Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 44

The European Union’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, has unexpectedly redefined the nature of the conflict in Transnistria with a single phrase. Interviewed in the Chisinau daily Moldova Suverana, on the eve of a scheduled visit to Moldova, Solana opines: “I am convinced that the Transnistria conflict is a conflict of economic nature, involving the economic elites. It cannot last forever, there is no place for such conflicts in the 21st century.” Solana is urging “both sides involved,” Chisinau and Tiraspol, to “sincerely commit themselves” to devising a political settlement and to “agree with each other about the division of competencies between Chisinau and Tiraspol” (Moldova Suverana, March 2).

Solana passed over in silence the fact that Russian forces and Russia-led Transnistria troops have occupied that part of Moldova since the 1992 Russian military intervention, and that the political leaders in Tiraspol are Russia’s appointees, seconded by Moscow on a mission in Transnistria. This situation defines the conflict as an interstate conflict, not an internal Moldovan one. The EU itself from time to time calls for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova, albeit indecisively, but the request at least recognizes this fundamental problem.

Although Western governments and organizations do not officially characterize the conflict as a Russian-Moldovan issue, they tend to treat it as an interstate conflict in practice when insisting on the withdrawal of Russian forces and restoration of Moldova’s sovereignty and integrity. No known Western authority has thus far attempted to excuse Russia’s policy by pretending that the conflict is internal to Moldova and “of an economic nature,” rather than geopolitical.

By the same token, Western governments and organizations have consistently characterized Transnistria’s authorities as thriving on organized crime and smuggling. No international authority has ever attempted to equate the level of corruption that exists in right-bank Moldova and the rampant economic crime that (along with Russian handouts) sustains Transnistria’s authorities. While perpetuation of the unresolved conflict is generally recognized to be the basis of Tiraspol’s (and, behind it, Moscow’s) negotiating tactics, no known international observer before Solana has suggested that Chisinau has a similar interest; and no Western authority including Solana could possibly identify groups at any level of the Moldovan authorities that are interested in prolonging the conflict, as Solana now claims.

Solana’s comments read like an attempt to rationalize his or the EU’s lack of ability — or desire — to sustain a European policy on this EU border. Directly or indirectly, he basically conveys three idea: a) Russia’s role is to be tacitly tolerated; b) Moldova and Transnistria are equally responsible for the deadlock; and c) any idea of “a democratic Transnistria in a democratic Moldova” reduces itself to “delimitation of competencies” between Moldova’s freely elected, EU-aspirant government and Tiraspol’s Russian-installed, anti-Western authorities.

Internationally, the interview appears designed to signal to Russia that the EU will not raise this issue at any major levels or with any emphasis in upcoming EU-Russia meetings. Locally, Solana’s choice of a Moldovan newspaper to convey this message can only undermine confidence in the EU; provoke Sovietophile elements to criticize the Western-oriented President Vladimir Voronin from within his own party; and embolden Tiraspol to fortify its intransigence.

With this move, Solana has undercut his own Special Representative (SR) for conflict-resolution in Moldova, Dutch diplomat Adriaan Jacobovits de Szeged. The SR’s public discourse and his attitude in the 5+2 negotiations had shown a far better-informed, more accurate assessment of the situation in Moldova in recent months, compared to the same diplomat’s 2003 performance, let alone Solana’s speech. The EU’s foreign policy chief further embarrassed his envoy by claiming that his — Solana’s — understanding of Moldova has improved since the SR’s appointment.

On the whole, the EU’s foreign policy chief seems inadequately briefed on the frozen conflicts. Last year, he seemed ill-prepared during a mishap-filled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. Putin trapped Solana into meeting with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian secessionist leaders, Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoiti, without Solana’s realizing it until it was too late (see EDM, April 11, 15).

Solana was scheduled to arrive on March 2 on a visit to Chisinau, attend a working dinner with Voronin, and proceed on the following day to Kyiv. During the night of March 1-2, however, Solana’s office announced that he has postponed both parts of his visit because of “changes in his schedule.” Also on March 2, the OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office, Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel de Gucht, postponed his visit to Moldova scheduled for March 6-8 “for family reasons” (Moldpres, March 2). No substitute dates have been announced for either Solana or de Gucht’s visit.

By fortuitous coincidence, on March 2 the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg passed a resolution, reaffirming for the third time the need for enforcement of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) verdict of 2004-2005 in favor of two political detainees in Tiraspol. In that verdict (from which only the Russian judge had dissented), the ECHR found that the Russian Federation’s armed forces had unlawfully seized Transnistria from Moldova, characterized the situation in Transnistria as an occupation regime, and described those authorities as “agents” of the Russian Federation. The verdict and resolutions in Strasbourg seem to be discounted in Brussels, at least by the EU’s foreign policy chief.

These developments overshadow the routine failure of the February 27-28 round of negotiations in the 5+2 format (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, Moldova, Transnistria, plus the United States and the EU as observers) in Chisinau and Tiraspol. The U.S. envoy to the negotiations, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer, held separate talks with Moldova’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the same time. The Moldovan Ministry’s official communiqué on the talks said, “The United States is the reliable partner of Moldova regarding conflict-resolution in Transnistria and European integration” (Moldpres, February 28). Using the definite article “the” lends this statement in the original language a special emphasis; and it seems accurate to say that Washington at present supports Moldova’s European aspirations more consistently than does Brussels.