Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 116

As anticipated (see EDM, May 25), the unlawful presence of Russian troops in Moldova became the decisive issue at the emergency conference of state parties to the Treaty on Conventional forces in Europe (CFE), underway in Vienna June 11-15. That issue is not only the main remaining obstacle to the treaty’s ratification by Western allies. The allies now call for withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova (and also from the Gudauta base in Georgia) as the first in a sequence of moves to bring the 1999 CFE Treaty into force and accommodate Russia on other treaty-related issues. It is a measure of the allies’ interest in Moldova that they insist on a satisfactory solution there, in return for giving perhaps favorable consideration to Russian demands elsewhere.

Addressing the conference on June 13, Moldova’s delegation called for a “complete, orderly, and transparent withdrawal of Russian troops and armaments, in accordance with Russia’s 1999 Istanbul Commitments” (a part of the CFE Treaty package). “Only [such a] withdrawal can create prerequisites for the start of national ratification procedures on the adapted CFE treaty,” the Moldovan statement insisted. Deploring the non-transparent military situation in Russian-controlled Transnistria, the statement called for turning the existing “peacekeeping” operation into an international mission of observers under an OSCE mandate (Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, June 13).

The statement is in line with Moldova’s position since 2005, which has all along been more forward leaning compared to Western positions. Despite its recent attempts to accommodate Moscow on the political resolution of the conflict, Chisinau has remained firm on the issue of troop withdrawal and a transformed peacekeeping operation. Only the point regarding an OSCE mandate signifies a retreat from the earlier position. Aware of the organization’s weaknesses, Chisinau had until now called for an “international mandate,” in hopes of convincing the European Union to assume this responsibility on the EU’s border.

The U.S. delegation leader, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, told the media on the sidelines of the closed-door conference that its outcome “will depend on some kind of solution first, especially for Moldova.” Similarly, a NATO official noted on background, “Moldova is key to this whole dispute between Russia and NATO. If we can resolve the Moldova issue, the rest could fall into place.” The Russian base at Gudauta in Georgia would be dealt with in the same context (International Herald Tribune, June 14).

Speaking separately from each other, Fried and the NATO official outlined a possible sequence of steps that would bring the unratified CFE Treaty into force and keep Russia on board the treaty. In the first two steps, Russia would withdraw its troops from Transnistria and Gudauta and would then join [as a minority participant] an international peacekeeping operation in Transnistria. In the next two steps, Western allies would expeditiously ratify and bring into force the 1999 CFE Treaty, whereupon the three Baltic states could legally join the treaty (a major Russian interest, so as to negotiate constraints on hypothetical allied deployments in the Baltic states). In the final step or steps, with Russia abiding by the treaty in force, NATO could favorably consider Russian demands to raise the treaty-mandated limits on Russian force deployments in the “flank” regions — that is, the North Caucasus and a part of Russia’s northwest. (During this conference, Russia has complained especially about the limits on the forces it may station in the North Caucasus under the CFE treaty.)

Withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria and Gudauta — as well as a “creative solution” to peacekeeping in Transnistria — are prerequisites to this whole process, Fried and other Western officials stated outside the closed-door conference. That “creative solution” is a proposed international operation with minority Russian participation. “We shall keep faith both with our own principles and with countries like Georgia and Moldova,” Fried made clear (U.S. State Department transcript of Fried briefing, June 12).

On June 13 at the conference, NATO allies circulated confidential proposals along those lines and that sequence: from Russian troop withdrawals to ratification of the treaty by allies to negotiations for upward revision of limits to Russian flank deployments. This conference may at most produce agreement on the broad principles on these issues, leaving the details for follow-up negotiations in other forums. However, Russia insists on discussing other issues as well, such as U.S. bases in Romania and Bulgaria, for possible trade-offs (see EDM, May 25, June 8, 11, 13).