Osce In Moldova: Showing The Flag For What It’s Worth

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 37

A delegation of 27 Vienna-based ambassadors to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) from member countries visited Moldova on June 9-12. This unprecedented, mass descent was followed by the visit of OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office for 2004, Bulgarian Foreign Affairs Minister Solomon Passy, in Moldova on June 21-22 — the chairmanship’s midpoint.

The intent was to shore up the OSCE’s tattered image and help restart negotiations toward resolution of the Trans-Dniester conflict. However, the results were opposite to those intended. OSCE was again seen cowering before Russia and the latter’s protégés in Trans-Dniester, as well as partnering with Communist authorities in Chisinau against the western-oriented opposition on the twin issues of “federalization” and Russian troops.

Both delegations met with Igor Smirnov and other Trans-Dniester leaders, but failed to comment on those leaders’ threats to send aid, including arms and military specialists, to South Ossetia and Abkhazia against Georgia (see EDM, June 14). Asked in Chisinau by journalists and civil society representatives why the OSCE is failing to address these threats, the OSCE Chisinau Mission’s chief, American diplomat William Hill, first attempted to describe the aid offered as “moral,” denying that arms and military specialists were being offered. When confronted with the actual citations, Hill retreated into silence. Passy, too, was asked why OSCE failed to raise the issue when the delegation met Smirnov in Tiraspol. Passy’s reply at the news conference was, “Smirnov did not raise that issue”. (Flux, June 22)

In his own communiqué on the visit, Passy “expressed his concerns with regard to the implementation of OSCE Istanbul Summit decisions on the withdrawal of military forces.” The phrase is calculated to avoid using even the mild term “non-implementation”. Breach would have come somewhat closer to reality. It stops shy of identifying the forces as Russian, although the OSCE’s 1999 Istanbul Summit decisions referred specifically to Russia’s forces. It fails to cite the actual 1999 Istanbul OSCE formula, which called for complete withdrawal by 2002, without any conditions. Moreover, it fails to mention Russia’s massive breaches of the CFE Treaty (or even to “express concern with implementation” thereof) although it was also adopted at that same OSCE summit. And it avoids invoking the OSCE’s own Helsinki Final Act, the violation of which has practically forced the organization to stop mentioning that and associated documents.

Now at the mid-point of his chairmanship, Passy for the first time found it possible to mention the matter of withdrawal of Russian “forces,” a term understood to include troops as part of its meaning. When taking over in January as chairman, Passy had only mentioned the withdrawal of Russian “arsenals” — an often-used signal to reassure Moscow that the OSCE would tolerate the stationing of at least some Russian troops in Moldova.

During the first day of Passy’s two-day visit, Trans-Dniester (left-bank) leaders deployed troops to a Moldovan right-bank village in the demilitarized zone, and continue holding that village illegally. The timing of this move seemed calculated to test the chairmanship’s reaction and that of OSCE as such. Passy failed to react; the OSCE’s Chisinau Mission, as usual in such cases, commented that the move was “counterproductive,” “unilateral,” not contributing to mutual confidence, and needed to bediscussed in the “existing channels.” However, the existing channels, dominated by the Russian and Trans-Dniester sides, invariably condone moves of that type, to OSCE’s sometimes-stated regrets.

During the ambassadors’ collective visit and again during Passy’s visit, the Bulgarian chairmanship called for continuing negotiations for a political settlement of the conflict, based on the existing proposal of the three mediators – Russia, Ukraine, and OSCE. Drawn up in October 2003 and officially submitted in February 2004, that document appoints the same mediators as the future legal, political and military guarantors of a “federalized” Moldova. This formula ensures multiple Russian representation, both directly and indirectly (in its own right as well as via Kyiv and OSCE); allows only indirect Western representation (via the OSCE, which by its rules cannot act or speak without Russia’s consent); and gives Trans-Dniester the possibility to veto decisions regarding all the parameters of the “military guarantees” that would accompany the political settlement through “federalization.” Russia has such veto rights; but granting them to Tiraspol will enable Russia to hide behind Tiraspol’s vetoes if necessary — as it now does on a number of military and security issues.

When the ambassadors’ group visited Tiraspol, the accompanying Moldovan government representatives were sent back by Trans-Dniester security forces commanded by Vladimir Antyufeyev, former OMON commander in Riga, wanted for crimes committed in Latvia in 1991, and head of the security apparatus of Trans-Dniester since 1992. The OSCE ambassadors’ delegation tolerated the eviction of Moldovan representatives, and then went ahead with the prescheduled reception organized by the American-led OSCE Mission for Trans-Dniester leaders near Tiraspol. Many felt that the mission should have cancelled the reception in those circumstances.

Both delegations’ meetings with democratic opposition and civil society representatives were acrimonious as usual. These embattled European-oriented groups in Moldova have long criticized the OSCE’s Chisinau mission for working with the Communists in Chisinau and with Russia’s protégés in Tiraspol for a “federalized” Moldova under mainly Russian political and military influence. Moldova is the only country in which the OSCE mission is involved in a confrontational relationship with civil society, because it is seen as favoring eastern at the expense of western interests and influence in the country. (Basapress, Flux, Infotag, Olvia Press, June 9-13, 21-22; OSCE communiqués, June 13, 22)