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What is the future of the Ukrainian plan on resolving Transdnistrian conflict?

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Igor Botan / June 5, 2005
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Reactions from the civil society

As a follow-up to the provision of the “Ukrainian plan” on the need to secure the support of the Moldovan civil society to the plan, Association for Foreign Policy (AFP) founded by former high-rank officials (including Prime-Minister, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chair of the Parliamentary Commission for Foreign Policy, Presidential Councilor), former diplomats and pundits in foreign policy have recently issued a statement on the strong and weak sides of the Plan.

Among the strong points of the Plan, the document cites: a) growing Ukraine’s interest to resolve Transdnistrian conflict, especially given the levers it holds to influence the secessionist regime; b) abandoning federative formula and acceptance to resolve the conflict in line with the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova by creating a single rather than joint legal, economic, social, defense, and customs areas; c) emphasis on democratization of the Transdnistrian region in solving the conflict; d) involving US and EU as observers at certain stages of the conflict resolution.

On the other hand, the Association found out a string of ambiguities and contradictions that might seriously undermine the security, stability and sustainability of the reintegrated state, let alone pursuing its strategic goal — accession to EU. Among the flaws, AFP cited: a) no reference to demilitarization of the Transdnestrian region, as well as to securing Transdnistrian frontier in view of fighting illegal trafficking and smuggling; b) preserving the same guarantor countries — Russia and Ukraine — the same “peacekeeping” arrangement; c) proposition to hold “early free elections” to the “Transdnistrian Supreme Soviet” that would only legalize regime’s institutions without leading to demilitarization and decriminalization of the region; d) hypothetical granting of the “residents’ right to self-determination”, all of which raise many eyebrows, etc.

In general AFP endorsed the “Ukrainian plan”, however given the numerous aforesaid flaws it recommended Republic of Moldova to ask for the international community’s assistance in determining Transdnistrian administration to take steps that would show “minimal political will” to democratize the region: complying with European Court for Human Rights’ judgment and releasing political prisoners; eliminating all the obstacles hindering the withdrawal of Russian army and munitions; canceling all restrictions on the free circulation of goods and people to and from Transdnistria; free access of international missions to munitions warehouses.

Noteworthy, there is a certain degree of convergence between the AFP proposals and the actions already undertaken or to be undertaken by the authorities. This apparent convergence may only mean that certain measures have been left out on purpose so as to avoid its rejection right from the beginning by domestic and international stakeholders.

Reactions from parliamentary factions

Despite the aforesaid flaws, “Ukrainian plan” has been accepted in principle by the leaders of the parliamentary factions as a document that might lead to the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict. And this largely due to the fact that “Ukrainian plan” provides for the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict by granting a special legal status to the localities to the left of Dniester that would fall within the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova. At least this might be inferred from politicians’ statements, more so their reactions voiced after the meeting with President Voronin on June 6. At the meeting it was decided to convene a special session of the Parliament on June 10 to consider the provisions of the “Ukrainian plan” and adopt a Declaration regarding Parliament’s position on the document. Practically all the leaders of parliamentary factions agreed that the Plan should be accepted as it is, the role of Moldovan authorities and political elite being to avoid the pitfalls and bring it in line with the European practices of conflict resolution. Noteworthy, if the said Declaration really stands a chance to be adopted than it is now, first time since the outbreak of the conflict in 1992.

Diplomatic efforts

The debates in Parliament and the would-be adoption by the legislators of a Declaration are aimed at reaching a wide consensus on resolving the conflict. At the same time, diplomatic efforts to secure international support to the “Ukrainian plan” gains grounds, which is of great importance for reaching a consensus domestically. Apparently, diplomatic activity is aimed at polishing the Plan’s shortcomings that were pointed by the civil society and Moldovan opposition. Democratization of the region is clearly provided for in the “Ukrainian plan”, while demilitarization and decriminalization are not. The latter are viewed by opposition as paramount. It is expected to achieve them with the help of the interested countries, European and Euro Atlantic institutions by resorting to Russia’s obligation to withdraw its military from the region, European Court for Human Rights’ judgment on “Ilascu case”, securing the borders are cited.

President Voronin’s trip to Brussels on June 7–8 right on the eve of the special hearing in Parliament on the “Ukrainian plan”, his talks with the NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy fall within this logic. Noteworthy, both dignitaries played a major role in convincing President Voronin not to sign “Kozak Memorandum” more than one year ago. Last year both of them publicly supported the Declaration on the Stability and Security for the Republic of Moldova during the OSCE summit, which Russia rejected. Accordingly expectations that the two would endorse and correct the “Ukrainian plan” are justifiable.

Such diplomatic efforts would certainly have a positive impact on the Parliament reaching a consensus formula on the “Ukrainian plan”. The more so as on June 7 President Voronin addressing North Atlantic Council made a couple of extremely important statements, namely: a) developing an Individual Action Plan Moldova — NATO that would be implemented in parallel with the EU — Moldova Action Plan; b) complete demilitarization of the Transdnistrian region, having civil peacekeepers with the participation of US, OSCE, EU, and Ukraine; c) developing relations with NATO exceeding simple training exercises. “Real problems we are facing — terrorism, aggressive and intransigent secessionism, organized crime, trafficking in human beings, corruption, smuggling — pose a threat to the democratic essence of our country and therefore could only be solved together”; d) “immediate, unconditional and complete withdrawal of Russian Federation’s military forces from the soil of the Republic of Moldova would speed up the settlement of the conflict”; e) replacing the current inefficient pentagonal peacekeeping format that would “lead to a sustainable settlement of the conflict. Procrastination of the conflict settlement shields the efforts to strengthen the secessionist regime and promote foreign geopolitical and mafia interests that are far from those of the people residing on both banks of Dniester river”. Enlarging the negotiation format to include EU, OSCE, US, Russia, Ukraine and Romania; f) joint Moldovan — Ukrainian border and customs control on the Transdnistrian segment of the border; g) NATO and EU cooperation with Russia in settling Transdnistrian conflict, raising the issue of “human rights in Transdnistrian region, demanding immediate release of the two political detainees of the Ilascu group in conformity with the ECHR’ judgment of July 8, 2004”.

Having said that, there are premises for the acceptance both domestically and abroad of the “Ukrainian plan” as a basic document for settling Transdnistrian conflict. In this respect, some of the opposition media calls President to “strike while the iron is hot”. And this for several reasons, firstly Ukraine needs Moldova’s support in joining WTO, secondly international institutions want to get rid of a conflict at the EU and NATO borders. Under those circumstances, Russia has no other choice but to say that it endorses the document, agree to the enlargement of the negotiation format, only if both Moldova and Transdnistria agree to that. It is worth mentioning that those “supportive” statements come from Russia at the time they are closing their market to Moldovan goods and threaten to double the price on natural gas.

Reactions of the Transdnistrian authorities

After the first negative comments upon the release of “Ukrainian plan”, Transdnistrian authorities have probably decided to ignore the said document. At least official media refrained for a period from any debates or comments. Only after the Two Presidents Voronin and Yushenko met on June 2 in Odessa the Transdniestrian media had to react. At that meeting two important things were decided: a) a joint address of the Two Presidents to the EU Secretary General and Chairman of the European Commission asking for international monitoring and control of the Transdnistrian portion of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border; b) creating joint Moldovan-Ukrainian customs units. The feedback in the Transdmentrian media came within the framework of the closed door meeting Ukrainian Secretary of the Security and Defense Council Piotr Poroshenko had with the separatist leader Igor Smirnov at the request of Viktor Yushenko. According to the official Transdniestrian press agency “Olvia-press” allegedly Poroshenko assured Transdnistrian authorities that the cornerstone of the “Ukrainian plan” was to “mutually reaching a compromise between the two parties involved in the conflict — Moldova and Transdniestria”.

In their turn, Transdnistrian leaders declared they accepted only the “seven steps” to conflict resolution outlined by President Yushenko during the GUUAM Summit in Chisinau on April 22, especially the proposition on international monitoring of the elections to Transdnistrian Supreme Soviet as it would pave the way to legitimizing the regime. In fact, the latter is the only interest of the Tiraspol regime, especially as elections would be held pursuant to Transdnistrian legislation, fact allegedly confirmed by Poroshenko himself.

The conciliate reactions of Transdnistrian media to “Ukrainian plan” stem from the presuppositions that Transdnistrian authorities might follow Moldovan authorities’ example in the case of the “Kozak Memorandum” that was initially “initialed” and then rejected. That is, Transdnistrian authorities might follow the Plan until Supreme Soviet elections get legitimize, afterwards they might call for “mutually reaching a compromise between the two parties involved in the conflict” as provided by the 1997 Primakov Memorandum. Russia endorses such as scenario and allegedly Poroshenko also does.

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