Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 227

The OSCE’s year-end conference on December 5-6 foundered over Russia’s defiance on two sets of issues: First, Moldova and related issues of implementing the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and Russia’s 1999 Istanbul Commitments on troop withdrawal from Moldova and Georgia. And, second, Russian-prescribed “reform” of the OSCE itself, particularly its election-monitoring system.

On both of counts, the United States took the lead in defending OSCE principles and the organization itself against self-discredit through endless concessions to Moscow. Most participant countries joined the U.S. in defending the integrity of OSCE election monitoring and other democracy-building functions. However, there were significant defections by West European countries on the issues of CFE, Russian troop withdrawal from Moldova and Georgia, and the frozen conflicts there.

As a net result, the OSCE again failed to adopt a year-end political declaration. Of the two key regional statements, the conference failed to adopt that on Moldova, while issuing a consensus-based declaration on Georgia whereby Russia conceded on a few points while stonewalling on other ones.

Russia used its veto against the following paragraphs in the draft OSCE political declaration: “We are concerned by the persistence of unresolved conflicts in the OSCE area. Such conflicts generate instability and hinder cooperation and development. … We encourage all states having influence over the parties [an allusion to Russia and its local clients] to use good offices to seek peaceful and just solutions based on international norms and principles” (Section 9); “We welcome the determination of CFE state-parties to fulfill the commitments undertaken at the 1999 Istanbul summit and the progress made in 2005 with regard to Georgia. We note also the lack of movement in 2005 on withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova. We reaffirm our shared determination to promote the fulfillment of that commitment as soon as possible” (Section 10).

Although this language seemed unexceptionable, and stopped well short of criticizing Russia (even complimenting it regarding Georgia), Russia vetoed any and all references to the Istanbul Commitments in the political declaration and other conference documents, because it no longer recognizes the validity of those Commitments. It even portrays the May 30, 2005, joint statement with Georgia on the closure of two Russian bases there by 2008 (see EDM, June 6) as a purely bilateral matter, ostensibly unrelated to the Istanbul Commitments and thus outside international accountability. In Moldova’s case, moreover, Russia openly repudiates those troop-withdrawal Commitments by demanding that its troops (minus the antiquated ammunition stockpiles) stay on as “peacekeepers,” pending a settlement of the Transnistria conflict, and as “guarantors” following an eventual settlement.

Russia used its veto against the following paragraphs in the draft OSCE regional statement on Moldova: “We condemn the unilateral actions taken by the [local Transnistrian authorities/Tiraspol separatist regime] against the population of villages in the security zone, including restrictions on their access to their land” (Section 3); “We consider international inspection of the Russian Federation’s armaments depots and those of the illegal military units of the Transnistria region of Moldova, to be imperative” (Section 8); “We regret the lack of progress during 2005 on fulfillment of the commitments adopted at the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit regarding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova and urge its prompt resumption and completion” (Section 10). In fact, no net withdrawal of Russian troops is known to have occurred since at least 2001.

In his speech to the conference, calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops, Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Stratan noted that their presence violates international law and Moldova’s constitution, is being used as a “pressure factor” on Moldova, and undermines regional stability and security. Further noting that Russia’s “peacekeeping” operation does not meet the international standards for peacekeeping, and is counterproductive to a political resolution of the conflict, Stratan called for support to Moldova’s recent initiative to transform that “peacekeeping” operation into an International Mission of Military and Civilian Observers with an OSCE mandate. He also urged the OSCE to conduct an international inspection of Russian and “Transnistrian” military units and arsenals, and to monitor Transnistrian military-industrial plants.

Thus far, the OSCE seems to have turned a deaf ear to the proposed replacement of Russian military “peacekeepers” with international observers. It has attempted in vain to inspect Russian and “Transnistrian” arsenals, only to end up proposing a Russian-dominated, Moldova-Transnistria “mutual” inspection mechanism that specifically exempts Russian military units from inspection. And it has most recently begun negotiations with Moscow and Tiraspol regarding terms acceptable to them for inspection of Transnistrian military-industrial plants.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns strongly supported Moldova’s call for withdrawal of Russian forces and upheld the linkage between Russian troop withdrawal and Western ratification of the CFE Treaty in his speech to the conference. Burns stated, “Moldova and Georgia have made their choice: those forces should depart, and all OSCE states should respect that choice and support them in it. Thus, we regret the continued lack of movement in 2005 on the withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova, and we call on the Russian Federation to use its vast influence in the [Transnistria] region to resume and complete that work. This would also send an important signal to the separatist regime in Tiraspol that a status quo that they find convenient will not last forever.”

By citing Russia’s “vast influence” on Tiraspol, Burns clearly ended the game whereby the OSCE’s American-led Moldova Mission had since 2002 been claiming that Tiraspol was “not permitting” Russia to withdraw the troops. Following Russia’s veto to the ministerial political declaration and the regional statement on Moldova, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Julie Finley reaffirmed to the conference’s final session, “It would have been of the utmost importance for a ministerial declaration and regional statement to have regretted the lack of progress on withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova and to have urged its prompt resumption and completion.” Such statements would seem to suggest that Washington has decided to elevate this issue to a higher rung on its list of priorities than has hitherto been the case.

The regional statement on Georgia, in the form ultimately adopted with Russian consent, seems for the most part to be a harmless compromise. Regarding South Ossetia, the statement calls for an early and complete demilitarization of the “zone of conflict,” although there is no agreement on the meaning and geography of demilitarization. The statement calls for adherence to the Russian-imposed 1992 Sochi agreements as a framework for resolving that conflict, but at the same time welcomes Georgia’s peace plan on South Ossetia — a stipulation that marks a significant gain for Georgia.

However, Russia managed to eliminate Georgian-proposed references to: “ineffectiveness of the existing mechanisms for negotiations,” need for comprehensive OSCE monitoring of demilitarization, desirability of “active involvement by the United States and the European Union in the conflict-resolution process,” and continuing “swift implementation of the remaining commitments” under the Istanbul 1999 agreements. In this statement again, Russia deleted a compliment to its own progress this year in fulfilling the Istanbul commitments, rather than have those commitments mentioned in any manner in any document.

In Georgia, at least, Russia seems to have made a political decision to close two military bases and began evacuating them this year on a mutually agreed schedule. In Moldova, the total impasse may have a silver lining to it. Russia’s military presence in that country is now inevitably seen as the preeminent issue of international security in Europe. With some progress on Russian troop withdrawal from Georgia, and the OSCE’s adoption of a mutually acceptable statement on that issue, Moldova remains by contrast the only European country where Russia explicitly refuses to evacuate its troops and over which the Kremlin openly confronts the international community. This helps explain the new sense of resolve demonstrated by the United States and like-minded countries on this issue at this conference.

(Documents of the Ljubljana year-end conference, December 3-6; see EDM, November 22, 23, December 1, 2, 6)