Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 142

On July 17 in Vienna, a special session of the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reviewed Russia’s performance in complying with the OSCE’s decisions on the removal of Russian forces from Moldova. Those decisions, made at the OSCE’s summit in Istanbul in November 1999, require Russia to withdraw or scrap the arsenals and withdraw the troops–under a three-year timetable–by December 2002. Instead of progress, the OSCE session ascertained deadlock and, in some respects, outright regression since the summit.

That eight-month period has been wasted inasmuch as no Russian soldiers, arms or ammunition have been withdrawn. Moscow is thereby creating an artificial basis for arguing that it will be physically unable to complete the removal of forces within the OSCE-stipulated deadline. It indeed offered that argument at the Vienna session, as part of an effort to obscure its real, political and military-strategic reasons for noncompliance. Three concurrent assertions highlighted the regression.

Moscow argued, first, that the military withdrawal must be correlated with a political agreement between Moldova’s central government and the secessionist authorities of Transdniester, where the Russian troops are stationed. That argument returns to the old “synchronization” thesis, which the OSCE had thrown out during the summit, requiring instead an unconditional withdrawal. A “synchronization” or correlation of that kind would prolong Russia’s military presence indefinitely, because the Transdniester leaders–all of whom hold Russian citizenship and owe their power to the Russian army–can be depended upon to stonewall a political agreement with Chisinau.

Second, the Russian delegation contended that any attempt to withdraw the arsenals would be “resisted by Transdniester’s population” (which would mean “destabilizing the region”), whereas Russia favors “stability in Moldova.” That pretext, too, constitutes a regression, considering the fact that the Russian military did withdraw three rail convoys [“echelons”] of equipment from Transdniester without any “popular resistance” in November 1999, and promised to withdraw another ten convoys immediately thereafter–which it never did. Moscow had made that gesture at the time of the OSCE summit, in a last-ditch attempt to influence the resolution on Moldova. Since the summit, Russia has frozen the withdrawal process and is now invoking, in effect, a Transdniester veto to the military withdrawal.

Third, Moscow’s withdrawal timetable presented in Vienna stopped and even reversed the clock which had begun ticking last November. Those at the summit had expected Russia’s delegation to present a detailed timetable for the removal of weaponry, ammunition stockpiles and troops over the stipulated three-year period. It did submit a three-stage timetable, but one without a starting date. That omission ties in with the insistence on linking the Russian military withdrawal to a political agreement between Chisinau and Tiraspol. And it means that the three-year withdrawal period–officially flowing since November 1999–has not yet begun and is not about to begin as far as Moscow is concerned. Moreover, the withdrawal timetable was confined to military equipment–though not all of it–while failing to mention the troops. That omission in turn ties in with Moscow’s attempt to keep the 2,500 troops in place with a “peacekeeping” mandate, which they do not have at the moment.

A disruption occurred in the conference hall when two Transdniester representatives sought the floor as delegates of a state separate from Moldova. The OSCE had obtained Chisinau’s agreement to include them in the Moldovan delegation, so that they may express the Transdniester leadership’s own views. But the two representatives–both holding Russian citizenship, and one of them a Russian native–repudiated that initial understanding, were consequently denied the floor and staged a walkout from the conference. The disruption disappointed those OSCE officials who had recently criticized Moldova for failing to include Transdniester officials as members of Moldovan delegations to international conferences.

With direct Western encouragement, Moldova officially proposed–for the first time–that Russia’s “peacekeeping” operation be internationalized and placed under either an OSCE or a United Nations mandate, with genuine peacekeeping troops to be contributed by countries which do not have direct interests with regard to Moldova. No decision is at hand, but the issue is now on the agenda at last. The government in Chisinau had for several years sounded off the OSCE about the possible deployment of an international peacekeeping contingent. Incumbent President Petru Lucinschi had initiated those soundings as far back as 1994 while chairman of the Moldovan parliament. But the OSCE’s Western countries had other priorities and showed little interest in Moldova until quite recently. The situation with the Russian troops in Moldova has now become an acid test of the OSCE’s credibility (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, Monitor interviews, July 14-15, 17-18; see the Monitor, January 14, February 8, 10, April 5, 7, 12, June 20; Fortnight in Review, June 23).

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