Russia and the OSCE have worked out a package of military measures and agreements that could, if implemented, turn Moldova into a Russian military foothold on NATO’s flank. The package has recently been submitted to the OSCE in Vienna, as “restricted” documents, both in the Russian-language original and in English translation, by the OSCE’s American-led Moldova Mission.
The package consists of two basic documents — an Agreement on Reduction of Forces and Armaments and a project on Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBM) — with their respective protocols and attachments. The entire territory of Moldova is defined as the “Area of Application” of the plan. The military plan is a long-awaited accompaniment to the political settlement proposals that Russia and the OSCE (with Ukraine in a lesser role) have advanced jointly from 2002 to date, which sought to place Moldova under mainly Russian political oversight with OSCE authorization.
The military plan would: allow Russian troops to remain indefinitely in Moldova; reduce the Moldovan and “Transnistrian” forces; legalize the latter for an open-ended transitional period, on a par with Moldova’s army; create a Russian-dominated mechanism of military inspection in all of right-bank Moldova while shielding Transnistria from international inspection and verification; and invite Russia and the OSCE to train Moldovan peacekeeping troops (thus preempting similar offers to Moldova by NATO member countries). The OSCE lacks military resources to oversee implementation of any part of this agreement on the ground, and is politically hostage to Russia’s veto (“consensus rule”) in Vienna and in the field. In practice, the Russian military (including those in Transnistrian uniform) would be in charge, if the agreement is signed.
The documents treat the legitimate government of Moldova and the Russian-installed authorities in Transnistria, with their respective militaries, as equal Parties. Moldovan acceptance of these documents would entail recognition of Transnistria’s authorities and acceptance of Transnistria-flagged forces (which are largely Russian) under the guise of CSBM.
The Russian-flagged forces are exempt from any reduction or inspection: “No state having forces temporarily stationed in the area of application shall be bound by this agreement.” Equally, Russian forces are not subject to verification and inspection procedures. Such procedures are to be carried out on request in “specified areas”; but “Sites where foreign forces are stationed are excluded from specified areas.” The “foreign forces” under reference are those of the Russian Federation. Although Transnistria’s forces are largely Russian, the plan regards them as local (in line with Russia’s and OSCE’s familiar position).
Thus, while claiming in its preamble to be “guided by the need to reach demilitarization of Moldova,” the plan does not affect Russia’s forces in the country. This approach is in line with Moscow’s two-track proposals for “federalization and demilitarization of Moldova,” whereby demilitarization only applies to local forces on Moldova’s entire territory, whereas Russian troops would stay on as “peacekeepers” pending a political settlement, and as “military guarantors” post-settlement.
The plan calls for “fulfilling the commitments of the Republic of Moldova based on the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE).” This assertion reflects Russia’s claim that Moldova has an obligation to ratify that Treaty despite the continuing presence of Russian troops on Moldova’s territory. The plan makes no reference to Russia’s 1999 Istanbul Commitments — an integral part of the CFE Treaty — to withdraw the Russian forces from Moldova’s territory. Thus, with this plan, the OSCE takes a further step toward lifting that Russian commitment
The military package as such “has no time limit.” The force-reduction period for Moldovan and Transnistrian forces is to run for 10 years (from the moment of the plan’s entry into force), after which Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE would continue implementing the inspection/verification mechanism and the CSBMs for an indefinite period of time in all of Moldova. The Russian military would clearly dominate such an arrangement.
Some of the documents’ terminology seems designed to buttress acceptance of Transnistria’s separation from the rest of Moldova and the equal treatment of two “Parties.” Thus, “the territory of either Party” is a phrase used throughout the documents; moreover, “The territory of a Party is understood as the territory under its control.” For the first time, an attempt is made through these formulations to accredit the notion of “territory of Transnistria” and to enshrine de facto “control” into a document that would become legally binding if signed. While equating Moldova’s territory with that of “the Moldavian [sic] SSR as of January 1990,” the military plan adds the codicil, “taking into account subsequent changes on the basis of international agreements.” The backdating to 1990 Soviet law (as against Moldova’s post-1991 standing in international law) is one of Moscow’s ways of questioning Moldova’s territorial integrity. The codicil about possible territorial changes reflects Moscow’s and Tiraspol’s insistence on Transnistria’s “right” of secession in the event that Moldova “forfeits its sovereignty” (i.e., joins Romania or the European Union).
The plan enshrines Russia’s and Ukraine’s “special role” in overseeing the military agreements’ implementation as “Guarantor States.” The OSCE offers its political auspices for that role. Such an arrangement in the military sphere would reproduce the Russian-dominated format of political negotiations, in which Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE claim to function as “mediators” and “guarantors” in relation to Moldova and Transnistria. Those functions have no legal basis, and Moldova quit that discredited format in 2004. The military plan adds to ongoing political pressures on Moldova to return to that format.
The draft agreement envisages 10% personnel cuts every year for a 10-year period and reduction of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, anti-aircraft missile systems, combat aircraft and combat-capable helicopters by Moldovan and Transnistrian forces. That weaponry is to be destroyed in place, dismantled, or converted.
However, the cuts do not apply to troops, armored personnel carriers, and armored combat vehicles assigned to “internal security functions.” More broadly, “forces involved in peacetime internal security functions are not limited by this agreement.” Military forces of this type exist in Transnistria only; they are oversized for the area, conspicuous, and an instrument political intimidation. Their existence would, moreover, enable the secessionist leadership and Russian military to shift some army troops into the “internal security forces” so as to evade the cuts. None of this would be possible or remotely contemplated in right-bank Moldova, where security-sector reform is now being initiated under conditions of full transparency.