Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 167

As has been evident for some months (see the Monitor, January 14, February 8, 10, April 5, 7, 12, 28), Moscow is trying to keep its troops in Moldova indefinitely by conferring on them an international mandate as “peacekeepers” or “guarantors of a political settlement” of the Transdniester conflict. Such a maneuver would allow Russia to nullify the 1999 decision of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which required Russia to withdraw the troops from Moldova fully and unconditionally under international observation by December 2002 at the latest.

Moscow has now made the opening gambit in that game plan through Yevgeny Primakov, head of Russia’s State Commission on Transdniester, a body recently created by President Vladimir Putin, the very concept of which presupposes intrusion into the affairs of a foreign sovereign country. Primakov’s commission has leaked a conflict settlement plan which would turn Russia into the main arbiter of that settlement and keep the Russian troops in place as its main guarantors. The outlet selected for the leak, Moldavskie Vedomosti, is a respectable newspaper affiliated with a right-of-center party.

The plan envisages the creation of a “common state” of Moldova and Transdniester, with an extraordinarily complicated institutional setup, defined as “a mixed confederal and federal model,” and for which there is no known precedent in international practice. It defines Transdniester as a “constituent part of the common state,” yet treats Transdniester and the rest of Moldova as coequal entities legally and politically. The blueprint explicitly authorizes Transdniester to have its own armed forces and security services. Furthermore, “the common state conducts a single foreign policy, based on consensus among the contracting parties.” That point stems from the 1997 Moscow memorandum, coauthored by then Foreign Affairs Minister Primakov, which would empower Transdniester to participate in the formulation and implementation of Moldova’s foreign policy on issues affecting Transdniester’s interests. Since virtually any issue can be so construed, both of Primakov’s documents would allow Transdniester’s avowedly anti-Western leadership to exercise veto power on Moldova’s foreign policy.

Under this blueprint, each contracting party would possess full-fledged legislative, executive and judiciary branches of power. These branches would comprise a encompassing structure to represent the “common state.” Decisions by the “common state” on any issue would require the consent of all three structures. Those decisions may be “intermediate” or “temporary” ones in the event of disagreements between Chisinau and Tiraspol. The latter would thereby gain the ability to paralyze rump Moldova’s policies in every field.

The crux of the plan emerges in its final clauses, dealing with adjudication of disputes among the two contracting parties and with security guarantees. Russian troops in Transdniester would stay and act as the main “guarantors of peace and stability” under an international mandate. Those troops would be supplemented by a Ukrainian contingent and by OSCE observers. Disputes between the two “parties to the common state” are to be arbitrated by the trio of Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE, which have functioned as mediators since 1997 and would become “guarantors” of the settlement, once it is in place.

The common state’s complexity, as well as the geopolitical agenda of Moscow and Tiraspol, suggest that disputes are virtually preprogrammed under this plan. By the same token, Russia would play the leading role as guarantor and arbiter on the strength of four unmatched assets: (1) military superiority on the ground; protector-client relationship–partly based on a joint geopolitical agenda–with the Tiraspol leaders; (2) a Communist plurality weighing down on the Chisinau parliament; and (3) the dependence of Ukraine as well as Moldova upon Russian fuel and energy supplies.

Kyiv and the OSCE would, therefore, be reduced to the role of figureheads under Primakov’s plan. Yet their mere participation, which Primakov hopes to secure, would lend the Russian-devised settlement an international veneer. Acceptance and implementation of the plan would indefinitely prolong Russia’s military presence in a strategic outpost, guarantee the power of the Soviet holdover leadership in Tiraspol, consign the rest of Moldova to predominant Russian influence, and complicate the defense posture of Moldova’s neighbors Ukraine and Romania (Moldavskie Vedomosti, September 6; Flux, Basapress, Infotag, Itar-Tass, September 7-9).