Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 94

Even as President Vladimir Putin is liquidating Russia’s federal system, Russia and the OSCE’s American-led Moldova Mission persist with a U.S. State Department-approved project to appoint Russia as the main “guarantor” of a new Moldova-Trans-Dniester “federation.” Moldova’s appeals to ostracize Trans-Dniester’s Russian-installed dictatorship and to internationalize the Russian-controlled “peacekeeping” operation and negotiations, are being ignored in Western Europe as well. The United States and European Union are urging Moldova to return to the “five-sided” negotiating format where the basis for discussions is the Russian-inspired “federalization” draft, and where Russia and its auxiliaries have four seats, Moldova one, and the West none.

Interviewed on Radio Free Europe on September 23-24, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said, citing the 12-year record, “Russian peacekeeping troops stand behind the Trans-Dniester regime . . . they provide cover for [it], instead of facilitating political settlement. Negotiations in the existing format have proven to be a dead end; Trans-Dniester, Russia, and Ukraine are aiming to freeze the situation indefinitely.” Voronin called for multinational peacekeeping troops, an internationally representative format to replace the “five-sided” negotiations, and a border-monitoring mission to stop Trans-Dniester’s unlawful trade with Ukraine and through Ukraine. (Basapress, Flux, September 24-25). The interview’s content and its medium are indicative of this Communist president’s reversal of perspective on Moldovan state interests and on Russia.

Moldovan government media also reflect that change of view, criticizing Russia’s policy for the first time in 10 years. In recent weeks, the government newspaper Moldova Suverana has reproached Russia — indeed “the Kremlin” — for underwriting Trans-Dniester’s armed separatism, misusing the peacekeeping and negotiating formats, defying international law, and using double-standards when it insists on Russia’s territorial integrity regarding Chechnya while sponsoring secessions in Moldova and Georgia (Moldova Suverana, e.g. September 10, 14, 22, 23, 24, 28). In recent days state radio and television have carried several commentaries along similar lines. These appear designed to clarify for the Moldovan public the reasons behind the negotiations’ collapse and the government’s efforts to change their format and content.

Moldova embarked on this policy in July when the crackdown on Latin script in Trans-Dniester torpedoed the negotiations. It is a risky but statesmanlike policy for Voronin to pursue in the run-up to the February 2005 general elections. The main Western players, along with Russia and Ukraine, are discouraging him from breaking out of Russia’s orbit. As part of his effort to do so, Voronin now seeks reconciliation with a seemingly indifferent Romania.

Thus far, only Poland has officially responded to Moldova’s appeals. On September 20-21, President Alexander Kwasniewski and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told visiting Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Stratan that Poland supports Moldova’s calls for a more active U.S. and EU role in settling this conflict. Poland is telling its Western allies, “The situation in Trans-Dniester endangers not only Moldova and neighboring states, but EU interests as well.” Furthermore, “Overall European security is hardly conceivable without settling this conflict,” Kwasniewski and Cimoszewicz declared (Moldpress, September 21).

In the OSCE Permanent Council’s September 23 meeting, the Moldovan delegation expressed “gratitude to those who do not remain indifferent,” namely Poland. Moldova called on all OSCE partners to stop trading directly with Trans-Dniester, which violates international law. Russia and Ukraine, the main target of this appeal, had made clear at the CIS summit on September 15-16 (which Voronin boycotted) that they would continue that practice. Although this backdoor trade alone should disqualify those two governments as “mediators” in the “five-sided” negotiations, the West continues promoting that format. Moldova’s statement again urged, “Appropriate conclusions [should] be drawn at last about negotiations in that five-sided format which everyone frantically defends.”

The U.S. and EU statements in that meeting again displayed moral indignation over the assault on the last remaining Latin-script schools in Trans-Dniester but again stopped short of proposing any counter-measures, ignored the recent forcible takeover of Moldovan railways in Trans-Dniester, and continued treating these events mainly as unwelcome interference with the “five-sided” negotiations. The EU and United States are inviting Moldova back into the old negotiating format, as do Russia, Ukraine, and Trans-Dniester’s leaders (Olvia-Press, September 25; RIA Novosti, September 27). Washington occasionally pays minimal lip service to a Moldovan-proposed international consultative conference on Trans-Dniester, but has not seriously pursued it since Russia vetoed the proposal in May.

Voronin, now completing his first presidential term and heading into elections, has come full circle since taking office in 2001 with deeply ingrained Russo-centric views and no training in statesmanship. As president, his exposure to the West and shattering experience of dealing with Russia increasingly offset a lifetime of Soviet political socialization. During his first three years in office, Voronin zigzagged between Russia and the West, apparently torn between the old and the new impulses, while the latter gradually gained the upper hand. From 2002 on, Western policies constantly reinforced the old, worst impulses by pushing Voronin into Russia’s arms through “federalization” with Trans-Dniester under Russian “guarantees.”

At this stage, Western and international officials handling this issue seem fixated on the Russia-first approach that Voronin now seems to have outgrown despite them. Voronin’s current stance amounts to an opportunity for Washington and Brussels to reconsider their policies. They need to devise a solution consistent with Euro-Atlantic security, democracy, and the advantages of a Western-oriented Moldova on this long strip of the West’s new border. From July to date, however, Washington and Brussels have seemed oblivious to those interests and that opportunity.