Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 73

In several policy conferences with a small number of top officials in recent days, most recently on April 11, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has presented a new Russian scenario to settle the Transnistria conflict. It stems from Russia’s Security Council, whose deputy secretary, Yuri Zubakov, runs the Russian side of the Russia-Moldova negotiating channel, outside the official 5 + 2 format.

The proposed scenario forms part of attempts to change beyond recognition the “package deal” that top presidential adviser Mark Tkachuk and Reintegration Minister Vasile Sova proposed through that channel in recent months, and which could settle the conflict on terms consistent with Moldova’s independence and European orientation (see EDM, February 1). Without taking a clear position on that package, and holding out the theoretical possibility of accepting it later, Moscow is trying to maneuver Voronin into initiating anti-constitutional steps now, ostensibly to facilitate implementation of at least some elements from that package later.

Voronin read out the salient points from a set of Russian-language documents during these latest policy conferences. The first document paves the way for a joint declaration by Voronin and Transnistria “president” Igor Smirnov regarding parallel self-dissolution of the Moldovan parliament and Transnistria Supreme Soviet and the calling of new elections. The two chambers would vote to adopt this document.

Under a second document, right-bank Moldova and Transnistria (on left bank of the Nistru River) would hold parallel but separate new elections by November 2007 (Moldova’s elections are not due until March 2009). The Moldovan Parliament would set aside 18 to 19 seats (out of 101) for deputies from Transnistria, proportionately to the latter’s population. Transnistria would also be represented in Moldova’s central government by a first deputy prime minister and deputy ministers in each ministry, to be delegated by Tiraspol.

All this would require substantial changes to the Moldovan constitution. Moreover, this scenario seems tacitly to permit the continuing existence of Tiraspol’s army and security services, basically Russian structures on Moldova’s territory.

In accordance with the third document, Moldova would “guarantee” to maintain its existing status of permanent neutrality, not join NATO, and rule out the stationing of troops other than Russian ones on Moldova’s territory. For its part, Russia would withdraw its troops within two years, provided that the political elements of this “settlement” are implemented. However, those transitional two years could offer Russia ample opportunity to create new reasons for keeping the troops in place. Russia had obligated itself in 1993 to withdraw all the troops from Moldova by 1996; and again in 1999 to withdraw all the troops by 2002; but found ways each time to repudiate those obligations.

Those three elements would irreparably damage major parts of the Moldovan-proposed package deal. The package did not envisage overturning Moldova’s constitution, dissolution of the Moldovan parliament, numerical quotas of Tiraspol appointees in Chisinau, a “temporary” acceptance of Russia’s military presence, or legitimizing Igor Smirnov’s regime through a joint declaration with him by the democratically elected Moldovan president.

Procedurally, it is envisaged that Russia and Moldova would first agree among themselves on how to proceed, whereupon they would officially inform the other members of the official negotiating format (the United States, European Union, OSCE, and Ukraine) and request their endorsement. In this way, the 5 + 2 format’s circumvention would be crowned with a fait accompli on Russian terms.

To help launch a political process toward implementation, Chisinau would invite Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov to visit Moldova soon, to reciprocate his Moldovan counterpart Andrei Stratan’s visit to Moscow last week (see EDM, April 9). The Moldovan presidency is keen to receive Lavrov in May, hoping that a meeting between Voronin and Russian President Vladimir Putin could follow and bless the plan publicly.

This scenario seems unrelated to Stratan’s talks with Lavrov in Moscow last week. That visit raised the possibility that Chisinau could transfer the negotiating authority from core members of the presidential team to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the scenario just discussed at the presidency in Chisinau indicates that the bilateral channel to Zubakov remains the primary one at least for now. While Lavrov’s MFA handles the negotiations in the 5 + 2 format and has driven them into deadlock, Chisinau wishes to believe that Zubakov’s Security Council team is more flexible and less “dogmatic” than the Russian MFA.

Clearly, the Russian side does not negotiate in good faith through either of these two channels. Zubakov’s primary goal is apparently to misuse his channel in order to erode and degrade Chisinau’s package-deal proposal, adding conditions and procedures that would ultimately nullify its value.