Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 211

On November 10, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs introduced for the first time a causal link between Moldova’s pro-Western orientation and Russia’s refusal to withdraw its forces from that country’s territory.

The Ministry’s CIS Affairs Department Director Vyacheslav Kovalenko began a special news briefing that day by rehashing the old arguments — as had Minister Sergei Lavrov two days earlier — for keeping those troops in place. However, “The unresolved Transnistria issue is not the only one that prevents us [from evacuating the arsenals],” Kovalenko went on. He succinctly listed the other factors as: Moldova’s “changing relations with NATO,” Moldova’s role in GUAM, and differences between Russia’s and Moldova’s respective “attitudes toward the OSCE,” as part of a “series of Russian concerns.” Kovalenko referenced Russia’s increasingly insistent position that Moldova should be a “neutral and demilitarized state.”

The first item alludes to Moldova’s request to NATO for an Individual Partnership Action Plan. The IPAP is expected to be finalized in the first half of 2006. When presenting that request in Brussels in June of this year, President Vladimir Voronin declared that Moldova wants to “join a European and Euro-Atlantic security space, never to be part of a post-Soviet security space.” In this light, Russia’s seizure of part of Moldova’s territory in effect extends the “post-Soviet security space” deep inside Moldova (and across a seemingly oblivious Ukraine).

Kovalenko’s second item finger-points to Moldova’s active role as chair of GUAM. Chisinau hosted in April the GUAM revival summit and, last week, the meeting of GUAM countries’ chiefs of state security services and secretaries of national security and defense councils. Although it poses no challenges to Russia, the latter is hostile to GUAM because the United States supports it and because it is the only post-Soviet grouping to exclude Russia from its ranks.

The third listed item refers to Moldova’s opposition to Russian proposals on “reforming” the OSCE. Notwithstanding its serious reservations about the OSCE’s performance in the sphere of security, Chisinau supports the OSCE’s democracy-building role. Russia has not stopped criticizing Moldova for turning down (and, in some cases, throwing out for lack of accreditation) CIS-delegated Russian observers during Moldova’s parliamentary elections earlier this year.

Moscow’s concept for Moldova’s “demilitarization” only includes internal forces, while leaving a Russian force in place with token additions from other countries to “guarantee” Moldova’s security, once the Transnistria problem is settled. This concept (see EDM, September 15) is the military accompaniment to Moscow’s political proposals on Transnistria conflict-settlement.

Regarding the Russian troops stationed in Moldova, Minister Lavrov made clear on November 8 in Bucharest — and Kovalenko echoed him two days later — that Russia has no intention to withdraw them. In remarks to Romanian media, Lavrov referred only to the possibility of evacuating or scrapping Russian arsenals, not troops; the latter would remain as “guarantors” of an eventual settlement. Moreover, Lavrov and Kovalenko explicitly made any evacuation of arsenals conditional on clear “progress” in negotiations on Transnistria’s status.

This stance entails two steps backward on Russia’s part: the conditionality is now being stated more directly than previously (when it was known as “synchronization”), and — most significantly — the troop withdrawal obligation is being simply repudiated, and the issue reduced to arsenals (mainly half-a-century old ammunition, unusable or untransportable and due for scrapping).

In his Moscow briefing, Kovalenko sniped, “There are those who try to say that Transnistria is the only point of difference in Russia-Moldova relations. This is wrong.” He was unmistakably alluding to Moldovan President Voronin’s thesis in recent interviews with Russian media, that all could be well if Russia changed its policy regarding Transnistria and the troops. In fact, however, Russia exploits that issue in hopes of reversing Moldova’s pro-Western orientation.

(Interfax, November 8, 10; Mediafax, November 8)