Minister of Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasyuk’s June 26-27 visit to Moldova was the first visit abroad by a senior Ukrainian official since the formation of the parliamentary coalition and designation of a prime minister in the person of Yulia Tymoshenko (June 22). His discussions with President Vladimir Voronin and other Moldovan officials indicate that Kyiv is fully aligned with the West and Moldova on the Transnistria issue and intends to continue in this vein, provided that the three-party coalition does form the Ukrainian government. Voronin expressed confident hope that this would be the case.
In line with his view that a Russian-controlled exclave in Transnistria is a top concern to Ukraine’s national security and its regional security policy, Tarasyuk declared in Chisinau, “Supporting the
restoration of Moldova’s territorial integrity and sovereignty through peaceful resolution in Transnistria is Ukraine’s most important task” (Moldpres, June 26, 27). He publicly endorsed Moldova’s goal to transform the existing Russian “peacekeeping” operation into an international mission of observers with mixed military and civilian composition under an international mandate. While Ukraine favors an OSCE mandate for such a mission, Moldova uses the wording “international mandate” in hopes of obtaining one from the European Union, rather than the OSCE, given its discredited track record in Moldova.
No fewer than three times during his visit, Tarasyuk directly named Moscow and Tiraspol as responsible for the breakdown since April in the negotiating process. Apparently not optimistic about its prospects, he called jointly with Chisinau for resumption of negotiations in the 5 + 2 format by September; and, should Moscow and Tiraspol decline to return to that format, they will again bear full responsibility for the blockage: “Russia’s position, supported by Transnistria, is the cause of
the impasse” (Interfax-Ukraine, June 26, 27). Again in unison with Chisinau, Tarasyuk dismissed any analogy between the situation in Transnistria and that in Kosovo or Montenegro and any claim by Tiraspol to hold an internationally approved referendum based on such analogies.
Unlike official Chisinau, Tarasyuk expressed his support for adding Romania to the existing format of negotiations. Such a move would clearly redound to Moldova’s advantage even if Chisinau may not see it that way. The issue seems moot while the European Union (itself a participant with only an observer’s status in that format) opposes Romania’s inclusion in the negotiations, arguing that it would detract from the EU’s common policy. In fact, certain EU governments wary of a more forward-leaning EU policy would rather exclude Romania from the negotiating format in deference to Russia.
Moscow and Tiraspol cite the introduction of European-standard customs regulations on the Transnistria sector of the Moldova-Ukraine border as an excuse for withdrawing from the negotiations. Terming it a “false excuse” Tarasyuk assured Chisinau that a Tymoshenko-led government in Kyiv as well as Ukraine’s customs service and border guard would continue implementing those regulations in cooperation with the EU’s Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM). However, the position of other Kyiv policy makers might be unpredictable, judging from the relatively recent record. President Viktor Yushchenko had suspended, then invalidated Tymoshenko’s set of decrees that would have curbed Transnistria’s contraband trade during her premiership in 2005; and Petro Poroshenko, now the Verkhovna Rada’s chairman-in-waiting, maintained opaque relations with Tiraspol’s business and political leaders while serving as Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary last year. Ultimately, however, Yushchenko and his government did implement the EU-approved customs and border regime.
Moldovan leaders and Tarasyuk on his visit paid minimally required lip service to the Yushchenko plan for political settlement of the Transnistria conflict. Worked out actually under Poroshenko’s supervision in April-May 2005 as a compromise with Moscow and Tiraspol, this plan has clearly been overtaken by intervening developments, by Moldovan legislation, by certain Ukrainian documents, and by Western negotiating proposals, the aggregate effect of which is far more favorable to Moldovan, Western, and indeed Ukrainian interests, compared to Poroshenko’s “Yushchenko plan.”
Voronin and parliamentary chairman Marian Lupu agreed with Tarasyuk to bring the GUAM charter to speedy ratification in Moldova, in line with the decisions of GUAM’s May 23 summit in Kyiv. However, Yushchenko’s call to the organization’s member countries to finalize and bring into force the founding documents of a GUAM Free Trade Zone within 30 days was unreal from the outset (see EDM, May
Rather than meeting with Tiraspol leaders (which negotiators routinely do while in Moldova), Tarasyuk scheduled a visit fraught with symbolism to the grave of Ukrainian Hetman Ivan Mazepa near Bendery (now a right-bank bridgehead of left-bank Transnistria) and a meeting in that same city with representatives of ethnic Ukrainians from Transnistria. The meeting was disrupted by pickets of “public organizations” with such slogans as “Tarasyuk, U.S. agent” and “Down with NATO” and heckling him as “inspirer and author of Ukraine’s anti-Transnistria actions.” The show was organized by Tiraspol’s security services, which are hierarchically subordinate to “you know who” [Russia], Tarasyuk told the media (Interfax-Ukraine, June 26).
As Ukraine’s Security Service chief, Ihor Drizhchanyy, and presidential representative in the Crimea, Hennadiy Moskal, recently told the Ukrainian public, certain pseudo-NGOs operate both in the Crimea and in Transnistria as pressure groups on Russia’s behalf. These include “Dniester Cossacks” and the youth organization Proryv, which has branches in Russia, Ukraine, and Transnistria (Den, June 21; Fakty i Kommentarii [Kyiv], June 23).
Overlapping with Tarasyuk’s visit, the head of EUBAM, Brig.-General Ferenc Banfi, conferred with Moldovan leaders in Chisinau. EUBAM monitors the Moldova-Ukraine border since December 2005; and, as part of its mandate, it assists Ukraine’s customs service and border guard to curb contraband on the Transnistria sector of that border, in line with EU-approved regulations introduced in March 2006 by Moldovan-Ukrainian agreement. Those regulations require Transnistrian firms to register with Moldova’s foreign trade authority, clear their exports with Moldovan customs, and obtain Moldovan customs stamps and certificates for presentation to Ukrainian authorities at the border. Moldova does not tax those Transnistrian exports at this time and does not plan to do so any time soon, although it would be within its rights to do so.
Full cooperation by Ukraine on its side of the border is key to implementation, since Transnistria’s de facto authorities control what is legally the Moldovan side of that border on a 465-kilometer sector. At present, EUBAM and Moldova are pleased with Ukraine’s cooperation in implementing the new border and customs regime. However, their resources in the field are limited. Moldova calls for enlarging EUBAM’s resources and responsibilities and introducing round-the-clock monitoring of the border.
Kyiv’s stated aspirations to regional leadership stand their chance of fulfillment on the Transnistria issue, where Russia poses a challenge to Ukrainian and regional security. The Orange Two government, once in place, will have its opportunity to meet that challenge, working closely this time with the West, Moldova, and Romania, not at cross-purposes with them and with itself.
Interfax-Ukraine, Moldpres, Basapres, June 26, 27)