In his July 20 interview and July 25 press conference, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin revealed some elements of his plan with the Kremlin on Transnistria:
“When the country is reintegrated, no foreign soldier must remain, no military structure of any state,” Voronin said. The formulation implies that Russian “peacekeeping” troops should withdraw if and when a political settlement is in place, not before. He made this concession clear in the news conference: “The withdrawal of Russian troops should take place before a political settlement or, at least, not later than that.” This clearly implies a political settlement in the presence of Russian troops.
Some Tiraspol observers applaud Voronin’s formulation, construing its meaning as “after, not before” (Tiraspol Times, July 23). Chisinau observers note Voronin’s acceptance of Russia’s policy to “synchronize” troop withdrawal with political settlement — that is, conditioning troop withdrawal on Tiraspol’s consent to the terms of settlement.
Until now, Voronin has called for prompt, unconditional, and complete withdrawal of Russian troops. His changed formulation implies acceptance of Russia’s familiar position whereby troop withdrawal is conditional on a political settlement — a linkage ensuring that Russian “peacekeepers” remain in place. Whether termed “synchronization” or “different though parallel processes” or “parallel but not linked” — terms with which Voronin toyed in these statements — or even “troop withdrawal within the political settlement” (as some Russia-pleasing German diplomats have creatively suggested recently), such linkage spells either deadlock or buying troop-withdrawal by opening Moldova’s political institutions to Russian influence through Tiraspol.
Voronin continues calling for international civilian observers to replace Russian troops after the latter withdraw. This remaining element in Voronin’s position can still serve to halt his slide into ever-deepening concessions.
2. Transnistria’s Status
In his televised interview, Voronin claimed that his negotiations with Russia would lead to a status for Transnistria “exactly like Gagauzia’s, exactly on the same principle.” He then amended himself somewhat by saying that Gagauzia’s status is “slightly lower” than that the status being envisaged for Transnistria; but did not spell out the “slight” difference. Both claims are inaccurate and misleading. Voronin apparently avoided the status issue altogether in his news conference.
The current proposal in the back-channel negotiation envisages early dissolution of Moldova’s parliament (while the Transnistria Supreme Soviet remains) and snap elections for a new parliament. In this, 18 to 19 seats (out of 101) would be guaranteed for Tiraspol’s nominees. This proportion of deputies exceeds the proportion of Transnistria’s residents in Moldova’s population and exceeds even more the proportion of eligible voters in Transnistria (an estimated 13%) relative to all Moldova’s eligible voters. The snap elections would not be held country-wide (on both banks of the Nistru) as Moldova’s constitution requires, but would be held separately, with rump-Moldova forming one electoral territory and Transnistria a separate, legalized electoral territory. According to Voronin, this system would be used for two electoral cycles during eight years. Such a system could, however, freeze the country’s territorial and political carve-up.
On the executive side, Tiraspol would delegate a deputy prime minister in Moldova’s central government as well as a deputy minister in each Moldovan ministry. Transnistria’s “president” would be an ex-officio member of Moldova’s government (this would seem to be the only real analogy with the Gagauz autonomy).
Little else is known about the status proposals beyond these elements. But these alone seem difficult if not impossible for Moldova’s feeble state institutions to digest. Such an arrangement could halt Moldova’s European course — one that Voronin himself sincerely, if awkwardly, promotes.
This arrangement would also be an antithesis of democratic representation of Transnistria’s population. Instead of this, Tiraspol’s nominees to posts in Chisinau may variously represent the interests of Tiraspol’s shadowy business, Russian monopolies, and/or Russia’s political agenda in the region.
Voronin had briefly paid lip service to the goal of promoting democracy in Transnistria in 2005, but not since then. Chisinau never developed a program toward that goal. In his July 20 and July 25 statements, Voronin referred to Transnistria’s population only once: He cited “old acquaintances” from his time as a local Soviet and Communist Party Secretary in Bender in the 1970s and 1980s, who are asking him to speed up the solution of the conflict.
3. Negotiating Framework
From the start of the back-channel negotiations with Russia, the Moldovan presidency claimed that any decisions would be taken ultimately in the 5+2 format (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, the United States, the European Union, Chisinau, and Tiraspol). In practice, this only means that any bilateral Russia-Moldova agreements would be presented for blessing in 5+1 format. In his statements just made, Voronin called for the soonest possible resumption of 5+2 consultations. He said that some Russian-Moldovan agreements would soon be presented to that format, including a document on international guarantees.
Such sequencing reproduces the one proposed during 2003 and 2004 Voronin-Kremlin negotiations (prior to Voronin’s turn to the West), which were mainly run by the same presidential adviser as now. Both then and now, the Moldovan president and his alter ego sought a bilateral deal with Russia, to be politically sanctified after the fact by the United States and European Union through some international document.
In these latest statements, Voronin reverted to some of the concepts of Yevgeny Primakov’s 1997 Moscow Memorandum. He termed Russia and Ukraine as “guarantor countries” of conflict-settlement in Transnistria and he implicitly equalized Chisinau and Tiraspol as “the parties to the conflict.” Somewhat incongruously, he blamed a previous Moldovan leadership for accepting the Moscow Memorandum even as he refloated its language. Voronin along with the entire Moldovan government and political class had un-learned those concepts and terms after 2004. In the meantime, Moscow and Tiraspol seek continuing adherence to essential points of the 1997 document, despite its utter lack of basis in Moldovan or international law.
This negotiating process is strictly 1+1, a far cry indeed from 5+2, from which Voronin’s team as well as the Kremlin has been withholding information. The idea is to present a bilateral fait accompli to the multilateral format’s Western members. Thanks to this presidential team, Moldova has become the only country that negotiates toward conflict-resolution with Russia on a bilateral basis, without direct international involvement and without adequate disclosure to the West.
(Moldpres, Basapres, Interfax, Infotag, Flux, July 23-26)