The self-styled “ministers of foreign affairs” of Transnistria and Abkhazia, Valery Litskay and Sergei Shamba, along with South Ossetia’s “permanent representative” to Russia, Dmitry Medoev, held a tripartite meeting and talks with Russian officials on April 3-4 in Moscow. On March 30, Transnistria’s “president” Igor Smirnov and “state security minister” Vladimir Antyufeyev had also held talks with officials in Moscow. The April 3-4 conclave was the third of its kind in Moscow this year, and it prepared for a meeting of the secessionist “presidents,” tentatively scheduled for the second half of April in Sukhumi.
Concurrently with the Moscow meeting of his proteges, Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled a meeting on April 2 in Sochi with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and the Abkhaz and South Ossetian “presidents,” Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoiti. “The format is reminiscent of a summons to Communist Party Central Committee Secretaries of Soviet republics,” Saakashvili commented in turning down Putin’s invitation (Rustavi-2 TV, April 3).
In an affront to the European Union, the secessionist conclaves in Moscow were timed to overlap with the EU-Russia Partnership Council ministerial session, held on April 1 in Luxembourg, preparatory to the EU-Russia summit. The Luxembourg session included discussion of the “frozen conflicts,” which the EU intends henceforth to place on the agenda of the EU-Russia dialogue. In that context, the Moscow meetings appeared designed to flaunt the ongoing creation and continuing consolidation of faits accomplis by Russia.
The Moscow meeting participants unanimously called for continuation of Russia’s “special role” as provider of peacekeeping troops, diplomatic mediator, and guarantor of any political resolution to the frozen conflicts. Shamba and Medoev called for continuing the preparations for a meeting with Saakashvili to be held in Sochi under Putin’s auspices.
Regarding the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Commitments on Russian troop withdrawal, Litskay served notice that Transnistria “does not recognize the Istanbul Commitments, they are not ours.” While conceding that those are Russia’s commitments, Litskay echoed Moscow’s position that they are not binding and carry no deadline. He reaffirmed Tiraspol’s known, “categorical opposition” to evacuation of Russian arsenals from Transnistria, pending disbursement of “compensation” to Tiraspol — a position that serves Moscow as an excuse for not evacuating those arsenals, which in turn provide an excuse for retaining the Russian troops to guard the arsenals. Litskay was using arguments that the OSCE itself had handed to Moscow and Tiraspol in the last three years.
Shamba asserted during this conference — as he had during the previous one in March — Abkhazia’s claim of sovereign control over “its territorial waters.” From Tbilisi, Georgia’s Border Guard Department responded immediately that the claim was illegal and that unchecked shipping bound for Sukhumi could be presumed to carry contraband, possibly including drugs, arms, or gunmen.
Shamba and Medoev spoke of a “possible military alliance among the unrecognized republics,” based on their experience in 2005, “which demonstrated that we can dispatch armed detachments . . .. We count on assistance from the fraternal North Caucasus peoples, as well as from our allies Abkhazia and Transnistria.” They appeared emboldened by the successful June 2005 operation, seen but condoned by the OSCE, when some 2,000 volunteers from Transnistria, Kuban, and Abkhazia crossed Russia’s territory to fight against Georgia in South Ossetia.
The Conference of “ministers of foreign affairs” of Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Karabakh — a forum created in 2000, and largely inactive since then — is expected to be raised to the “presidential” level at the upcoming Sukhumi meeting. That meeting is further expected to add some substance to a 1994 agreement on mutual assistance among those four parties, including military assistance in the event of conflict.
The Sukhumi meeting’s timing is planned to coincide with the GUAM countries’ summit scheduled to be held in Chisinau on April 22. Moscow continues irrationally to regard the GUAM group as a threat to Russia’s interests, and the pro-Russian enclaves as a means to offset that presumed threat. Some policy planners in Moscow propose stepping up support for the secessionist enclaves as a form of pressure on the GUAM member countries.
Thus an analysis by the Regnum agency — said to belong to Modest Kolerov, recently appointed as the Kremlin’s coordinator for relations with Russia’s “compatriots” and citizens beyond Russia’s borders — argues: “The series of visits by Saakashvili in Kyiv and Chisinau, by [Moldovan President Vladimir] Voronin in Kyiv, seek to lay the groundwork for an economic blockade of the unrecognized republics and for internationalization of peacekeeping contingents . . . In view of the growing threat from the Georgia-Ukraine-Moldova group, which focuses on undermining Russia’s influence in Russia’s own vicinity, Russia is in a position to utilize the instrument of the self-determining states.”
(Interfax, April 3, 4; Lenta.ru, April 4; Regnum, March 28; see EDM, January 28, March 18)