Russia Multiplies Conditions for Conflict-Resolution in Moldova

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 145

Russian "peacekeeping" troops in Moldova (Source: Russian Ministry of Defense)

Russian diplomacy is piling up new pre-conditions upon old ones for conflict-resolution in Transnistria. For the first time since 2003-2004 (when two parallel “federalization” projects collapsed), Russia is openly proposing again to turn Moldova into a federation or confederation. Moscow has reactivated those proposals on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of its “peacekeeping” operation in Moldova (see EDM, July 27). On July 28 in Tiraspol, Russian officials joined Transnistria’s authorities to celebrate 20 years of “peacekeeping.”

For 20 years, Russia simply ignored Moldova’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in Transnistria, but acknowledged those theoretical concepts during most of that time. More recently, however, Moscow often withholds even those verbal acknowledgments, starting instead an incremental process of de-recognizing Moldova’s territorial integrity for most practical purposes. The phrasing and terminology of Russia’s diplomatic statements correspond with that trend underway on the ground. This process became more noticeable since March with the Kremlin’s appointment of Dmitry Rogozin as special presidential envoy “for Transnistria,” with a parallel but separate portfolio for relations with Chisinau. The Kremlin simultaneously appointed special presidential envoys for Abkhazia and for South Ossetia, which Russia recognizes officially. In Transnistria’s case, however, Moscow deals with the de facto authorities in Tiraspol quasi-officially, stopping carefully short of official recognition (see EDM, March 23, April 20).

Russia’s State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Grigory Karasin, long in charge of this dossier, visited Chisinau and Tiraspol on July 27 and 28, respectively. In Chisinau, Karasin declined to reference Moldova’s territorial integrity even pro forma. Russian officials and diplomatic documents used to pay at least lip service to Moldova’s territorial integrity, but they rarely do so at present. Last year in Chisinau, Karasin had reluctantly accepted to be quoted as acknowledging Moldova’s territorial integrity at the insistent request of his Moldovan interlocutors. This time around, after Karasin’s talks with those same interlocutors, there was no mention of Moldova’s territorial integrity from the Russian side (Moldpres, July 27, 28).

While in Tiraspol, which is internationally recognized as Moldovan territory, Karasin and the other Russian officials remembered Moldova in one way only – as the object of their recriminations and escalating demands. They repeatedly used the wording “Russia and Transnistria,” “Transnistria and Moldova” (in that order), attempting to convey some kind of international status for the otherwise unrecognized Transnistria. In line with a practice instituted since February of this year, Moscow’s press releases treated the event in a style fitting separate visits to separate countries (Interfax, July 30;, July 30).

Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, government-controlled Moscow media outlets, and Russian delegates in Tiraspol used this occasion to introduce a new term: “peacekeeping operation on the River Dniester [Nistru].” For all previous years of its existence, the Russian operation had been officially designated (at least on paper) as taking place “in the Transnistria Region of the Republic of Moldova.” Re-defining the location now by a purely geographic term implies de-recognizing Moldova’s sovereignty in Transnistria and of the country’s territorial integrity.

As usual, Russian officials invoked the July 21, 1992 Russia-Moldova agreement to justify the peacekeeping operation that started on July 28 of that year. However, that document itself references “the Transnistria Region of the Republic of Moldova,” as do the subsequent Russian, bilateral and OSCE documents through the years. Thus, Russia is unilaterally reinterpreting the documents that it invokes itself for legitimizing this operation.

Tiraspol hosted a forum on 20 years of peacekeeping “on the River Dniester” with senior Russian officials, as well as Abkhaz and South Ossetian delegates participating. Karasin displayed contempt toward the international negotiating process on the Transnistria conflict. He dismissed calls for internationalizing the peacekeeping operation as “akin to casting magic spells.” He also warned that Russia would “not satisfy the appetites” of those urging removal of Russian ammunition stockpiles. He claimed that Russian “peacekeeping” adheres to the OSCE’s standards, and is “dedicated to strengthening all-European security.” In a videotaped address to the forum, Rogozin dismissed calls for internationalizing the peacekeeping contingent as “the hysterics of certain politicos” (Olvia-press, July 28; Kommersant, July 30). The OSCE and the EU, inured to Russian diplomatic manners and failing to react, encourage Moscow’s intransigence.

Russia is now formalizing the process of removing this part of Moldova from the field of application of international law and the purview of legitimate international relations. Moscow has been driving this process for 20 years de facto, careful, however, most of the time not to advertise it. It now seems confident enough to display the process for all to see. Eastern Moldova is the first borderland of the EU to be captured by a resurgent Russia. Other EU and NATO borderlands may well follow, if this first capture is not reversed.