Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 146

Display of Russian military muscle, Moldovan appeals for support, European Union incoherence, and OSCE insistence on staying in play through collaboration with Russia were the highlights of the discussions on Moldova at the OSCE’s year-end meeting in Sofia on December 6-7. As in Georgia’s case, Russia ruled out from the final documents any reference, however neutral or innocuous, to its troop-withdrawal commitments regarding Moldova and to the Transnistria conflict. Moscow wanted to make the point that these issues are for Russia itself to resolve.

Authorized by President Vladimir Voronin, Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Stratan delivered and built on Moldova’s strongest-ever appeal for international support, which he had first outlined at the November 30 final session of the OSCE’s Permanent Council (see EDM, December 3). His December 6 address decried the “Russian military occupation of a part of Moldova”; asserted that “there can be no excuse for the illegal presence of foreign troops on Moldovan territory, against the will of the country’s elected authorities”; explained how “Russia’s military presence sustains and cements Transnistria’s criminal authorities”; and pointed to “Russia’s deliberate and unjustifiable noncompliance with major OSCE documents, compounded by its rejection of further documents that would reflect that noncompliance.”

On that basis, Moldova “once again appeal[ed] to OSCE countries to urge Russia to withdraw the troops and evacuate the arsenals without delay.” Russia’s stance on Moldova and Georgia, Stratan warned, “is casting a dark shadow over this entire organization . . .. Let us keep in mind that there is just one step remaining [for the OSCE] from the sublime to the ridiculous.”

To pave the way toward Transnistria conflict-settlement, Moldova’s speech called for: moral-political condemnation and financial sanctions against Tiraspol’s dictatorship; OSCE-mandated international inspections at Russian and Transnistrian-flagged military units, arsenals, and arms-manufacturing plants; curbing Transnistria’s illegal, unmonitored trade by placing an OSCE-authorized, EU-led monitoring mission on the Transnistria sector of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border; and a direct role by the United States and the European Union in the negotiations toward a political settlement.

In keeping with Voronin’s recent public statements, Stratan redefined the basis and the main goal of conflict-settlement negotiations. The basis must be a new document stipulating that the left-bank districts constitute an inalienable part of Moldova. The goal must be a special status for left-bank districts within Moldova. While such status is negotiable, Moldova’s sovereignty is not, Stratan asserted.

His and Voronin’s use of the term “districts” is key to this redefinition. Until now, Russia has insisted on the notion that all of Transnistria forms a unit, to be accorded federal status as a single region under the Tiraspol-based Russian authorities. However, Russians only form a majority in the city of Tiraspol, they are only the third-largest element (after Moldovans and Ukrainians) in all of the five districts of the left bank. Thus, refocusing the negotiations from the Transnistria “region’s” status toward a status for its “districts” would avoid Western blessing to Russian foreign rule as well as minority rule over Transnistria outside the city of Tiraspol.

Western delegations, hoping until the last moment to obtain Russian consent on a compromise final document, turned down almost all of those Moldovan proposals. Thus, the document that Russia ultimately killed was an anemic one. It “condemned Transnistrian actions on freedom of movement, on the Moldovan railways, and against Latin-script Moldovan schools. Above all [it] called upon the two sides to undertake additional efforts to resume a working dialogue in all available negotiation frameworks.” And it “supported the further development of the OSCE initiative on Border and Customs Monitoring at the Moldovan-Ukrainian border.”

With this, the organization persisted in treating Chisinau and Tiraspol as co-equal parties and blessing the existing, “five-sided” negotiating format that gives Russia four direct and indirect votes against Moldova’s one while excluding the West.

The opening statement by OSCE’s Chairman-in-office, Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Solomon Passy, had made no mention Russia’s military presence. This omission enabled Passy to define the conflict as one between Chisinau and Tiraspol, not Russia. Calling on “the parties” to resume negotiations, the Chair welcomed “positive developments during the first half of the year toward political settlement” — a reference to the negotiations toward “federalization” under Russian “guarantees.” Those were indeed advancing until Voronin pulled back from brink in May.

The EU’s collective statements on December 6 and 7 (before and after Russia had killed the final documents) firmed up EU policy considerably by stipulating, “Fulfillment of the [1999 OSCE] Istanbul commitments regarding withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova remains key to resolution of the ongoing conflict.” As in Georgia’s case, the EU used an unusually strong term in “exhort[ing] Russia to honor without delay the commitments made in Istanbul in 1999.” However, the EU weakened its message just as considerably by “confirm[ing] our support for the role of the OSCE and other mediators” in Moldova; and it even “urged all parties involved to continue searching for ways to bridge differences and bring an end to these conflicts. The EU hopes that progress can be achieved in Georgia and Moldova in the near future.” With this, again as in Georgia’s case, the EU seemed to signal disengagement and disinterest, and a hope that the problem would disappear soon.

In the Sofia meeting’s aftermath, the OSCE’s Moldova Mission chief, retired American diplomat William Hill, continues as always to urge resumption of Chisinau-Tiraspol negotiations under Russia-OSCE “mediation” in the “five-sided” format.

(Documents of the OSCE’s 2004 year-end ministerial conference, Vienna and Sofia, December 1-8; Moldpress, Basapress, December 9-12).