In his state-of-the-nation address to parliament on February 9, President Viktor Yushchenko claimed for Ukraine the role of “regional leader,” one “serv[ing] as the basis for integration processes in the region of Central and Eastern Europe.” By way of substantiating that claim, Yushchenko went on, “We have attained significant success in settling the conflict in Transnistria” (Ukrainian Television Channel One, February 9). Even as the president was speaking, his direct subordinates, acting on his instructions, were working in concert with Russia to freeze the conflict in Transnistria and frustrate European Union and U.S. policies there.
On February 8-10, the deputy secretaries of Russia’s and Ukraine’s National Security Councils, Yuri Zubakov and Serhiy Pirozhkov, headed a joint Russian-Ukrainian delegation to Chisinau and Tiraspol, bypassing the political mechanism in which the United States and the EU participate. According to Pirozhkov, the Russian and Ukrainian Security Councils’ joint actions would “complement the negotiating process” — i.e., establish a parallel format, outside the 5+2 formation where the West is represented. Pirozhkov characterized the move as based on the recent joint declaration, signed by Yushchenko with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, that envisages the coordination of Russia’s and Ukraine’s policies toward Moldova/Transnistria. The Putin-Yushchenko declaration endorses political and military proposals that had been found unacceptable by Washington, Brussels, and Chisinau. Pirozhkov, along with Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary Anatoly Kinakh, had negotiated the text of that declaration in Moscow (see EDM, January 16, 30).
Without a mandate from any international authority, without consent from the U.S. and EU participants in the negotiating format, and without asking Chisinau, the Zubakov-Pirozhkov delegation claimed to act as a “Commission” to inspect Transnistrian industrial plants that are suspected of producing and exporting arms. The “commission” visited three plants and solemnly gave them a clean bill of health. This same “commission” plans to visit the remaining 12 suspected plants during the next several weeks. The Russian-Ukrainian procedure undercuts the one tentatively agreed to in the 5+2 negotiations with U.S., EU, and OSCE participation. Under that tentative agreement, inspections at suspect military-industrial plants in Transnistria ought to be conducted by international teams under OSCE aegis.
Pirozhkov also confirmed Kyiv’s decision to suspend the implementation of the Ukraine-Moldova agreement, signed by Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov and Vasile Tarlev, on curbing contraband from and via Transnistria. Signed on December 30, and due to go into effect on January 25, Yushchenko suspended the agreement on January 24. A week later, during EU-Ukraine-Moldova consultations in Brussels, the EU asked Kyiv to proceed with implementation of the agreement and to cooperate with the EU’s Border Assistance Mission (BAM) in that regard. It also asked Kyiv to join the visa ban that the EU and the United States have imposed on Tiraspol’s leaders. However, Kyiv remains unresponsive. In Brussels that same week, Ukraine’s former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko supported the EU’s call on Ukraine to assist in curbing the contraband and cooperate with BAM.
Those are perennial requests to Kyiv by Brussels since 2001 (on the contraband) and since 2003 (on the visa ban). Kyiv, however, has taken on board Moscow’s and Tiraspol’s arguments that a) introducing European customs regulations on that border would amount to an “economic blockade” of Transnistria, and b) Transnistria has a “right” to conduct its own external trade operations, pending a political settlement of the conflict. Ukrainian prime ministers have signed four anti-contraband agreements with their Moldovan counterparts — in 2001, 2003, and twice in 2005 — but former president Leonid Kuchma promptly canceled the first two, and Yushchenko the latter two, under the convergent influence of Moscow and of shadowy Ukrainian economic interests. Ironically, in his February 9 state-of-the-union speech, Yushchenko called for “doing away with the typically Ukrainian practice of making agreements in the morning and breaking them in the evening.”
The Ukrainian president’s special envoy for Moldova/Transnistria, Dmytro Tkach, meanwhile criticized Moldova and Romania on February 6 during a NATO-Ukraine Commission session in Brussels. Tkach commended Russia’s efforts toward a political settlement, opined that Moldova was intransigent, and declared that Chisinau had never offered sufficient explanations for its rejection of the Kozak Memorandum. Stating that Kyiv was perturbed by Bucharest’s critique of the Putin-Yushchenko declaration, Tkach termed the “Three D” concept for settlement (demilitarization, democratization, de-criminalization of Transnistria) a “Romanian initiative” (it is in fact a Moldovan civil-society initiative embraced by the government as a national consensus in Moldova). Tkach denied that the Russian military stockpiles armaments in Transnistria (he only acknowledged the ammunition stockpiles); claimed that Russian troops there are shielding Moldova and Romania from cross-border threats and challenges to stability, and maintained — in tune with Moscow’s position — that demilitarization and democratization must be applied simultaneously to Transnistria and the rest of Moldova.
Chisinau is reacting weakly to these latest developments. President Vladimir Voronin briefly received the Russian-Ukrainian delegation in Chisinau but failed, at least publicly, to take notice of the damage done to the negotiating process.
(Moldpres, Basapres, Oliva-Press, Interfax-Ukraine, February 9-12)