Next to Georgia, Moldova has ranked near the top of the European diplomatic and security agenda for the last three years. Officially, the OSCE handles the issues of conflict-settlement and Russian forces in Moldova. Nevertheless, the OSCE has now decided to exclude the issue of Russia’s unlawful military presence in Moldova and Georgia from the agenda and documents of the OSCE’s upcoming year-end conference in Sofia (on Georgia, see EDM, November 1).
In consultations at the OSCE Permanent Council ahead of the year-end conference, Russia has rejected all Moldovan, Georgian, and Western suggestions about including a reference to Russia’s 1999 OSCE Commitments in the 2004 year-end meeting’s Political Declaration and “regional statements.” With regard to Moldova, the 1999 Commitments required Russia to withdraw its forces in two stages in 2001 and 2002. Russia, however, has repudiated those Commitments. In the run-up to the OSCE’s 2004 year-end conference, Russian officials are openly stating that Russia will keep its forces in Moldova indefinitely.
Consequently, Russia now goes farther than ruling out a hypothetical OSCE admonition from the year-end documents (the OSCE would not take that risk in the first place). What Russia rules out is a simple factual reference to the 1999 documents. The OSCE is going along for three main reasons: First, Russia threatens to block the adoption of the organization’s 2005 budget. Second, the OSCE itself prefers by now to drop the issue, rather than lose face in futile attempts year after year to remind Russia of its unfulfilled obligations. And, third — ultimately a decisive factor — the U.S. State Department and the European Union have made a political decision to give in to Russia at this conference for the sake of “saving” the OSCE and having a “successful” year-end conference. Such an approach might perhaps be defensible, if the issue of Russia’s military seizure of part of Moldova (and parts of Georgia) were discussed effectively in some other channels and forums. However, this is not the case, mainly because the U.S. and EU have not seriously tried to make it happen, while NATO refuses to discuss these issues in the NATO-Russia Council.
The 1999 Commitments had stipulated that Russia would withdraw its forces from Moldova by the 2001-2002 deadlines completely, unconditionally, and under international monitoring. However, the OSCE — and the United States and EU within the OSCE — went along with Russia in eviscerating those commitments at the organization’s successive year-end conferences.
The December 2002 Porto conference postponed the troop-withdrawal deadline; rephrased Russia’s unconditional troop-withdrawal obligation into a mere “intention”‘ and inserted a vaguely-worded conditionality — “provided the necessary conditions are in place” — that Russia continues to exploit. Russia demanded these changes at that conference; Moldova courageously resisted; U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones agreed in a separate room with the Russian delegation on those changes, then cajoled Moldova into accepting them. The scene took place in full view of conference participants and forms part of the OSCE’s internal institutional memory. Moldova yielded to U.S. — not Russian — pressure in that fateful instance. The alignment at Porto reflected the State Department’s 2002-2004 support for Russia’s conflict-settlement project of a Russian-“guaranteed” Moldova/Trans-Dniester “federation.”
The OSCE’s December 2003 Maastricht conference compounded the damage by failing to stipulate — in effect, lifting — any deadline on Russian troop withdrawal. Predicting that Russia would breach any new deadline down the road, Western governments decided to give up in order to “avoid a loss of face by the OSCE.” Even so, the Maastricht conference was unable to issue any final Political Declaration or regional statements because Russia ruled out even an innocuous reference to the 1999 Commitments on troop-withdrawal from Moldova and Georgia. The United States and EU decided that renouncing those documents altogether was preferable to issuing meaningless documents. Thus, Maastricht preserved at least a residue of OSCE integrity.
That residue may be lost at the December 2004 Sofia conference if the United States, EU, and the Bulgarian 2004 Chairmanship decide to drop from the conference agenda the issue of Russian troop withdrawal from Moldova and Georgia. In Moldova’s case, that issue includes not only Russian-flagged, but also the Trans-Dniester-flagged forces, which consist of personnel and weaponry (including types banned in Moldova by the 1999-adapted CFE Treaty) that Russia’s forces transferred to Trans-Dniester’s forces. Unable to deal with this issue, the OSCE’s American-led Moldova Mission now proposes to legalize Trans-Dniester’s forces on a par with the army of rump Moldova in a “federation.” That same Mission, along with Paris and Berlin, would allow Russian “peacekeeping” troops to stay in Moldova, despite the 1999 Commitments that stipulated the complete withdrawal of Russian forces. Thus, making exceptions for Trans-Dniester-flagged forces and for Russian “peacekeepers” would complete the evisceration of the 1999 Commitments.
Meanwhile, Washington and NATO continue to declare that Russia’s fulfillment of the 1999 Commitments is a condition to Western ratification of the 1999-adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. The linkage is well-founded and necessary, but is a weak and insufficient argument because the 1999 Commitments are in shreds by now; Moscow openly scoffs at their invocation by the West; the United States and EU are not raising the issue consistently or at the requisite levels with Russia; and some governments, including the German and French, seem inclined to proceed with CFE ratification irrespective of Russia’s ongoing breaches of the 1999 Istanbul Commitments and indeed of the terms of CFE itself.