On August 21 and 27, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin announced that his government would no longer negotiate with Trans-Dniester’s de facto rulers, and he criticized the “mediators” [Russia, Ukraine, OSCE] for condoning Tiraspol’s repressive actions. The assault on the last few remaining Latin-script schools in Trans-Dniester — a move on which the “mediators” and main Western players defer to Moscow — seems finally to have exhausted Voronin’s capacity for concessions to Tiraspol and Moscow.
Chairing a special session of the cabinet of ministers on August 21, Voronin decried Tiraspol’s “aggressive militarism,” “secret-police repression,” “intimidation of the population” of Trans-Dniester, involvement in organized crime, as well as “linguistic cleansing directed against local ethnic groups” [i.e. the russification of Moldovans and Ukrainians] and “brutality toward school children.” Voronin termed Trans-Dniester’s leaders “a totalitarian regime of fascist type.”
Wondering aloud why “mediators have turned into advocates of Trans-Dniester’s authorities,” Voronin remarked, “Only by issuing a clear-cut assessment of Tiraspol’s actions might the mediators restore their credibility on both banks of the Dniester in the eyes of those who seek a genuine political solution on the basis of modern social and humanitarian standards.” Chisinau is willing to return to the negotiations, but “only after democratization in Trans-Dniester region and its liberation from the junta that has usurped the right to speak for that population.” Moldovan government media carried detailed accounts of Voronin’s speech (Moldpres, August 21, 22).
In a televised address to the country on August 27, marking the thirteenth anniversary of state independence, Voronin noted, “We shall never have an effective democratic system if more than half a million inhabitants of our country in Trans-Dniester continue to be deprived of the possibility of exercising their political and civil rights openly and without fear.” He deplored the “trampling of universally accepted values and norms” in that part of Moldova, as well as manifest “contempt for international law along Moldova’s 450-kilometer [eastern] border where smuggling of every description yields massive profits for Tiraspol, Ukraine, and Russia.”
In a barely veiled swipe at Russia, Voronin observed, “Every Tiraspol-proposed recipe for a political settlement only seeks to maintain the military basis for the existing situation.” And, alluding to the OSCE’s and Western diplomacy’s continuing appeasement of Tiraspol, he asserted, “We can no longer discredit ourselves by subjecting Moldova’s reunification and its fate to a negotiating process with a clique of impostors . . . a transnational militarized group.” Admitting, “We are not yet able to [generate] international pressures for solving this problem,” Voronin asserted, “We are now able at long last to pose the problem correctly. There will be no more negotiations with Tiraspol.” However, “dialogue will continue with those to whom Tiraspol is directly subordinated” — a further allusion to Russia (Moldovan Television, August 27).
Voronin’s criticism of Russia is unprecedented, reflecting dashed hopes in Kremlin support for progress toward a political settlement in the run-up to Moldova’s February 2005 general elections. Nevertheless, his concluding remark seems to leave the door ajar for a last-minute deal with Moscow, if the West abandons Moldova to its fate. Voronin’s diagnosis of the Tiraspol regime amounts to a devastating critique of OSCE and Western diplomacy generally, which have since 2002 pressured Chisinau to yield sovereignty through “federalization” with the Moscow-installed leaders in Tiraspol under a Russian-controlled negotiating format that excludes the West.
Despite intensifying repression in Trans-Dniester and entrenchment of Russian troops there, the U.S. State Department and the European Union continue urging Moldova to return to that same negotiating process. Moldova’s pro-Western opposition and civil society had all along protested against that course. Last week, the centrist opposition came out against it. Now the head of state also disavows that course.
On this as on other issues, Voronin’s track record is one of tactical shifts, mostly of a reactive nature, and susceptibility to pressure from both the Kremlin and the West. At one critical stage in autumn 2003, Western pressures on him to yield on “federalization” pushed Voronin very close to making a deal with the Kremlin directly, without the dubious benefit of OSCE mediation. That near-deal, the Kozak Memorandum, scotched at the last moment by Western and internal protests, would have been even worse than the “federalization” draft on the official negotiating table. Voronin should now quietly discard this state-destroying document, and seek to recast the whole negotiating framework with full-fledged Western participation. Washington and Brussels should, at the very least, no longer discourage Moldova from seeking a settlement consistent with European (not Moscow-Tiraspol) standards.