Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 146

A meeting of Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine and Petru Lucinschi of Moldova, tentatively scheduled to be held in late July in Moscow or Kyiv, has been canceled. They were to have discussed the terms of “settling” the Transdniester conflict. But Moscow suddenly claimed that it was too early to hold the meeting because Russia’s newly created State Commission, chaired by Yevgeny Primakov and mandated to “mediate” the negotiations, needs time to acquaint itself with the situation and to work out its proposals.

Yet when Putin created that commission–during his June visit to Chisinau with Primakov at his side (see the Monitor, June 20; the Fortnight in Review, June 23)–he decided in the same breath to hold the tripartite presidential meeting, ostensibly in order to break the deadlock in the negotiations. Moreover, Putin–with Lucinschi seconding him–insisted on that occasion that Primakov was well acquainted with the situation, based on his long involvement in the negotiations while foreign affairs and prime minister of Russia until quite recently. Indeed, Primakov was instrumental in formulating, and imposing on Chisinau, the internationally unprecedented concept of “common state” as a basis for settling the conflict. That concept proved guaranteed to prolong the stalemate.

This week in Vienna–“on Putin’s instructions”–Primakov is holding talks on Moldova with the chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Bentina Ferrero-Waldner. He is also meeting with Kuchma in Kyiv and with Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk. According to Primakov’s Duma press office, Primakov wants to include Lukashenka in the “coordinated efforts toward a settlement in Transdniester” (Itar-Tass, July 26). Russian officials dropped feelers recently in Chisinau about the possibility of adding Belarusan units to the Russian “peacekeeping” contingent in Transdniester. That suggestion seems to address recent Western and Moldovan calls for introducing troops from countries which have neither direct interests in nor common borders with Moldova.

Primakov seems set to demand a further timeout soon. In Vienna, he “agreed” with Transdniester leaders’ position that the switch in Chisinau from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary form of government has changed the overall situation, necessitating careful analysis and reconsideration. And because a new president will take charge in Moldova early next year, the argument for procrastination is already in place. With a three-year term set by the OSCE for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova, more than one year will have been wasted, and the OSCE-stipulated deadline flouted.

Further denting Moscow’s credibility as mediator, the presidential “party of power” Unity established a branch in Transdniester on July 22. Moldova’s constitution and laws rule out the establishment and activity in the country of foreign political parties and blocs. Chisinau failed to protest against this intrusion. Until now, only communist and ultranationalist parties from Russia–principally the two led, respectively, by Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky–had branches in Transdniester. The presidential bloc’s decision to set foot there is in line with Putin’s idea–which he first enunciated during last month’s visit to Chisinau–that Russia will extend protection to “peoples” [“narody” in the ethnic sense] which feel safe under that protection (see the Monitor, June 20; the Fortnight in Review, June 23). The population of Transdniester is 41 percent Moldovan, 28 percent Ukrainian and 25 percent Russian–the latter mostly nonnative and partly militarized.

Meanwhile, in Kyiv, Kuchma has created a Ukrainian governmental commission to represent that country in the negotiations on Moldova’s fate (DINAU, July 14). Heading that commission is Volodymyr Horbulin, a long-time confidant of Kuchma’s and an architect of Ukraine-NATO cooperation while secretary of the National Security and Defense Council until 1999. The creation of a Ukrainian counterweight to Primakov’s commission, and the appointment of an influential and pro-Western figure to head that commission, are encouraging signs for Moldova. Given the current state of Ukrainian-Russian relations, Ukraine will likely stand up for her own and for Moldova’s interests, which converge on the goal of ridding Transdniester of Russian troops.

But even assuming that Ukraine will do so consistently, the insertion of Horbulin does not address the problem of enlarging the framework of the negotiations by adding Western countries. Georgia has successfully attained that interim step in the protracted negotiating process on Abkhazia. Unfortunately for Moldova, her presidents–former, current and in waiting–are no Shevardnadze equivalents in any respect. In Chisinau, Lucinschi–who is now a lameduck president (see the Monitor, July 10) recently pleaded with Ferrero-Waldner and with a high-level delegation of the Ministerial Committee of the Council of Europe to help enlarge the framework for negotiations toward the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and the adoption of a political status for Transdniester. Also last week, Moldova called for the first time officially for an internationalization of the Russian “peacekeeping” operation.

The OSCE’s mission chief in Chisinau, U.S. diplomat William Hill, publicly cautioned that it would take time before OSCE units could be added to the peacekeeping operation. “Its composition and mandate would be subject to discussions,” Hill pointed out, in a clear reference to Russia. Yesterday in Chisinau, Hill was cited as expressing “satisfaction” with the outcome of the OSCE Permanent Council’s July 17 session which reviewed the situation in Moldova for the first time since the November 1999 Istanbul summit. Hill pointed to Moscow’s presentation of a withdrawal timetable for its arsenals by the OSCE-stipulated deadline in December 2002. But the Vienna session hardly gave cause for optimism. The withdrawal timetable is deeply flawed by the absence of a starting date and the failure to include the Russian troops. Both omissions seem calculated. Moscow continues linking military withdrawal to a political settlement and hopes to retain the bulk of the troops by conferring on them the “peacekeeping” mandate they lack.

In Tiraspol, self-styled vice president Aleksandr Karaman and Foreign Affairs Minister Valery Litskay stated on July 22 and 25, respectively, that the OSCE’s decisions do not apply to Transdniester in the first place and that the OSCE is, after all, just “a consultative body.” If things continue going as they have been on Moldova, the OSCE may ultimately–however unwillingly–prove these Tiraspol leaders and their Moscow protectors correct in their calculations (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, July 22-26; see the Monitor, January 14, February 8, 10, April 5, 7, 12, June 20, July 21; the Fortnight in Review, June 23).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions