Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 226

The fate of Belarus, Moldova and Georgia hangs in the balance, after the failed year-end meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE). Those three countries now face immediate threats to their statehood from the new Kremlin leaders wedded to the old sphere-of-influence politics. Should the West leave those three countries to their fate, their immediate neighbors from the Baltic states to Ukraine to Azerbaijan would be the next targets for re-inclusion in one form or another into a Russian sphere.

On November 27-28 in Vienna, the OSCE’s Ministerial Council–on the level of foreign affairs ministers of the fifty-five member states–failed to hold Russia to its obligations to withdraw the troops from Moldova, to close down at least two military bases in Georgia, to observe the southern flank ceilings set by the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), and to cooperate with international efforts to restrain the dictatorship in Belarus. The Russian side, using the OSCE’s rules, blocked the adoption of OSCE resolutions on all those as well as other points. After two days and nights of intense negotiations, the conference broke up without adopting a final document.

The draft resolutions would have registered the fact of slow and insufficient progress toward fulfillment of Russia’s 1999 commitments regarding Moldova, Georgia and the CFE, and would have urged Russia to adhere to those commitments. The language seemed mild enough to obviate Russian objections. It was the underlying principle which was rebuffed by Russia’s chief negotiator, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Yevgeny Gusarov–who is responsible for OSCE and international organization affairs–in the unmistakable Soviet-era terms of sphere-of-influence politics: “We’ve been warning our Western partners that we oppose the use of the OSCE for interference in the internal affairs of countries situated to the east of Vienna. This time, we sent a clear signal: We won’t allow that to happen.”

Russian policy now seeks to draw that line around Moldova and Georgia. At the OSCE’s 1999 summit, the Russian side had officially accepted the obligations to: (1) withdraw all its forces from Moldova by 2002; (2) withdraw the CFE-limited weaponry from Georgia by December 2000, close down two bases by 2001 and negotiate about the other two bases, which Georgia wants closed; and (3) observe overall southern flank weapons ceilings as soon as the situation in Russia’s North Caucasus permits. But since Vladimir Putin became president, Russia is in breach of most of those obligations regarding Georgia and the southern flank and in total breach regarding Moldova. The Russian government now seeks to retain the four bases in Georgia for the long term; it has forward-positioned a part of its CFE-limited weaponry in Armenia, instead of withdrawing it to the north of the Caucasus; and it has refused to withdraw any troops or weaponry from Moldova while encouraging the secessionist Transdniester leaders to do their part in obstructing the process.

To all intents and purposes, Putin’s government is about to repudiate those commitments which Russia assumed before the OSCE barely one year ago. Meanwhile, the Russian government is pressuring Georgia and Moldova to accept an open-ended presence of Russian troops under separate agreements with Moscow, outside the OSCE’s framework. In Moldova, however, Russia would prefer to obtain OSCE approval for a special Russian political and military role to guarantee “stability” in that country (see the Monitor, September 11, October 12, November 27, 29).

To increase the pressure on Georgia, the Russian government is imposing travel and visa regulations on Georgia’s citizens while exempting the secessionist Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which border on Russia. The regulations go into effect as of today. They will, in effect, erase the Russian-Georgian border in the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sectors, drawing the two breakaway areas of Georgia in many ways into Russia’s political, military and customs space. Through those exemptions, Moscow is in practice denying Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The move seems consistent with Russia’s plan to settle the Abkhaz problem on the basis of a “common state” of two coequal parts–rump Georgia and Abkhazia. At the OSCE meeting in Vienna, Georgia strongly protested against that Russian move and sought with Western support to stop it. But Moscow went ahead in violation of the OSCE’s basic norms (see the Monitor, October 24, November 16, December 1; Fortnight in Review, November 3).

In Belarus, meanwhile, Russian career officers of the ex-Soviet KGB and of its Russian successor services took over the top posts of the Belarusan security agencies (see the Monitor, December 1). This sapping of the sovereign statehood an OSCE member country coincided almost exactly with the OSCE’s Vienna conference. However fortuitous, the timing exposed the constraints on the OSCE’s ability to defend the sovereignty of a member country, the government of which yields a part of its prerogatives. The takeover of Belarusan intelligence agencies rounds off a general takeover of top Belarusan posts by Russians from Russia, such as Prime Minister Vladimir Yarmoshin (Uladzimir Yarmoshin) and Defense Minister Aleksandr Chumakov (Alyaksandr Chumakou). That method helps guarantee President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s loyalty to Moscow (see the Monitor, October 17, November 1, 8, 15, December 1; Fortnight in Review, November 17).

During the days of the OSCE’s meeting, Lukashenka publicly threatened to discontinue the activity of the OSCE’s Advisory and Monitoring Mission in Belarus ahead of the presidential election, which is due in mid-2001. And in Vienna, the Russian delegation vetoed a draft resolution which would have called for a democratic presidential election to be held in Belarus. While relying primarily on military means in Georgia and Moldova, Russian policy works through a cadre of loyal officials to impose Russian influence in Belarus (Itar-Tass, RIA, Belapan, Prime-News, Kavkasia-Press, Flux, Basapress, Western news agencies, November 27-December 4).