Ukraine’s presidential office announced yesterday that top Russian, Ukrainian and Moldovan leaders have agreed to confer on March 27 in Odessa on the political settlement of the Transdniester conflict. Presidents Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine and Petru Lucinschi of Moldova, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministers of all three countries and Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov are due to attend. Kuchma and Yeltsin had agreed, during their February 27 summit in Moscow, to co-sponsor the meeting. Kuchma finalized the plan with Lucinschi by telephone yesterday. No immediate official word was given on the participation of the OSCE, which is one of three mediators — with Russia and Ukraine — in the negotiations to settle the Transdniester conflict. (Ukrainian agencies, March 4) Chisinau is in any case likely to urge continuing OSCE involvement.
With that condition, the format of this meeting can turn it into the first serious attempt to settle the conflict since its inception in 1991. The latest source of impasse is the Moscow Memorandum of May 8, 1997 on the basic principles of settling the conflict. Signed by Chisinau, Tiraspol and the three mediators, the memorandum was drafted mainly by Russia’s Foreign Ministry and parallels Moscow’s approach to Abkhazia. The memorandum calls for creating a "common state" of Moldova and Transdniester, within Moldova’s internationally recognized borders and respecting Moldova’s territorial integrity. The wording permits Tiraspol — as it permits Abkhazia in the parallel case — to interpret the concept of common state as a contractual arrangement among two distinct and co-equal states. With Moscow’s tacit acquiescence, Tiraspol has continued to block the negotiations since the signing of the memorandum and has even escalated its demands.
Ukraine’s growing role in the negotiations can clearly benefit Moldova by counterbalancing Russian influence. This, however, depends on the negotiations’ timing. Kuchma may be reluctant to challenge Russian interests in the runup to the elections in Ukraine.
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