Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 106

“Mediators” Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE are redoubling efforts to refloat the shipwrecked negotiations toward Moldova’s federalization. Meeting on October 11-12 in Sofia at the initiative of the OSCE Chairmanship, the three mediators issued a joint statement urging Chisinau and Tiraspol to return to that same negotiating process. Noting with oblique reproach, “Moldova has since July suspended its participation in the negotiations,” the mediators gave themselves credit for facilitating “progress on the issue of Romanian-language schools in Trans-Dniester,” implying that this warranted the resumption of negotiations in the preexisting “pentagonal” format (Chisinau-Tiraspol-Russia-Ukraine-OSCE).

The OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office, Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Solomon Passy, endorsed the call and made it into a Chair’s initiative. The joint statement’s text, released by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says “the so-called issue of schools,” making it appear as if the OSCE had agreed with the disparaging wording (Interfax, October 12). The OSCE has apparently not noticed or reacted to the misattribution. In the meantime Moscow, Tiraspol, the OSCE, Brussels, and Washington have all urged Moldova to resume negotiations in the Russian-controlled “pentagonal” format, where the sole basis for discussions is Chisinau-Tiraspol “federalization” under mainly Russian “guarantees.”

Moscow is in the process of switching horses in Moldova. Kremlin political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky, now actively involved in Ukraine’s presidential election, is already giving some thought to Moldova’s upcoming elections. In a recent interview he declared, “Russia needs a new political partner in Moldova, one more loyal than President [Vladimir] Voronin. We find it difficult to conduct relations with Chisinau in these circumstances. Russia is not placing its stake on any specific party [in the elections.] We hope that a more reliable partner will emerge from these elections.” Alluding to Western support for the Russian-devised “federalization” project, Pavlovsky criticized Voronin for not heeding that Western advice: “Voronin’s policy has become unpredictable after rejecting certain views of European and American representatives” (“Rus Yedinaya” news portal, cited by Flux, October 6).

Rather more vehemently, the Duma’s Foreign Relations Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev has termed Voronin a “political intriguer” who “turned into one of the most anti-Russian leaders in the CIS space.” Recalling Voronin’s earlier, “wonderful statements” about Russia and Russian-Moldovan relations, Kosachev accused Voronin of “committing a strategic error” by shifting from a Russian to a Western orientation. Kosachev made clear that Moscow has no intention to withdraw its troops from Moldova. He also rejected internationalization of the “pentagonal” negotiations by claiming that such change would only complicate and slow down the process (Radio Free Europe interview, October 6; Flux, October 7).

This argument that internationalization would unduly slow things down has also been adduced in the “federalization” context since 2002 by officials of the U.S. State Department, the European Union, and the OSCE. Now these same officials have to face not just a slowdown, but also a complete breakdown of that process and their policy. If the Kozak Memorandum was an unintended, toxic fallout from that policy, the breakdown in negotiations is an unintended fortunate result, which the West can use for rethinking its approach entirely.

Meanwhile, Moldova’s Communist head of state and his team have adopted many trademark arguments of the pro-Western opposition and civil society on the Trans-Dniester issue and, more broadly, on Moldova’s problems with Russia. Those arguments used to be confined to the Western-oriented, democratic segment of the political spectrum, ignored or rejected by successive Moldovan governments, and stigmatized as “right-wing-nationalist” by the Communist leadership during its first three years in power. Most of those arguments have now become Moldova’s official positions.

Reflecting this political sea change, the government newspaper Moldova suverana and state-controlled television are publicizing highly critical views on Russia’s policies toward Moldova, as well as toward Georgia and on other international issues. Government officials and media are calling for a hands-on Western approach to conflict-settlement. Communist leaders, who disagree with the Christian-Democrat and civil-society opposition on many issues, now see eye-to-eye with it on the Trans-Dniester problem.

During an October 12 joint television appearance, for example, the Communist parliamentary majority leader Victor Stepaniuc fully agreed with his long-time nemesis, Christian-Democrat opposition leader Iurie Rosca, on Trans-Dniester and on Russia’s policy. Stepaniuc rejected “federalization,” ruled out any further negotiations with Trans-Dniester’s “usurper” and “gangster” regime, accused Moscow of supporting that regime, criticized Russia’s biased “peacekeeping,” denounced the 1997 Moscow Memorandum (which made Russia the main “mediator” in and “guarantor” of a political settlement), called for internationalization of the peacekeeping and negotiating formats, and urged a solution consistent with Moldova’s constitution and international law. Rosca, an irreducible anti-communist and main electoral rival of that party, welcomed the Communist leadership’s new policy and urged all political forces to support that policy. (Moldovan TV, October 12).

Not all Moldovan Communists share these views, but the many who do not keep quiet in the spirit of party discipline. Those who follow Voronin have crossed a psychological threshold. This development is ongoing, incomplete, and may yet be set back through concentric Russian-Western pressure on Moldova, as in 2003 when such pressure had the unintended result of pushing Voronin entirely into the Kremlin’s arms, on the brink of accepting the Kozak Memorandum. By now, however, Voronin and his team seem to have burned their bridges to Russia. This is why Moscow is considering a different set of players to support in Moldova’s parliamentary and presidential elections (scheduled for February 2005).

Within Moldova’s “centrist” opposition, leaders of two factions (out of four) are engaged in discussions with Moscow and have criticized Voronin’s policy regarding Trans-Dniester and Russia. Chisinau mayor Serafim Urecheanu (the centrist opposition’s presidential aspirant) and former prime minister (1999-2001) Dumitru Braghis are engaged in those contacts. The overtures seem tentative and somewhat hesitant on both sides at this stage. The other factions in the centrist bloc are firmly opposed to such contacts with Moscow. One option available to Moscow would be to encourage the Communist Party’s Russian/Russophone wing to abandon Voronin and combine with the two wet “centrist” Moldovan factions to elect another president and government.