Publication: Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 141

Moscow’s political/military designs in Moldova seem to be encountering less resistance from the country’s president. Because Mircea Snegur has severely damaged his domestic political base and now feels dependent on Russian goodwill to secure his reelection next year, and because Russian president Boris Yeltsin has now personally approved the Russian strategy, Chisinau is responding hesitantly to Moscow’s latest demands.

On November 20-22 Lt.-General Aleksandr Sokolov, deputy commander in chief of Russia’s ground forces, held talks in Chisinau with Moldova’s Defense Ministry hierarchy. Sokolov demanded basing rights for the Operational Group of Russian Forces (formerly the 14th Army) and redesignation of that force as peacekeepers, because for economic reasons Russia plans to withdraw its last two "peacekeeping" battalions from Moldova next spring. Sokolov also proposed joint Russian-Moldovan military exercises on both banks of the Dniester, and offered certain types of Russian military equipment to the Moldovan army and training of Moldovan army officers in Russia. During this visit, Sokolov held separate talks with Transdniester officials, who strongly support Russia’s military presence in the region. (12)

Sokolov was carrying instructions jointly drafted by Russia’s Foreign and Defense ministries and approved by Yeltsin the preceding week. Sokolov’s mission confirms yet again Moscow’s repudiation of the October 1994 troop withdrawal agreement. Russia’s interposition contingent, now down to two battalions from the original six, was never a part of the 14th Army, but was always drawn from divisions stationed in central Russia; and its role has been negligible compared to that of the ex-14th Army in propping up the "Dniester republic." Chisinau fears that the withdrawal of the interposition force could pave the way for the Russian military to provoke renewed hostilities through proxy Transdniester forces. The Moldovan officials seemed hesitant and disoriented in the face of Sokolov’s demands. Snegur’s chief foreign policy adviser told a news conference during Sokolov’s visit that Snegur’s policy seeks "balanced relations with East and West," and that "imputations of a pro-Western policy are unfounded." (13) Until now, Snegur and his presidential party have in fact proclaimed a pro-Western orientation. In the absence of firm guidelines from the president, who directly handles all key national security issues, the officials’ confused reaction was perhaps inevitable.

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