President Voronin’s absence from the Astana Summit held on September 15–16 is an illustration of the worsening relations between Republic of Moldova and Russia.
The reasons cited by Voronin for not attending the Summit indicate his elaborate and consistent position on Community of Independent States (CIS). One year ago, during the Yalta Summit Vladimir Voronin severely criticized Single Economic Area (SEA) established by four industrialized CIS states: Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, seeking to create mutual benefits that other CIS members were denied. Back then Moldovan President warned that SEA would undermine CIS itself and would turn it into a mere discussion club. In his latest interview to Novosti-Moldova Agency reprinted by the governmental Moldova Suverana Vladimir Voronin reiterated the same arguments pointing that the four countries had some common pragmatic interests, that is, to synchronize their economic policies in view of joining WTO. In Astana leaders of the four SEA founders had a separate agenda, which included: follow up on the enforcement of the Yalta agreements; defining priorities and documents that are to be signed in the future; developing a single mechanism for VAT taxation; and simplifying travel and communications between those countries. The rest of CIS heads of states had to simply confine themselves with the status of Russia’s loyal partners, who in the aftermath of terrorist attacks sought to fight terrorism, organized crime, drug smuggling and illegal migration — issues that topped the agenda of the Astana Summit. Under those circumstances, President Voronin decided that Prime Minister was suited enough to tackle those issues.
Still those excuses are not compelling enough. And there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, great majority of the CIS states, who were also not invited into SEA, did attend Astana Summit, including Caucasus countries that are struggling with the same kind of secessionism problems Moldova is, whose resolution greatly depends on Russia.
Secondly, following July informal CIS Summit in Moscow there were all the reasons to expect that Azerbaijan and Georgian Presidents, and not Moldovan President, would not show up at the Astana Summit. The former refused to sign the Declaration criticizing OSCE, drafted at the initiative of President Putin. Probably they realized that despite OSCE’ deficiencies, its documents (including Final Act and those signed at 1999 Istanbul Summit) were the cornerstones of regional security. Albeit anti-OSCE Declaration did not target the gist of the organization, but only some of its facets, the two Caucasus Presidents struggling with secessionism refrained from signing it. Having said that, one may well understand why Armenian President allied with Russia against OSCE, as did other countries that do not struggle with secessionism and have Russian troops stationed on there soil, however one fails to comprehend Moldovan President’s decision to endorse the document, even if only conditionally.
Thirdly, neither of the Caucasus President ever voiced their attachment to CIS in general, and Russia in particular, as did President Voronin. Nevertheless, they flew to Astana to discuss issues of common interest, while Georgian Mihail Saakashvili even conditioned his solidarity with Russia in its efforts to fight terrorism by its refraining from double standards when resolving secessionist conflicts it had inspired. The contrast with the behaviour displayed by Moldovan President becomes even more striking if considering Article 27 of the Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between Republic of Moldova and Russian Federation, thereby contracting parties undertake to cooperate within CIS, or Article 14 of the same document thereby they undertake to cooperate in fighting “terrorism, drug smuggling” etc. Those were exactly the issues topping the agenda of the last CIS Summit. Therefore Voronin’s absence may only be viewed as an ostentatious dodge from his obligations undertaken via the Law on Ratifying the Friendship and Cooperation Treaty. Still there is much more to this.
Astana Summit was held just after the series of terrorist attacks by Chechen secessionists in Russia, from the murder of the Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov on May 9 to Beslan tragedy in early September. That is why Russia needed CIS heads of states to commit fighting terrorism. At the very same time, Russian leadership and its foreign affairs took actions and made statements highlighting their attitude towards secessionist regimes throughout CIS.
For instance, secessionists in Abkhazia and North Osetia enjoy the support of the Russian Duma Deputy Speaker, Dmitriy Rogozin. During Ajara crisis last spring two of the forefathers of the Transdnistrian secessionist regime — member of the State Duma Victor Alksnis and General Iurii Netkacev, former commander of the 14th Army — flew to Batumi to share “positive experience” of the Transdnistrian success story. However Russian officials’ cynicism reached its highest at the time terrorists held more then one thousand hostages in a Beslan school. At that time Transdnestrian separatist regime was celebrating the 14th anniversary of its independence. Deputy Speaker of the Russian State Duma, Serghei Baburin, attending the ceremony stated: “Assessing the situation on Dniester, we should acknowledge the reality: Moldova consists of two states — Dniester Moldovan Republic and Republic of Moldova, Transdniestrians have proven already that they have the right to their own destiny… Neither economic blockade nor the attempts to withdraw from the Memorandum where Dniester Moldovan Republic is acknowledged as a state, would change the reality”. Yet another Deputy Speaker of the Russian Duma, Vladimir Jirinovski, sent his congratulations to Transdnistrian leader Igor Smirnov reading “by joining our efforts we would be able to get Dniestrian Moldovan Republic recognized and later on joined to Russian Federation”. Thus, secessionist leaders presenting themselves as internationalists have the committed nationalists in Russia among their supporters.
Indeed, Baburin, Rogozin, Jirinovskii (all Deputy Speakers of the Russian Duma sharing nationalist and chauvinist ideals) are so-far marginal political players; however in the past they were voicing things Kremlin would not dare as it was bound to diplomatic etiquette. All of the aforesaid is already known, though under crisis those facts look different. President of the National Strategy Institute, Serghei Belkovski, boasting his closeness to Kremlin, explained why Russia needs secessionist regimes throughout CIS, namely “Unknown states are the ones enabling Russia to keep the levers of influence tight in its hands, to take the role of arbitrator and mediator in conflicts throughout post-Communist area, and keep its military presence in the farthest corners of CIS, which results in a mono-polar structure in CIS. The belt consisting of unrecognized states is nothing but a tool for securing Russia’s presence in the trouble spots of the former URSS. Once this belt disappears Russia would loose its role as a moderator in the post-soviet area. Under given circumstances, CIS would break apart and would be replaced by a conglomerate of 12 equal countries, each of them directly addressing its problems together with global players (USA, EU, China) or regional ones (Turkey, Iran), while Moscow would no longer be an attraction pole for them”. Of course, political scientist’s words should also be taken with a grain of salt; still the judgement of the European Court for Human Rights on “Ilascu case” proves that he was right.
On the other hand, the main Kremlin strategist, President of the Efficient Policy Foundation, Gleb Pavlovski, identified the main foes in the aftermath of Beslan and explained why Russia would not allow conflicts it had inspired and frozen throughout CIS to be defrozen: “It’s hard to identify the enemy in a modern world. Individuals and organizations, which in some cases are our diplomatic partners, in others support killers, like Brussels which legitimizes them by calling them insurgents. Another example — strengthened EU promotes an enlargement doctrine, raising the issue of defreezing old conflicts in Caucasus and Black Sear. As the notion of security is an essential one for Brussels, it is also applied to the neighbouring territories, i.e. Bessarabia, Transdniestria, Abkhazia, South Osetia, and Armenia so as to take an account of the territories at its borders. Those conflicts were frozen by us as part of another approach — national security that operated in the last 10 years. Saakashvili that plays the card of defreezing conflicts does it because he needs US and Europe support and is trying to get them in the game. In fact Basaev was the one to benefit from Saakashvili defreezing the conflict. Russia is entitled to rephrase the question to Saakashvili as follows: we are certain that those who plotted Beslan terrorist act wouldn’t have chosen North Osetia as their target, if Georgia had not defrozen South Osetia conflict”.
Pavlovski’s statement came immediately after Beslan and on the eve of CIS Summit. In Astana Georgian President picked up the issues raised by Pavlovski saying “It is important not to apply double standards in addressing problems under litigation. We know far too well who the terrorists are. Let’s take Basaev. In mid 90’s he was a hero for secessionists in Abkazia, whose hands a stained in blood”. In response Vladimir Putin indicated that “economic sanctions and military pressure wouldn’t bring any results. This is not the path leading to the House of God”. The curious thing here is that West has been sending this message to Putin for some time now when referring to ways of settling Chechen conflict, however it declined it. Thus, what is Russia may do in Chechnya, Georgia may not in South Osetia and Abkhazia. Russia may venture to inspire secessionist movements that it would later freeze so as to keep its military presence in CIS countries, whose independence and sovereignty it recognized. However CIS countries are not allowed to defreeze conflicts on its soil if it does not suit Russia’s interests. Those who make such attempts are viewed as enemies. Under those circumstances, Russian officials call on the West to give up on “double standards”. On September 23, Russian Foreign Minister, Serghei Lavrov, introduced a UN draft resolution “On better interaction in fighting global terrorism”. Albeit it is a very important, one should not forget that in the case of Russia terrorism is deeply rooted in secessionism. That is why one should not confuse the cause and effect, that is, the correct wording of the draft resolution should be “in fighting secessionism and terrorism”. Russia wants to exploit the interference of secessionism and Islamic terrorism so as to replace the former with the latter. Obsession about Western “double standards” would simply vanish if Russia was to apply the same criteria in dealing with secessionist conflicts in CIS.
Clearly, the way political and economic issues are addressed in CIS greatly undermine the future of this structure. The fate of SEA remains unclear due to the economic selfishness of Russia. Elections in Kazakhstan, electoral campaign in Ukraine, and referendum initiated by Lukashenko in Belarus on extending the number of presidential mandates — all of them indicate that they slide towards authoritarianism as is Russia. It is all-too-clear that “verticals of power” generates new conflicts. As for the three Central Asian countries, they are confronted with too specific problems to contribute to CIS stability.
As for the Caucasus countries, they don’t place much hope in the CIS development, but rather hope Russia would play a positive role in settling the conflicts they are trying to get to grips. “I believe Russia should play a positive role in conflict resolution. There is potential for negotiations” those were the words of President Saakashvili at the Astana Summit.
The fact that President Voronin did not use the CIS Summit as an opportunity to talk with President Putin and Kucima about Transdnistrian conflict resolution signals that the potential for negotiations in the current five-sided format with the participation of Russia and Ukraine has been fully exhausted. Voronin’s absence at Astana comes as a surprise, considering his statement on Independence Day “There would be no negotiations with Tiraspol. We would only continue the dialogue with those whom Tiraspol reports directly to”. Refraining to mention who they are, President Voronin claims the 460 km border with Ukraine are open to smuggling “bringing dividends to Tiraspol, Ukraine, and Russia to such an extent as it defies international law”. On September 1 in an interview to BBC President Voronin reiterated “Transdnistrian regime is a marionette one controlled by Russia and Ukraine”. Therefore, one may well understand why President Voronin refuses to sit at the negotiation table with “Tiraspol marionette”, however it’s strange why he refuses to talk to “puppeteers from Moscow and Kiev” as he had promised in his message on Independence Day.
In fact, in his statement Voronin accused Russia of violating Article 5 of the Friendship and Cooperation Treaty signed by the Republic of Moldova and Russian Federation on 19.12.2001, providing that “Parties condemn secessionism in all its forms and undertake to refrain from supporting secessionist movements”. By doing so he probably wanted to anticipate any accusations to Moldova alleging it failed to comply with its cooperation obligations within CIS. The move would have some serious consequences which would be the subject of separate consideration.