Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 10

In statements issued on January 8 and 11, Moldova’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has expressed concern over an attempt by Moscow to evade its recently assumed obligation to withdraw the Russian arsenals from the Transdniester region of Moldova by 2001 and the troops by 2002. That unconditional obligation is contained in bilateral and multilateral documents signed in November 1999 in Istanbul at the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (see the Monitor, November 22, December 6, 1999). However, in a note addressed to the Transdniester leadership and made public in Moscow and in Tiraspol, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry is, in effect, setting a political condition designed to preclude the military withdrawal. The condition posits that Moldova’s central government and breakaway Transdniester should come to an agreement on the political status of Transdniester by 2002.

That linkage–dubbed “synchronization”–has all along been Moscow’s and Transdniester’s position, calculated to prolong the Russian military presence without Chisinau’s consent. Transdniester demands that Moldova recognize its secession in one form or another. The current formula–originating with Russia’s Foreign Ministry as mediator–is that of a “common state” of two states. That goal is unacceptable not only to Moldova but to the OSCE. The resulting political deadlock gives Russia a pretext for stalling the military withdrawal until such time as it can be “synchronized” with a final agreement on Transdniester’s status. That linkage confers on Transdniester veto power over both the political and the military process. Moscow itself encourages Transdniester’s intransigence by underwriting its de facto secession in the first place and by mediating the Chisinau-Tiraspol negotiations in a manner calculated to drag them out indefinitely.

In its two statements the Moldovan Foreign Ministry recalled the fact that the “synchronization” demand lost any basis long ago with the demise of the 1994 bilateral agreement on the removal of Russian arsenals and troops within three years. Signed by Prime Ministers Viktor Chernomyrdin and Andrei Sangheli, that agreement stipulated synchronization while committing Russia to terminate its military presence in Moldova by 1997. The Russian government, however, ultimately withdrew the document from the parliamentary ratification process for a number of extraneous reasons. Russian troops and enormous military stockpiles are still in Moldova six years later–a testament to the effectiveness of “synchronization” tactics.

Successive OSCE summits allowed no room for “synchronization” or other artificial linkages in their final documents on Moldova. The 1996 document–as the Moldovan Foreign Ministry’s statements this week recalled–stipulated that the negotiations toward a political settlement and the troop withdrawal are two independent processes which do not intersect or impinge upon each other, and that the withdrawal of Russian troops would create favorable conditions for a political settlement. Subsequent summits and other high-level meetings of the OSCE called for an early, complete, orderly, internationally monitored withdrawal of the Russian troops from Moldova. The Russian side did not risk the opprobrium of vetoing those documents, but went on ignoring them.

The November 1999 agreement is, however, of a clearly binding nature: Russia has signed it without setting conditions, and it forms part of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. The Moldovan Foreign Ministry, therefore, rejected the attempt to introduce linkages which distort the meaning of those documents, called on the Russian side to implement the summit’s decisions within the agreed timeframe and announced that Moldova would appeal for international support if Russia backtracks on its signature.

The OSCE mission in Chisinau, in a statement by its American chief William Hill, pointed out that the organization “expects the Russian side to honor the obligations it undertook at the summit” and that the absence of progress in the negotiations on Transdniester’s status should not become a pretext for delaying the military withdrawal. The OSCE and Moldova take the position that the Russian arsenals must be liquidated or removed before the last troops are withdrawn in 2002. Those troops currently number 2,500–securing the Soviet-era base infrastructure designed for an Army Corps–and have at their disposal both a large inventory of combat hardware and equipment of all types and at least 40,000 tons of ammunition. According to the deputy chief of the OSCE mission, the Polish Brigadier-General Roman Hormoza, the ratio of almost 20 tons of stored ammunition per soldier represents a unique case in the world. Those military assets, in the aggregate, pose risks to regional security and local safety. The Russian side evacuated a token amount of equipment last November to impress the OSCE on the eve of the summit, but stopped the process immediately afterward on the pretext that the Transdniester authorities objected to the removal (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, January 8, 11, 13; Itar-Tass, January 12).