Whether by strategic design with Russia, by bureaucratic drift or a combination thereof, Western diplomats are rushing a pseudo-settlement of the Trans-Dniester problem that would, if implemented in the next few months, turn Moldova into a Russian satellite and ensure a Communist landslide in upcoming general elections.
A policy conference on Moldova, held on May 25 in Brussels under the auspices of three major foundations from both sides of the Atlantic, confirmed that the U.S. State Department is forging ahead with that solution through the American-led OSCE mission in Chisinau; and that the European Union (EU) has now overcome its reservations and is tagging along, not out of EU deference to Washington, but apparently out of Franco-German-Italian deference to Russia. Thus, Washington and now Brussels appear ready to forfeit to Russia the lead role in shaping security and political order on this 450km sector of the new Euro-Atlantic border.
The settlement plan, initiated by Moscow and the State Department via the OSCE in 2002, and pursued with ups and downs since then, entails: power-sharing by Trans-Dniester’s Russian leaders in Moldova’s central government (currently Communist), an arrangement mislabeled federalization; Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE to mediate the outcome, then to “guarantee” the democratic functioning of this “federation” and its institutions; solution to be approved by “popular referendum” under present conditions of almost complete Communist (and Russian) control of the airwaves; Russian troops to remain in place, both in the form of Trans-Dniester’s army and as the dominant element of a revamped “peacekeeping” operation.
Three new, aggravating twists have been added. First, U.S. and other Western diplomats rushing this project are being guided by the electoral timetable of the Communist Party, the only party that would implement this state-destroying project. Opposition parties’ attitudes toward this project range from non-acceptance or tacit rejection by centrists to open rejection by the pro-Western opposition and civil society. The opposition “now mentored in Chisinau by the NDI and IRI” has a chance of winning the general elections in February 2005, or at least holding the Communist Party to a draw. In the best of cases for the Communists, they would no longer enjoy a constitutional majority in the new parliament.
A Communist setback is likely because the party has fulfilled none of its 2001 electoral promises in Europe’s poorest country. The party’s only trump card in these elections is to pose as Moldova’s “reunifier” through the proposed “federalization.” The Communist Party wants this issue to dominate the electoral campaign, its preference being to stage a referendum in combination with the elections. The American-led OSCE mission will lend its support to the Soviet-style “consultation with the people” now in the works.
Second, the Western players (Washington, OSCE, EU) have accepted a Communist draft constitution for the “federal state” that, as they themselves would admit, is almost identical to the Kozak Memorandum. Prepared by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top aide Dmitry Kozak in November 2003 as the basis for a Moldovan “federal” constitution, that document was rejected by the West at that time as too heavily weighted toward Russian and Trans-Dniester interests. However, State Department officials have backtracked on that position. Meanwhile, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has submitted the Kozak-cloned draft constitution now on the negotiating table.
American diplomats, and now EU diplomats, take the position that they cannot override a president’s sovereign right to hold negotiations on this basis. With this, representatives of Western democracies are in effect hiding behind the Communists to avoid responsibility for actually promoting this arrangement. Their stance fails entirely to uphold Western strategic and democratic interests in this region. Furthermore, to rush this solution along at this pre-election time translates to assisting the Communist Party to skew the election results in its favor — or tying the hands of the government thereafter, if the Communists lose.
Third, Western diplomats in charge of the Moldova dossier now seem reconciled to an open-ended presence of Russian troops. Diplomats take at face value the Russian-supplied, implausibly low, unverified figures on the size of Russian forces. They also accept the retention of part of these forces as “peacekeeper” or “guarantor” troops, pre- and post-settlement. In addition, these diplomats would to a cosmetic internationalization of such an operation, leaving the Russian military in control. They have gone beyond tolerance by legalizing Trans-Dniester’s army, a Russian force in all but name, which was formed through transfers of personnel and weaponry from locally based Russian forces.
The framework document on regional security, worked out by Russia, Ukraine and the American-led OSCE Mission, allows Russia and Trans-Dniester to veto any proposals on regional security arrangements and the composition of peacekeeping/guaranteeing contingents. The OSCE Mission’s starting position concedes to Russia the right to provide 50 percent of those troops, meaning that Russia would also hold the command. Also from the start, the OSCE Mission has accepted Russia’s demand to rule out even token units from NATO member countries of the EU. This exclusion has also doomed the EU’s intention to undertake a peace consolidation operation in Moldova. That proposal from the office Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, had in any case run into objections from certain EU member governments, anxious not to displease Russia. These, along with American diplomats in the OSCE, have pushed that proposal off the table.