Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 229

According to a new U.S. proposal regarding Moldova, “Russia would resume withdrawal/disposal of munitions when possible.” Pending that, the OSCE would conduct periodic observation visits at the munitions stockpiles.

Thus, the document fails to establish a Russian commitment to, or time frame for, the withdrawal or disposal of the Russian munitions stockpiles. The wording “when possible” would allow Russia to delay the process indefinitely — or to extract political concessions for making a withdrawal “possible.”

As the United States and other negotiators well know, Russia claims that it cannot and would not evacuate or scrap the munitions without a political settlement of the Transnistria conflict acceptable to both Chisinau and Tiraspol — that is, on terms subject to a Moscow/Tiraspol veto. Absent such a settlement, Russia does not find it “possible” to resolve the munitions issue and claims that it must keep its troops in place to guard those stockpiles. The U.S. proposal would enable Russia to persist in that position.

The other purported mission of Russian troops in Moldova is “peacekeeping.” Their supposed number is some 1,500. On this matter, the U.S. proposal reads:

“Under an OSCE mandate, Russia would continue to provide peacekeeping forces. Approximately 200 civilian monitors, attached to an augmented OSCE Mission, would observe the conduct of peacekeeping operations and promote interaction between the sides with a view to advancing the common goal of demilitarization of the conflict. Within 45 days of the date of this agreement, the U.S. and Russia, working with other interested states, will conclude negotiations on an OSCE mandate for this peace support effort, which would specify the tasks of armed and unarmed elements, their numbers and armament, the duration of their presence, and means for coordinating their efforts. It would outline a concept for gradual civilianization of the peace support effort through gradual replacement of armed peacekeepers with civilians, as demilitarization efforts are agreed upon by the parties.”

The only palpable change here would be the introduction of OSCE civilian personnel to observe the Russian “peacekeeping” troops. The idea as such and even the proposed ratio of OSCE observers to Russian troops (200 to some 1,500) is analogous to the situation in Abkhazia, where United Nations military observers are stationed to watch the Russian “peacekeeping” troops in that part of Georgia. The U.N. presence has done nothing to internationalize the Russian operation or to advance a political settlement during more than a decade there.

The U.S. proposal says nothing about a withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova or about internationalization of the “peacekeeping” operation. Apparently seeking a face-saving solution for Russia to withdraw its troops, the proposal envisages a gradual replacement of military peacekeepers by civilian ones and implies that these would be drawn from a number of countries. Such an outcome would indeed serve Western strategic interests and Moldovan national interests (avoiding a Kaliningrad II, stabilizing a European-oriented Moldova). However, the U.S. proposal’s terms and their sequencing are such as to enable Russia to frustrate those goals.

While Moldova (along with Georgia, the United States, and other countries) would begin ratification procedures for the Adapted CFE Treaty, negotiations would only begin toward a new peace-support operation in Moldova. The proposed 45-day time frame for completing such negotiations looks like a mere wish. Russia could string out indefinitely the discussion on details of the mandate, command (“means for coordinating their efforts”?), duration, structure, financing, tasks, national composition, and other parameters of the substitute operation. Indeed the very “concept for gradual civilianization” has yet to be “outlined.”

All this offers ample room for continuation of Russian foot-dragging. Moreover, a Russian veto seems built into this proposal’s stipulation that replacement of Russian troops would proceed “as demilitarization efforts are agreed upon by the parties.” Thus, apparently, there would be no replacement unless Moscow/Tiraspol agree on the terms of that process.

Putting the OSCE in charge of a security or peacekeeping operation in Europe’s East is a high-risk proposition. Russia would use its veto power within the organization to write the operation’s mandate in accordance with Russian interests — or to thwart the mandate. In the last few years, Moscow has demonstrated its capacity to sink OSCE operations and activities with impunity. Thus, it dictated the termination of the OSCE’s Border Monitoring Operation on the Georgia-Russia border; it engages in micromanagement of OSCE observation activity in South Ossetia, hamstringing that activity; it has forced the OSCE’s election-monitoring arm, the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), out of election observation in Russia; and it has also demonstrated its ability to block for political purposes the adoption of the OSCE’s budget.

Russia continued this cat-and-mouse game with the OSCE at the organization’s year-end conference just held in Madrid. Meanwhile, Russia seeks to turn the OSCE into a European security actor precisely because it can manipulate it from within. Moreover, inserting the OSCE in a security role in Europe’s East would provide an excuse for certain European Union countries to block the European Union itself from taking on such responsibilities in the EU’s neighborhood.

(Building on Parallel Action Concepts: Aid Package approach for Progress on CFE and Related Issues,” OSCE Madrid Year End Conference; see EDM, October 9, November 15, 16, December 3, 4, 5)