Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 217

President Petru Lucinschi announced a “great victory of the Moldovan people” on his return home from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Istanbul. In a meeting with Lucinschi on November 18, Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed that Russia would complete the withdrawal of its arsenals from Moldova by December 31, 2001, and the withdrawal of its troops by December 31, 2002. Lucinschi credited the United States and the OSCE’s presidency–under the current chairman-in-office, Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek of Norway–for supporting Moldova’s effort during the decisive stage of the negotiations. Russia’s commitment is enshrined in the summit’s final declaration which calls for an “orderly and complete” withdrawal of the Russian weaponry, ammunition and troops from Moldova by those deadlines.

Neither the Yeltsin-Lucinschi agreement nor the OSCE’s declaration condition the Russian withdrawal on a prior or parallel resolution of Transdniester’s political status. Russia had since 1992 insisted on such a linkage. Delinking the two issue creates, for the first time, a realistic hope for a resolution of the Transdniester problem on the basis of the region’s autonomy–however far-reaching–within the framework of the Moldovan state.

Back in 1994, the Russian side had pledged to withdraw the arsenals and troops by 1997. That promise, contained in an agreement signed by then-prime ministers Viktor Chernomyrdin and Andrei Sangheli, was never honored. In 1996, the Council of Europe (CE) listed that withdrawal as one of the conditions for Russia’s admission to the CE, but progress toward that goal was negligible. The Russian side sought, ahead of the Istanbul summit, to stretch the withdrawal until 2005. The Moldovans insisted on completion of the withdrawal by December 2001. The OSCE’s decision comes very close to meeting Moldova’s goal (Flux, Basapress, November 19-20).