En route to Istanbul for the NATO summit, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stopped in Moldova and conferred with President Vladimir Voronin. Rumsfeld’s formal purpose was to thank Moldova for contributing 44 de-mining specialists to the coalition force in Iraq until March, and its promise to send another group of 12 de-miners at an as-yet undetermined time. However, in the “senior official’s” background briefing for U.S. reporters aboard his plane, Rumsfeld made clear that his visit was motivated by concern over the presence of Russian troops in Moldova “on NATO’s new border” (U.S. Defense Department transcript, June 26).
In his news conference in Chisinau and talks with Voronin, Rumsfeld called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova, as well as for fuller participation by Moldova’s military in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program “as a stabilizing influence throughout the region.” Rumsfeld is the most senior U.S. administration figure to have visited Moldova, and his statements there are the strongest supportive signal received by Chisinau from Washington to date on the issue of Russian troops (Basapres, Flux, June 26, 28).
In Istanbul, as head of a non-NATO state, Voronin addressed the session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), a common consultative forum for NATO member countries and PfP participant countries. For the first time since taking office three years ago, Moldova’s Communist president called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from his country, “completely and unconditionally.” This, moreover, is “the main prerequisite” to progress on settling the Trans-Dniester conflict, he said (Basapres, Flux, June 30).
The NATO summit’s final communique calls for the “withdrawal of Russian military forces from Moldova,” underscoring that “it is essential that efforts be intensified to complete the withdrawal as soon as possible.” The document encourages Moldova “to make use of PfP instruments to take forward its aspirations of promoting stability in the region as a Partner of this Alliance” (Communique by the Heads of State and Government, June 28).
This marks the first time that the alliance had paid collective high-level attention to Moldova — a natural, if somewhat belated, consequence of the alliance’s contiguity to Moldova since 2003. Romanian diplomacy significantly contributed to the inclusion of Moldova in the final communique. NATO has designated the Romanian embassy in Chisinau as the NATO Contact Point in Moldova for PfP activities.
The next necessary step for NATO and the United States is to include the twin issues of Russian troops and Trans-Dniester conflict settlement on the NATO-Russia and U.S.-Russia agendas, instead of relegating those issues to a helpless OSCE and thereby to continuing Russian manipulation. For now, Moscow appears confident that this will continue to be the case. During the Istanbul summit, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergei Lavrov, used the OSCE’s own terms of reference in defending Russia’s refusal to withdraw its troops from Moldova (Interfax, June 28).