Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 152

In November 1999, the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) required Russia to withdraw its arsenals and troops from Moldova in two phases. The heavy weaponry, as defined by the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), plus some other military equipment, is to be liquidated in place and/or removed to Russia by December 2001. The remaining military assets are to be disposed of, and all the Russian troops withdrawn from Moldova’s territory, by December 2002.

The Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova–the residual 14th Army–numbers 2,500 personnel and is stationed in breakaway Transdniester. Its heavy weaponry falling under the 1999 CFE Treaty provisions includes 108 battle tanks, 214 armored vehicles of various types, seven combat helicopters and 125 artillery systems. Much of this equipment–especially the tanks and other armored vehicles–is nearing the end of its service life and needs expensive maintenance. For the aging items, scrapping in place is more cost effective than would be removal for storage in Russia.

The Russian troops sit on top of immense stockpiles of military materiel, most of it inherited from the ex-Soviet Odessa Military District, some of it brought to Transdniester when the Soviet military began withdrawing from Central Europe. The stockpiles include nearly 50,000 firearms of all descriptions, hundreds of light artillery pieces, hundreds of non-CFE-limited combat vehicles and military transport vehicles, tens of thousands of uniforms and pairs of boots, and more than 40,000 tons of ammunition and explosives. This last is stored in unsafe conditions at the huge Colbasna ammunition dump, where an accidental explosion could wreak disaster on a large and densely populated area. Disposing of those stockpiles poses especially difficult problems. Much of the materiel is expired and untransportable. One solution under consideration is to build a special disposal plant at the site with Western technology and funding.

It was not until July 2001 that Russia took its first steps to comply with the first part of its OSCE obligations. During that month, the Russians liquidated ten T-64 tanks and ten other armored vehicles, mostly BTR-60 and BTR-70 personnel carriers. Diplomats and journalists attended the official start of the scrapping operation, and OSCE observers–including American, German, French, Dutch and Russian–watched it throughout. The scrapping operation uses the standard method of cutting the vehicles into pieces with a welding flame. The resulting scrap metal is to be used by the Rybnitsa steel plant, Transdniester’s industrial flagship.

According OSCE representatives, the liquidation and/or withdrawal of all the CFE-limited weaponry by the December 2001 deadline is physically still possible, provided that the Russian military adheres to a rigorous schedule. That schedule has yet to be agreed upon, however. The OSCE will fund the operation, and is set to disburse the funds when the schedule is in place and as the operation proceeds.

The Russians, moreover, must immediately begin removing or disposing of the non-CFE-limited weaponry and the noncombat materiel. According to current military calculations, the removal to Russia necessitates 150 train convoys. Thus far, only four such convoys have been sent to Russia: three–instead of a promised ten–in November 1999, and one in November 2000. In each case, the move was timed to OSCE year-end meetings as minimal window-dressing. The November 2000 operation was, moreover, immediately halted by Moscow citing “frost on the Ukrainian railroads.” Last winter happened to have been the mildest in many years in Ukraine.

Under a 1998 agreement, Russia and Transdniester are to divide among themselves the proceeds from sales of military property not removed to Russia. The Transdniester authorities, moreover, stand to inherit the nonmovable property of Russian military units upon their withdrawal. Tiraspol currently uses every possible means to maximize its share of the military inheritance and to have some of that counted toward the repayment of its debts to Moscow. The arrears for gas alone amount to nearly US$500 million, which Russia made no serious attempt to recover since 1992 when the debts began piling up. The figure works out at some US$50 million annually, revealing just one dimension of Russia’s direct and indirect economic support to Transdniester.