On November 16, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that the military has finished the scrapping and/or removal of heavy weaponry from Moldova, in accordance with the adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). Russia’s Operational Group of Forces, stationed in Moldova’s Transdniester region, successfully completed that process on November 14, ahead of the December 31 deadline set by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and mandated at its Istanbul summit in November 1999.
The Russian command in Tiraspol reported dismantling in place 239 “units” of treaty-limited weaponry and repatriating another 125 to Russia for storage or recycling. The term “units” is in this case assumed to cover battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, multiple rocket launchers and artillery systems of 108 mm caliber and over, and combat helicopters, all of which the CFE restricts.
The Russian troops carried out some token removal and scrapping of these items between November 1999 and September 2001, at which point they began seriously applying themselves to the task. As the deadline drew closer, political authorities in Moscow abandoned the earlier, obstructive tactics of citing the Transdniester authorities’ objections as a pretext for evading compliance with CFE. The Russian military command in Tiraspol made a special effort this month, sending the last four “echelons” (trainloads) loaded with military equipment, for the most part treaty-limited weaponry, from Transdniester to Russia between November 9 and November 14. Kyiv readily cooperated in transiting the materiel on Ukrainian railroads.
OSCE representatives observed the scrapping of equipment and the loading of trains, as required by the CFE Treaty. The dispatch of the last four trains was observed in each case by these officers, including two military members of the OSCE’s mission in Chisinau and two members–an American and a German–of a Brussels-based unit specially mandated to monitor the execution of CFE Treaty stipulations. The same representatives are to inspect the same trains on arrival in Russia to ascertain that the equipment has reached its destination there. The OSCE will await their report before officially certifying Russia’s compliance.
The OSCE has covered the costs of scrapping and repatriating the Russian equipment from Moldova. For that purpose, the organization had collected voluntary contributions from member countries into a special fund.
For years, Transdniester authorities had taken the position that they owned the weaponry and were “loaning” it to Russia’s troops for the duration of the troops’ presence, but that the “Dniester republic” would repossess it if Russian troops withdrew from the region, and would in any case “not allow” the Russian military to remove it from Transdniester. The secessionist leaders encouraged local pro-Soviet groups to threaten and even perform both demonstrations outside military stockpiles and sit-ins on railway tracks to prevent the evacuation. They also demanded “reimbursement” for any weaponry scrapped, or a share of the proceeds for any military equipment sold to third parties by the Russian command. The latter, and also the authorities in Moscow, pretended to take such threats and demands seriously, using them to stonewall the process. But with the deadline drawing near, and Russia’s international credibility at stake, OSCE members called Moscow’s bluff, and Moscow called Tiraspol’s bluff.
Earlier this year, the Russian government agreed to deduct US$100 million from Transdniester’s US$600 million arrears for natural gas deliveries. The deduction supposedly compensates for revenue that Transdniester would “forego” when the equipment was scrapped or evacuated. Additionally, the Russian military handed over to Transdniester some trucks, earth moving equipment, engines of military vehicles and other surplus property subject to dismantling, sale or evacuation. Much of the scrap metal–from tanks, armored vehicles and artillery–went to Transdniester’s Steel Works at Ribnita, the largest industrial establishment on either bank of the Dniester.
Moscow is said to plan repatriating nearly 1,000 troops, out of the 2,600 now in this part of Moldova. In that case, the remaining 1,600 would equal the number of Russian “peacekeepers” in Abkhazia, a standard size for a Russian contingent of that type.
The OSCE’s year-end meeting in Bucharest is certain to welcome Russia’s compliance with this first stage of its military obligations regarding Moldova. The second stage involves scrapping or withdrawing the items not limited by the CFE treaty, and withdrawing all troops, by December 31, 2002. The OSCE projects expenses of up to US$40 million for this process, and is prepared to cover the sum from voluntary contributions by member countries.
This second stage poses the special problem of disposing of more than 40,000 tons of ammunition, most of it deposited improperly at Colbasna, one of Europe’s largest ammunition dumps, situated near Ribnita. Much of this ammunition’s shelf life has expired, making it untransportable. A large part is deposited improperly in dangerous conditions. Military specialists from Western countries in the OSCE plan to build an ammunition disposal plant in Transdniester with Western funds.
Apart from the ammunition, the Russian military guards enormous stockpiles of light weapons and other equipment. Quite possibly, Moscow will write off a further portion of Transdniester’s arrears for gas to clear the way for evacuation or disposal of those stockpiles. But it seems at least as likely that Moscow will claim that the arsenals are too large to be evacuated or scrapped within 2002, and that therefore Russian troops must stay put to “protect” those arsenals. With this tactic, Russia may hope to gain time and arguments for bestowing a “peacekeeping” mandate on these troops, which is Moscow’s long-standing aim in this part of Moldova (Flux, Basapress, Interfax, November 12-19).
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