Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 83

Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) Secretary Petro Poroshenko’s conflict-resolution plan for Transnistria nearly derailed the GUAM summit in Chisinau (see EDM, April 25, 26, 27) and appeared to change the approach previously taken by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Transnistria issue.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk had, from the first days of his new tenure, called for a democratic solution in Transnistria, at one point citing the Moldovan civil society’s “3-D” concept (demilitarization, de-criminalization, democratization), and taking the lead in urging a stop to the contraband in the region. On the sidelines of the GUAM summit, Tarasyuk again told the press, “That border must be a border, not a black hole for smuggling. Unlike our predecessors, the new leadership supports the rule of law in Ukraine, and at the border as well.” Apparently trying quietly to save the day for Ukraine, he told the press that Transnistria should have an “autonomy status within the framework of a single Moldovan state”; that Yushchenko was only presenting “proposals,” not a plan as such; and that Ukraine would only present a plan after consulting with all the interested parties (Interfax, Novosti-Moldova, Moldpres, April 22).

Consultation had indeed been lacking during the two months while Kyiv prepared the proposals. Kyiv refused comment on reports that its proposals were going to involve “federalization” of Moldova. Hints from the NSDC in Kyiv, amplified by Russian media, that Yushchenko had cleared the proposals with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington, turned out to be incorrect. Ultimately, the NSDC’s procedure sprang a surprise on all players involved, to the detriment of Kyiv’s credibility.

On April 18, three days before the summit’s opening, Poroshenko showed his proposals to President Vladimir Voronin in Chisinau. The Moldovan side was appalled both at the content and the obvious prospect that GUAM’s Chisinau summit could be derailed, if Ukraine used the event to present its unilateral initiative. Moldovans asked Poroshenko in vain to postpone the presentation until after the GUAM summit. In follow-up talks in Kyiv on April 19-20, a high-level Moldovan delegation only managed to persuade him to drop two points from the presentation at the GUAM summit (though not from the plan): federalization and recognition of Transnistria’s leadership after the proposed elections there. However, in the back-and-forth drafting ahead of the April 22 summit presentation, the Ukrainian side dropped one other point, to Moldova’s detriment (Russian troop withdrawal, according to some reports; or Moldova as a unitary state, according to other reports). Thus, seven points remained from the initial ten.

On April 21, Yushchenko discussed the proposals with Romanian President Traian Basescu in Bucharest, as part of a wide-ranging agenda for that visit. Stunned, the Romanian side asked him not to use the GUAM summit for launching this initiative. The Ukrainian side seemed to consent to this request.

That same day, Poroshenko discussed the proposals with his counterpart in Moscow, Igor Ivanov, while Tarasyuk attended the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of GUAM Countries in Chisinau. Tarasyuk did not mention the proposals on Transnistria (a sign that the responsibility lay elsewhere). The next morning, April 22, Poroshenko landed in Chisinau from Moscow, and Yushchenko read out the proposals after all to the summit’s plenary session.

Russia’s Ambassador in Chisinau, Nikolai Ryabov (a guest at the event) endorsed the proposals in media interviews during breaks, including the long time-out necessitated by this turn of events. Urging all concerned to consider the proposals favorably, and terming them “well-thought out,” he singled out for praise the idea of holding internationally monitored elections in Transnistria. This would enable Transnistria leaders to express their position to the international community and forums, which they cannot now do for lack of status, Ryabov remarked, apparently hinting at recognition of Tiraspol’s authorities (Itar-Tass, Infotag, April 22). Whatever the balance of pluses and minuses from Moscow’s perspective, discord between Ukraine and its neighbors and GUAM partners was welcome.

Romanian President Traian Basescu responded to the Ukrainian proposals with an impromptu addition to his prepared speech. He said that Romania would never support “federalization” or any proposals to legitimize a separatist enclave; calls for respecting Moldova as an independent unitary state; and would never accept the notion that “a country can play around with its pencil on the map of another country.”

No international organization would monitor elections in an unrecognized enclave, Basescu pointed out. He called for resolution of “frozen conflicts” on the basis of European standards, as distinct from post-Soviet federalization and foreign military presence. Various local communities may well need various degrees of autonomy, he said, but this can only be based on the European principles of subsidiarity (local authorities performing all functions that can legitimately be performed locally on powers devolved from the center). Concluding, he called for participation of the United States, the European Union, and Romania in the negotiating format, and a solution “based on European standards and Moldova’s constitution as a sovereign and unitary state” (Rompres, April 22).

Presidents Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia and Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan refrained from commenting on the Ukrainian proposal. It seemed clearly at variance with the conflict-resolution principles contained both in the summit’s final declaration and in Saakashvili’s, Aliev’s, and Voronin’s prepared speeches, delivered during the event. A Russian commentator noted, “How are we now to understand GUAM’s main task, [defined as] restoring the integrity of states in territories controlled by separatists? … Instead of a settlement [along those lines] in Transnistria, the Ukrainian side has proposed to divide the territory of a GUAM participant country” (RIA-Novosti, April 22).

In lieu of the concluding news conference, the presidents delivered brief general remarks. Yushchenko said that the proposal would be revised and re-submitted in three weeks’ time and would be harmonized with European standards and Moldova’s constitution (Moldpres, April 23).