Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 195

Like other chairmanships of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in recent years, the 2006 Belgian Chairmanship is partly staking its success on showing some decisive progress on Transnistria conflict-settlement during its term in the chair. In the run-up to the organization’s December 3-4 year-end conference in Brussels, the Chairmanship has drafted and is currently circulating a set of three documents: on an international peacekeeping mission, on Transnistria’s legal and political status, and on reconstruction assistance.

In Chisinau, the top-circulation political newspaper, Flux (Christian Democrat-affiliated), has strongly criticized the document on Transnistria’s status (Flux, October 19). The Moldovan government has, thus far, declined to negotiate on its basis.

The Belgian proposal would place the reformed peacekeeping operation under the OSCE’s aegis. Numerically it would be “no larger than the existing contingent,” apparently meaning some four battalions. It would include troops from “many countries,” but Russia would alone provide 30% to 40% of the troops (this is formulated as: “no single country should provide more than 30% to 40%”). Structurally, 75% of the manpower would consist of military troops and 25% of police and civilian observers. It would include a mobile observer corps to inspect the entire territory of Moldova.

Under the proposal, those numbers and those proportions would constantly be reexamined with a view to reducing the military component and enlarging the police and civilian component. The “final goal” is to turn the peacekeeping force into a predominantly civilian mission of observers.

The reformed peacekeeping operation would be tasked to: monitor the ceasefire (which has held continuously since 1992); inspect arms and ammunition stockpiles on Moldova’s entire territory — that is, of both the legitimate Moldovan army and the unlawful Transnistria-flagged forces; and promote confidence-building measures, ultimately with a view to reducing both the Moldovan and the Transnistria-flagged forces. It would also be tasked to inspect the Russian army’s ammunition stockpiles at Colbasna on the left bank of the Nistru River with a view to creating necessary conditions for safely removing ammunition from there.

Political authority over the reformed peacekeeping operation would be exercised by a “special group” under the OSCE Chairmanship, comprised of representatives of all troop-contributing countries. Military command would be exercised by a staff consisting of the commanders of all national contingents, headed by one of them on a rotating basis.

The proposal has nothing to say about the Russian troops on Moldova’s territory that are not designated as “peacekeepers.” It also seems to tolerate for an open-ended period the existence of Transnistria-flagged forces, which are Russian trained, staffed, and armed. However, all Russian troops on Moldova’s territory, whether “peacekeepers” or not, are subject to Russia’s obligation to withdraw all its troops from Moldova under the OSCE’s 1999 Istanbul Final Act. The withdrawal deadline was 2002, but the OSCE extended it and then lifted it altogether, and never managed again to mention this issue in OSCE resolutions because Russia has since 2003 vetoed such references every year.

While the Belgian proposal would improve significantly on the existing situation, it seems fatally flawed from the outset by placing the operation under OSCE authority. In this respect, the goal of “rescuing” the OSCE as a European security actor, giving it a peacekeeping mission, and in this case a country to oversee it militarily seems a prevalent goal. However, the OSCE will be bound by Russia’s veto power on writing the operation’s mandate and will also fully depend on Russia’s consent for prolonging any such operation at stipulated intervals.

The OSCE had earlier hoped to deploy a border and customs mission on the Transnistria sector, although Chisinau wanted the EU in that role. The EU was content with the OSCE’s candidacy for that role until 2005, when Russia killed the OSCE’s Border Monitoring Operation in Georgia. At that juncture, the EU concluded that OSCE operations are too vulnerable to Russian vetoes and stepped in with the Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) under EU aegis in Moldova.

The Belgian peacekeeping reform concept marks a step backward from the transformation proposal submitted earlier this year by the European Union’s special representative for Moldova, Dutch diplomat Adriaan Jacobovits de Szeged (see EDM, May 4). That proposal envisages a lower percentage of Russian troops and a short period for turning the operation from a military one into a predominantly civilian one. Crucially, that proposal would place the EU effectively in charge of the transformed peacekeeping operation. Thus, the Belgian proposal unnecessarily weakens a Western position that has been fragile to begin with on this issue.

Moldova clearly prefers having the EU in charge of a transformed peacekeeping operation. Chisinau calls for withdrawal of Russian troops, disbandment of “Transnistria” forces, and reconfiguration of the existing “peacekeeping” operation into an international mission of civilian and military observers.