. Such unfounded accusations do not contribute to the development of Russian-Moldovan relations.” The communique implied that Russia is prepared to continue the polemics: “We do not intend to refrain from principled, objective statements concerning our relations with Moldova” (Interfax, Itar-Tass, December 1). If this move was meant to intimidate Chisinau on the eve of the key OSCE meetings, it did not succeed.

(Documents of the OSCE Permanent Council session, November 30).