Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 96

On May 13, a session of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) approved a modified version of NSDC Secretary’s Petro Poroshenko’s plan to resolve the Transnistria problem. President Viktor Yushchenko chaired the session, which approved Poroshenko’s plan “unanimously” (Interfax-Ukraine, May 13) — a further sign that Yushchenko has allowed Poroshenko to win this contest over policy and jurisdiction against Minister of Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasyuk. If implemented, the plan would cut Moldova off from Europe, placing it in effect under a Russia-Ukraine condominium.

Poroshenko had prevailed upon a hesitant Yushchenko to take political responsibility and launch Poroshenko’s controversial plan at the April 22 GUAM summit in Chisinau, almost scuttling the event (see EDM, April 25-27). The now-modified version barely takes the objections voiced there into account. It does pay lip service to Moldova’s constitution. But, crucially, it still envisages quick-fix elections to Transnistria’s Supreme Soviet and recognition of the latter as legitimate. It no longer mentions the need for changing the format of Russia’s “peacekeeping” operation. And it remains silent on Russia’s other, non-“peacekeeping” troops in Transnistria.

In a big step backward, Poroshenko’s plan now adopts Yevgeny Primakov’s 1997 concept of empowering Russia and Ukraine as the “guarantors” of Moldova’s post-settlement constitutional arrangements and the arbiters of Chisinau-Tiraspol disputes in an ostensibly reunified Moldova. This old-new part of Poroshenko’s plan apparently represents the contribution of Kuchma-era holdovers who continue handling the Transnistria problem in the Yushchenko-era NSDC and MFA. These holdover officials had all along supported Russia’s policy on Transnistria that aimed to keep Moldova in a dysfunctional condition.

Poroshenko and other Ukrainian officials discussed their plan on May 12 with two visiting Moldovan officials in Kyiv. These managed to improve the text marginally, but most of their fundamental objections were ignored. Poroshenko’s May 13 press conference claim that, “There were no negative comments” on his plan from Russia, the OSCE, Transnistria, and Moldova, may or may not be accurate regarding the first three; but is definitely inaccurate regarding the Moldovan side (Ukrainian TV Channel 5, May 13). For its part, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Interfax, May 13) “welcomed the intensification of Ukraine’s efforts as a guarantor country” — a Primakov-invented role, not enshrined in any legally valid document. Some in Kyiv now count on Moscow’s support for legalizing and operationalizing that role alongside Russia.

The plan’s preamble briefly acknowledges general principles of democracy, Moldova’s unity as a state, and Moldova’s constitution as the starting point for negotiations. Such stipulations up-front in large print are, however, negated by the fine print chapters that follow.

The modified plan’s first step would consist of “free, democratic elections to Transnistria’s Supreme Soviet” under international monitoring by October-November 2005. This quick fix can only result in reelecting and legitimizing the same power structures in Transnistria. The area’s populace has never experienced anything other than Soviet-style plebiscitary elections and referenda. There are no political parties, no independent NGOs, and no free media operating in Transnistria. The populace is cut off from international and Moldovan information sources, its main source being Russian television. Transnistria’s Russian-run security apparatus controls all aspects social life. “Elections” under such conditions would be a mechanical exercise aiming to sanctify the Moscow-installed authorities.

At the moment, some in Kyiv hope to identify in Tiraspol a more Ukraine-friendly group that would replace the Igor Smirnov-Vladimir Antyufeyev tandem at the top, without changing the system and structures of power, and allowing these to continue profiting from rampant smuggling. Under this scenario, some circles in Kyiv would apparently be content to share influence with Russia in Transnistria.

The second step would see Moldova’s parliament and Transnistria’s newly elected Supreme Soviet create a joint commission to draft a law on Transnistria’s special status as a part of Moldova within six months. Under Poroshenko’s plan, Transnistria would form a “Republic” with the corresponding institutional trappings. Moreover, “Transnistria participates in the implementation of Moldova’s foreign policy on issues affecting Transnistria’s interests.” Taken over from Primakov’s plan and the subsequent Russian proposals, this stipulation would grant Tiraspol a veto on Moldova’s policies generally, including Moldova’s relations with the European Union, Moldova’s quest to rid the country of Russian troops, policy toward the CIS, and many other issues.

Practically any issue can be defined as “affecting Transnistria’s interests,” especially if Russia becomes an arbiter to disputes over interpretation, as Primakov’s and now Poroshenko’s plans envisage. Indeed Tiraspol all along stated openly that its preference for close relations with the East differs from Moldova’s European choice. Moreover, Transnistria would be authorized to “establish and maintain external contacts in the economic, technological, and humanitarian spheres” — another Primakov carryover, intended to facilitate Tiraspol-Moscow direct relations bypassing Chisinau, and now apparently intended by Poroshenko to legalize Tiraspol-Kyiv direct relations as well. Nothing is said in the plan about demobilizing Transnistria’s army (Russian except for the flag) or dissolving the Moscow-run security services of Transnistria.

The third and final stage, also of six months duration, would involve drafting a “Treaty on guaranteeing Moldova’s observance of Moldova’s law on the special status of Transnistria.” Moldova, Transnistria, Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE would be “parties” to this Treaty. Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE would be its “mediators” and “guarantors.” They would form a Conciliation Committee to arbitrate any disputes or differences among “the parties” — Chisinau and Tiraspol — regarding interpretation and implementation of those arrangements. “Experts” from the United States and the EU could be allowed to participate in the drafting; and their “representatives” could participate in the Conciliation Committee with the consent of all sides (i.e., subject to Moscow’s and Tiraspol’s veto). Romania is excluded altogether — an unedifying debut to Kyiv’s “regional leadership” aspirations.

All in all, the Russian-protectorate formula of 1997-2004 is being replaced with what some in Kyiv apparently envision as a Russian-Ukrainian protectorate. Whether Kyiv can balance Russia in such a formula seems far from certain, particularly with Russia’s troops and intelligence networks remaining in place. The only certainty is that this solution would be the only one of its kind in Europe, incompatible with Moldova’s European aspirations and undermining the credibility of the Ukrainian leadership’s stated pro-European and pro-democracy goals. Apparently, Yushchenko is risking those values for the sake of his political IOUs to Poroshenko dating back to the electoral campaign.

Chisinau has managed to introduce two stipulations that might provide it with escape hatches. First, elections in Transnistria must be conducted on the basis of a political status for Transnistria to be adopted by the Moldovan parliament. Such status may take some time to negotiate. Second, any settlement must be acceptable to Moldova’s civil society. The latter will not accept Poroshenko’s plan. In that case, Moldova’s pro-Europe democrats will have to resist a plan that formally carries Yushchenko’s name, to his undeserved embarrassment.