Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 182

Following the September 17 referendum that approved Transnistria’s secession from Moldova and goal of joining Russia in a Soviet-style 97% vote, Moldova is being pressed into negotiating with Transnistria without even a decent interval. The forces behind such pressure are a familiar constellation: Moscow and elements within the OSCE. The latter include the organization’s Belgian chairmanship and old-timers within the OSCE’s Moldova Mission, the main public spokesman for whom is the mission’s German deputy chief Gottfried Hanne. The European Union and the United States — “observers” in the 5+2 negotiating format — also favor the resumption of negotiations, but are not pressing for immediate “results.” Russia and those elements in the OSCE, however, are turning up the pressure on Moldova for quick results at the country’s expense. They seek to adopt Transnistria’s political status on the quick, with Russia’s troops in place, Transnistria’s army and pervasive security apparatus intact, and holdover OSCE officials facing perhaps their last chance to implement the old recipes to which they are wedded.

In speeches delivered at two recent conferences in Moldova, Hanne laid out the following rationales for “urgently” resuming the negotiations and adopting a political status for Transnistria or at least the outline of one within “a few weeks”:

1) The conflict pits “political and economic elites on the left and right bank” against each other;

2) The “political will of the two sides” would suffice for a prompt political settlement;

3) “The sides,” Chisinau and Tiraspol, should duly rely on the assistance of “mediators” Russia, OSCE, and Ukraine to achieve that settlement;

4) Moldova had earlier “accepted” that system of negotiations and is bound by it;

5) As in the case of Kosovo, certain standards must be obtained before a decision regarding the status;

6) Consequently, the OSCE Mission will work with Tiraspol’s Supreme Soviet and government (though not with the “unrecognized” presidency of Igor Smirnov) to assist them in adopting certain standards that will qualify them for a status yet to be determined.

Some of these theses form the core of the OSCE Mission’s ideology as it developed for more than a decade, discrediting that Mission in Moldova. It treats Moldova’s freely elected, Western-oriented leadership as co-equal with the authorities installed by Russia through force in Tiraspol. Flying in the face of evidence, it misrepresents the conflict as involving local elites so as to avoid dealing with Russia’s full responsibility for the conflict. (Blaming the conflict on the “elites on both banks” is also the line of pro-Moscow splinter parties in Chisinau). Equally falsely it implies that the Russia-installed leaders in Tiraspol represent Transnistria’s population, whereas in fact they represent Russia’s geopolitical agenda (more recently intertwined with the shadow economy). It pushes Moldova back into the “mediation” system that Yevgeny Primakov created in 1997 in order to pin down Moldova in Russia’s sphere of dominance. Moldova quit that system when it made its U-turn from Russia toward the West in 2004, but OSCE holdovers continue blithely using the old terminology and clinging to that framework without any basis in international or Moldovan law.

A further tenet of that ideology claims that the Russian Army would willingly permit international inspection of its massive arsenals in Transnistria, but is “not permitted” to do so by Transnistria’s military (this is a variation on the theme that Transnistria “does not permit” Russia’s military to scrap the arsenals or evacuate them to Russia). Such claims, publicly repeated by the former mission chief, severely damaged his and the mission’s credibility.

The sense of “urgency” and “few weeks’” timeframe is linked to the OSCE’s year-end conference in early December. Every year since 2001, the OSCE’s chairmanship and the organization’s Moldova Mission have tried to show at least some “results” regarding conflict settlement at the year-end conference by pressuring Chisinau into concessions to Russia and Tiraspol. This year brings some novelties, however. These include the analogy with Kosovo (albeit avoiding any reference to a precedent or model) whereby, in effect, Transnistria’s authorities would be helped to qualify for a status yet to be determined. Working with Tiraspol toward that end would clearly exceed the Mission’s mandate, which does not envision any such assistance to secessionist authorities.

The idea of, in effect, helping the secessionist authorities to meet standards for political (not yet legal) recognition first surfaced in 2005 with Finnish parliamentarian Kimmo Kiljunen’s resolution in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Kiljunen, a politician who enjoys Moscow’s trust, theorizes that sharing decision-making with Russia in European and Euro-Atlantic organizations is key to solving contentious problems in Europe and Eurasia. In pursuit of that experiment, he advocated power sharing in Moldova between Chisinau and Tiraspol, as the OSCE mission did for different reasons in 2002-2005.

At the moment, Kiljunen plans to head an OSCE delegation to Transnistria in order to “evaluate” whether conditions exist for holding democratic elections there. This move seems bizarre in the wake of the September 17 referendum, which the OSCE itself criticized for being conducted undemocratically. Nevertheless, the logic of sending the “evaluation team” is emerging clearly. The Kiljunen team will assess the situation as negative on the whole, but will suggest ways of improving it, with a view to holding new elections in Transnistria in one or two years’ time that would qualify the Supreme Soviet and government for political recognition as democratically elected bodies. This would boost Tiraspol’s negotiating position, enable it to drive the hardest possible bargain in power sharing with Chisinau, and seal Moldova’s de facto division.

(Moldpres, Basapress, September 18-30)