RUSSIAN TROOPS NOT BUDGING FROM MOLDOVA’S TRANSDNIESTER REGION.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 101

Russian stonewalling in Transdniester has, at this point, succeeded in compromising the scrapping and withdrawal schedule for ammunition, weaponry and troops from that part of Moldova. The Chisinau mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had been warning for some months that the withdrawal schedule was about to be compromised through inaction. American and other Western representatives at the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna have also been voicing their concern with increasing frequency.

The Russian government obligated itself in 1999 to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to complete the scrapping and withdrawal in all respects by December 2002. At the moment, the Russian army stations 2,600 troops sitting atop vast military stockpiles, including 42,000 tons of ammunition, in this part of Moldova. On May 21, Major Mike Bruce of the OSCE’s weapons destruction program confirmed to a British correspondent that for the last six months OSCE personnel have been denied access to the ammunition dumps, and are therefore being prevented from assisting the Russians in disposing of the ammunition (BBC, May 21).

The OSCE’s Chisinau mission calls for preserving the time schedule by increasing the quantity of military assets to be transported by train to Russia, and correspondingly decreasing the quantity to be scrapped in place. Under the existing program, 26,000 tons of ammunition were to be scrapped in place and 16,000 were to be removed to Russia. At this point, and given the available disposal capacities, only 13,000 tons can still be scrapped by the December deadline, assuming that the scrapping begins now. It is nowhere near beginning, however.

To block the ammunition disposal process, the Russian military has allowed its own creature–the Transdniester military–to seize control of the stockpiles and to reject the delivery of a Donovan T-10 closed detonation chamber. This highly advanced equipment for the safe disposal of ammunition had been contracted by the OSCE with the American firm Demil, after proving its effectiveness in detonating large amounts of old ammunition in Belgium. The Donovan chamber can go into operation on 36-hours’ notice. The chamber has sat idle near Chisinau since mid-April because the Transdniester authorities–both civilian and military–refuse it, and the Russian military in Tiraspol and Moscow claim that they cannot prevail over the Tiraspol authorities.

Russia’s civilian government is evading responsibility–as it does with respect to the Russian bases in Georgia–by letting the General Staff deal with the situation. The General Staff in turn hides behind the local authorities, leaving the OSCE no choice but to deal with these, though they are not recognized. In Tiraspol, local authorities are speaking with many voices, giving the OSCE the runaround. They claim, for example, that the Donovan chamber is unsafe, despite the fact that the chief of Transdniester’s industry–including military industry–Vyacheslav Sapronov had, at the OSCE’s invitation, witnessed the chamber’s safe and efficient operation in Belgium. In a recent twist, Tiraspol and Moscow representatives have demanded that a Russian firm be given the lucrative business of scrapping the ammunition. The OSCE is willing to have the assignment shared, but must oversee the process, which Tiraspol (on Moscow’s behalf) refuses to allow.

The OSCE has created a fund to defray the costs of the scrapping and withdrawal of Russian ordnance and equipment from Moldova. Supported by voluntary contributions from Western countries–with the United States as largest donor by far–the fund aims for a US$40 million target, and has at this point collected more than half that sum. The Russian side, however, seems less interested in having its withdrawal expenses defrayed, and more in staying put. For their part, Transdniester representatives complain that the OSCE has not yet collected the full amount. But the most vexatious issue involves the claim of local Russian leaders on the Russian government for compensation.

The leaders in Tiraspol assert that “the people of Transdniester” own the Russian military assets in the territory, “allowing” the Russian army to use it, but requiring compensation if the equipment is withdrawn from the area. On this basis, Tiraspol makes compensation claims that are both outlandish and mutually conflicting. For example, Tiraspol demands US$100 million for allowing just one train convoy–albeit a very long one–to take Russian military equipment to Russia. That convoy is loaded with ancient Soviet trucks, field kitchens, uniforms and other types of almost worthless equipment. Fully loaded since December, it sits on the rails–literally dead in its tracks–awaiting Transdniester’s “permission” to proceed.

According to Sapronov, Transdniester itself owes some US$700 million to Moscow for natural gas supplied by Gazprom from 1992 to date. But, by his accounting, Russia owes US$1.2 billion for military equipment removed to Russia (US$1 billion) and scrapped in place (US$0.2 billion) during the same ten-year period. Hence, Tiraspol maintains that Russia owes it US$500 million, and that the final stage of scrapping and withdrawing Russian ordnance can only begin when Moscow pays up. The only valid part of this accounting is the figure for gas arrears. It was, officially, US$600 million a year ago. Its steady growth shows that Transdniester continues to enjoy the use of Russian gas gratis. It is just one form–though the main one–in which Moscow has been subsidizing Transdniester throughout these ten years. Yet, Moscow pretends to be unable to discipline its proteges when they “do not permit” the withdrawal of the troops (Roundup based on recent reporting by Moldovan, Russian and Western sources, May 2002).

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