OSCE NUDGING RUSSIA TO WITHDRAW TROOPS FROM MOLDOVA.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 136
A special, “informal” Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting on military transparency, held on July 13 in Vienna, dealt with the problem of Russian forces in Moldova. Russian troops and arsenals have been unlawfully stationed in that country since 1991, a situation unique in Europe since the end of the Cold War. The Vienna meeting, held at the initiative of Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Knut Vollebaek–who is also Norway’s foreign minister–critically examined a withdrawal timetable which Russia proposed on June 3. The forum supported and in some ways reinforced Moldova’s assessment of this timetable as an “inadequate” and “superficial” document, which seeks to prolong the Russian military presence by another seven years, and focuses on repatriating to Russia nonessential and redundant equipment while retaining the combat hardware in place for as long as possible. The Moldovan and Western delegations stated that the Russian timetable failed to live up to the letter and the spirit of the December 1998 Oslo decision of the OSCE’s Ministerial Council, which had asked Russia to draw up and submit a “feasible” schedule for the withdrawal of its forces from Moldova’s Transdniester region. The Russian side could not afford openly to veto that decision, but the qualification “feasible,” inserted at its insistence, can create pretexts for foot-dragging.
Western countries–including the United States, Britain, France and several Nordic nations–had offered, at the Oslo conference, to finance the repatriation of Russian military assets from Moldova, the adaptation of some of the equipment for civilian use and the destruction of the untransportable or expired ammunition stocks. Those stocks–kept in unsafe conditions mainly at Colbasna, one of the largest ammunition dumps in Europe–pose special problems. The Russian side claims that it lacks the funds and expertise to destroy the expired ammunition or to adapt the explosives in the more recent dump for industrial use.
The combat weaponry–some 120 battle tanks, hundreds of other types of armored vehicles and several hundred artillery systems–poses a political problem in that Russia’s Transdniester clients claim ownership of the weaponry in the event that Russian troops withdraw from the area. This situation has at times enabled Moscow to browbeat Chisinau into tolerating the presence of Russian troops to “protect the arms stocks” against a potentially greater calamity–a takeover of those stocks by Transdniester forces.
The OSCE’s July 13 Vienna meeting may have pointed to a way around such blackmail. The session scheduled a meeting for July 22 in Moscow of military experts of Russia, Moldova and the Western countries which have offered to finance the removal-reutilization-destruction of Russian arms and ammunition. The Moscow meeting will address Russia’s estimates of the expenses involved and yield a schedule for an inspection visit of the military experts at the depots in Transdniester. The OSCE’s Permanent Council will review the results at its next meeting in September–a scheduling which suggests that the forum is now focusing more closely and purposefully than it has in the past on this festering situation (Flux, Basapress, Monitor interviews, July 13).
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