On January 26-27, negotiations on the Transnistria conflict in the enlarged format of 5+2 (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, Moldova, and the Tiraspol authorities as full participants, plus the United States and European Union as observers) concluded the third failed round of talks in the three months since Washington and Brussels entered as minor players. The round’s failure had been anticipated as part of this routinized process.
However, the round witnessed one significant development: the consolidation of Kyiv’s alignment with Moscow and Tiraspol, opposing Moldova and obstructing Western initiatives. Kyiv’s policy on Moldova/Transnistria is in the hands of presidential structures, which bypass Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and overrule the Cabinet of Ministers on these issues.
Meeting in Kyiv on the round’s opening day, January 26, Russia’s Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov and Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) Secretary Anatoly Kinakh told a joint news conference that Moscow and Kyiv would coordinate their actions on Transnistria and would soon send delegations there, led by Ivanov’s and Kinakh’s deputies, to determine further joint steps on security issues (RIA-Novosti, nrcu.gov.ua, January 26). With this announcement, Moscow and Kyiv circumvented the official negotiating format, signaling that they pursued their own set of common goals, and implicitly consigning the 5+2 negotiations to failure if not outright irrelevance.
The joint announcement and its calculated timing were a repetition of Moscow and Kyiv’s procedure of December 15, 2005, when Presidents Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yushchenko issued their joint declaration on Transnistria on the opening day of the second round of 5+2 negotiations, in effect splitting the forum. That strategic document forms the basis of a common policy whereby Kyiv endorses or accepts Moscow’s familiar proposals — including the semantics of previous Russian documents — in Transnistria and Moldova as a whole. For its part, Moscow endorses the proposal credited to Yushchenko on Transnistria’s “democratization” through quick recognition of a reelected Supreme Soviet (see EDM, January 16).
The Ivanov-Kinakh joint statement of January 26 is a tactical step that flows from the December 15 strategic document. That document, negotiated in Moscow by NSDC senior official Serhiy Pirozhkov and Yushchenko’s special envoy on Moldova/Transnistria issues, Dmytro Tkach, formed part of Kyiv’s incentives for Putin to visit with Yushchenko in Ukraine in the run up to the parliamentary elections there. Such a visit remains high on the Ukrainian president’s agenda (see EDM, January 12).
At the same time, other governing structures in Kyiv seem more sensitive to European Union objectives in Moldova/Transnistria than the NSDC appears to be. Among the EU’s main goals is the suppression of smuggling and other forms of trafficking through Transnistria and adjacent Ukrainian areas.
Topping the January 26-27 negotiating round’s agenda was implementation of the December 30, 2005, Joint Declaration signed by Prime Ministers Yuriy Yekhanurov of Ukraine and Vasile Tarlev of Moldova, regarding Transnistria’s external trade operations through Ukraine. Under that document, the Ukrainian government pledged to no longer recognize Transnistria’s “customs” and the export-import documents, seals, and stamps issued by Transnistrian authorities. Instead, the Ukrainian government was to require all cargoes transiting to and from Transnistria to pass through Moldovan customs: the exports tax- and duty-free, the imports paying Moldovan taxes refundable in Transnistria. For its part, the Moldovan government offered to grant legal registration to Transnistria’s business entities and not interfere in any way with their operations.
The EU had urged this arrangement in order to curb massive illegal commerce to and from Transnistria via Ukraine. The new rules were to take effect on January 25. However, Kyiv officials acting on Yushchenko’s authority overruled Yekhanurov on this issue.
On January 24-25, presidential envoy Tkach visited Transnistria’s leader Igor Smirnov in Tiraspol, and Kinakh received Transnistria’s self-styled “foreign affairs minister” Valery Litskay in Kyiv. The Ukrainian officials announced that Kyiv was unilaterally suspending the implementation of the Yekhanurov-Tarlev Declaration until further notice. They echoed Tiraspol’s argument in claiming that the measures would have amounted to a “blockade” of Transnistria — an argument that Yekhanurov had explicitly refuted when signing the declaration with Tarlev. Russia’s envoy Valery Nesterushkin supported Kyiv’s decision during the negotiating round. Smirnov and Litskay publicly expressed their thanks to Yushchenko.
This marks the fourth time that a Ukrainian president has abrogated an EU-supported agreement signed by the Ukrainian and Moldovan prime ministers to introduce European rules on that border. Leonid Kuchma cancelled such agreements in 2001 and 2003. Yushchenko did so for the first time in July 2005: at NSDC Secretary Petro Poroshenko’s behest, he received Smirnov in Kyiv and ordered an indefinite suspension of the agreement Yulia Tymoshenko signed with Tarlev.
In all three rounds of the 5+2 negotiations, all sides avoided discussion of the thorniest issues: Russia’s unlawful military presence and “peacekeeping” operation. Moscow and Tiraspol want to exclude those issues altogether from negotiations; Kyiv passively tolerates the situation; while Washington, Brussels, and a figurehead OSCE seek some appearance of success through “small steps” and some projects to keep the OSCE afloat.
During this round, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin again called for withdrawal of Russian troops and deployment of an international mission of observers, both military and civilian. The United States regularly urges the withdrawal of Russian forces, but it does not raise the issue directly with the Kremlin. The EU proposes a revamped peacekeeping operation in which Russia would be entitled to provide 50% of the troops, and Ukraine presumably its own token contingent. Such an arrangement would ignore Moldova’s opposition to any foreign military presence on its territory; would unjustifiably privilege Russia over the West, on the West’s doorstep; and would provide an excuse for ratification of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe without Russian implementation of the Istanbul Commitments on troop withdrawal.
(Moldpres, Basapres, Olvia Press [Tiraspol], Interfax, January 24-29)