Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 87

The latest session of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna adds to the indications that officials in Brussels and Washington are returning to the 2002-2004 policy of resolving the Transnistria conflict in a manner that abandons Moldova to Russian domination. That policy entails now, as it did then: power-sharing with the Russia-installed leadership on Moldova’s territory, acceptance of Russia’s military presence, and placing Moldova under mainly Russian “guarantees.”

American diplomats had worked out that policy in negotiations with Russia at the time, but it met with resistance from Moldova’s civil society at first and ultimately the government. Washington reversed and Brussels shelved that policy by late 2004, recognizing Moldova’s European aspirations and the need to promote democracy in Transnistria and ensure the withdrawal of Russian troops as prerequisites to any viable solution.

At this moment, however, the old policy is suddenly back on track at the initiative of American and European officials. This development threatens to compromise the U.S. and overall Western stance at the upcoming G-8 summit in St. Petersburg. At that summit, the Bush administration intends to raise for the first time at such a level the issue of Russia’s involvement in the “frozen conflicts” including Transnistria and to take a stand for democracy, including on that particular front.

Contradicting the administration’s stated intentions, the American-led OSCE Mission in Moldova has written a document to serve as a basis for negotiations, along the lines of the pre-2004 policy. The document focuses on power-sharing between Moldova’s and Transnistria’s authorities, defined co-equally as “the parties,” despite the fact that the former are freely elected and native while the latter are anti-democratic and exported directly from Russia. The U.S. State Department and the office of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana adopted that document together with Russia at the April 19 meeting in Moscow (see EDM, April 28). Washington and Brussels maintain complete secrecy about that meeting and the document. However, the EU’s special representative for the Transnistria conflict, Dutch diplomat Adriaan Jacobovits de Szeged, unveiled the substance of the EU-U.S. old/new approach at the OSCE Permanent Council’s April 26 session, the documents of which are circulating internally within the OSCE.

Jacobovits’ official presentation re-classifies the issues under negotiation in Moldova/Transnistria into: “fringe elements,” henceforth including democracy; and “the main focus,” henceforth on power-sharing. It faults the negotiations since 2004 for having “focused solely on what could be called ‘fringe elements’ in finding a solution. Let me mention three of these: 1) democratization, 2) monitoring Transnistria’s military-industrial complex, [and] 3) confidence and security-building measures” [between Moldova’s and Transnistria’s armed forces co-equally]. However, these “should not be the main focus of our deliberations. We need to start working in earnest toward bringing the division of competencies between Chisinau and Tiraspol back as the focus of our discussions.”

In tune with the Moscow meeting, Jacobovits’s presentation omitted any mention of the Russian troops on Moldova’s territory. For, “in Moscow the issue of returning to talking about a settlement was agreed in principle among us all.” In this phrase and in that omission, anyone familiar with the long record of these negotiations will recognize a return to the Russia-favored approach: defining “settlement” as Chisinau-Tiraspol power-sharing in the presence of Russian troops.

Indeed, the word “Russia” never appears in Jacobovits’ presentation to the Permanent Council. Instead, the EU — in agreement with the State Department and Russia since the Moscow meeting — wants “a middle ground,” a “compromise” on power-sharing between “the parties” Chisinau and Tiraspol. This way of casting the issue seeks to disguise two evident facts: First, that Russia is a party to this conflict, indeed its initiator and driver, Tiraspol being Russia’s extension in this regard; and, second, that any political “compromise” between Chisinau and “Tiraspol” would in reality be one between Chisinau and Russia on Moldova’s territory and within Moldova’ state institutions.

Currently designated as “peacekeepers,” Russian troops are to be re-labeled “guarantors” under a Russian concept now coordinated with the EU and United States. According to Jacobovits’ presentation, changing the nature of the Russian peacekeeping operation is among the “fringe issues” now, but will become important within “the immediate guarantee mechanisms, which can be addressed more clearly once there is more clarity on what a viable settlement should look like.” This again implies the sequencing envisaged from 2001 onward by the American-led OSCE Mission: political settlement on Russian terms now, withdrawal of some Russian troops later, and legitimizing the presence of remaining Russian troops as a mainstay of an “internationalized” peacekeeping/guaranteeing force.

In a parallel bargaining with Moscow, the EU is conceding from the start to Russia a right to provide 50% of the “guarantor troops” and to veto the participation of certain countries in the revamped operation under OSCE auspices. This adds to the OSCE’s blessing of Russia’s self-appropriated role as a political “guarantor” of Moldova.

Acceptance of Russian troops as peacekeepers/guarantors in Moldova would largely cancel the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Commitments of Russia, within the Treaty on Conventional Forces (CFE) in Europe, to withdraw its troops from Moldova completely and unconditionally. By signaling a readiness to accept Russian troops in Moldova under the peacekeeping excuse, EU officials and the OSCE Mission in Chisinau involved in these talks risk compromising the CFE Treaty Review Conference, which is scheduled to be held later this month to review compliance with the Treaty and the Commitments.

At the Permanent Council’s session, the Jacobovits presentation asked Moldova to change its July 2006 law on the basic principles of Transnistria conflict settlement. Those principles are democratization in Transnistria and withdrawal of Russian troops. Contrary to stated U.S. policy, the American-led OSCE Mission and, now, the EU (or at least Solana’s office and certain EU countries) are pressuring Moldova to abandon those principles.

Responding to the EU presentation in the Permanent Council, and in contrast to that presentation, the U.S. delegation severely criticized Tiraspol for provoking incidents and obstructing negotiations; and it called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova’s territory. Thus, eight days after the concessions made to Russia by State Department and the American-led OSCE Mission alongside the EU at the Moscow meeting, those concessions had apparently not, or not yet, become U.S. policy.

Presenting Moldova’s position to the Permanent Council, Ambassador Victor Postolachi reaffirmed that “democratization and demilitarization of Transnistria constitute the indispensable premises to advancing toward a settlement,” as provided by the unanimously adopted 2005 law; expressed deep concern over the continuing presence of Russian troops on Moldova’s territory; and called for replacing that “‘so-called’ peacekeeping operation” with an international mission of civilian and military observers.

Moldova’s leadership and civil society are in firm consensus on those principles. Any attempts to pressure Chisinau backstage, as was done in 2002-2004, to accept Russian terms from Western hands, will not remain secret and will encounter official as well as civil-society resistance. If Solana and his special representative decide to go down the road charted at the Moscow meeting, they will not be able to impose that solution on Moldova without U.S. support. The United States cannot associate itself with that kind of “solution” without compromising the Bush administration’s stated democratic principles and its vision for Europe.

(Documents of the OSCE Permanent Council session, April 27)