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Thawing postponed

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Igor Botan / November 15, 2006
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The OSCE cannot ensure restart of negotiations

The group of 30 OSCE ambassadors who have recently paid a working visit to Moldova has concluded that the OSCE cannot persuade the conflicting sides, Chisinau and Tiraspol, to resume the five-plus-two negotiations. Thus, it seems that the Belgian OSCE Chairmanship faces serious difficulties in achieving its goals. It pledged when it took over the mandate last January to implement the “3R” strategy on reformation of the organisation: Reform; Rebalancing (political, military, economic and humanitarian dimensions); Revitalisation of the OSCE, declaring the settlement of frozen conflicts among priorities. The achievement of the last goal seems to be a real failure. More, the head of the Belgian Permanent Mission to the OSCE, Ambassador Bertrand de Crombrugge says that his country did not prepare a new project on settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, though the newspaper Flux has published details from the so-called Belgian project which had been vehement criticised. All these facts strengthen our conviction that the OSCE ministerial summit this year will fail again to adopt a final statement through a consensus. The fact that OSCE officials acknowledge the impossibility of persuading the conflicting sides to resume the negotiations must not surprise. It is known for a long time that the Russian Federation must be persuaded to restart the negotiations, not Transnistria as a conflicting side, since the Tiraspol regime entirely depends on benevolence of the first. Russia is a very important feature within the OSCE and it has recently worked out its own strategy on frozen conflicts, but the OSCE does not have and cannot have it. This explains the above mentioned situation.

Strategy of the Russian Federation

Origins of strategy: BZhZskin vs. Bzhezinsky?

It is not difficult at all to understand the strategy of the Russian Federation. It is enough to recall the statement by President Vladimir Putin that “the collapse of the USSR was a big geopolitical catastrophe.” By saying this, he has refrained himself from telling that former Soviet republics will feel again soon the effects of the Russian Federation’s efforts to remedy the consequences of this catastrophe. Truly, the echo precedes the event in politics. Thus, what President Putin has refrained himself to tell was said long ago very clearly by the incumbent deputy chairmen of the State Duma, Sergey Baburin, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and a leader of the ruling party Yedinnaya Rossia, Konstantin Zatulin, and Vladimir Putin has recently awarded high state medals to them for this fact, appreciating their special merits.

It is clear from what was said above that Baburin, Zhirinovsky and Zatulin (BZhZ), some of them being ideologists and animators of the famous “Russian march”, are a kind of collective BZhZ-skin of President Vladimir Putin. After prices of hydrocarbons have reached astronomic levels and the “energy weapon” has become effective, “judoka Putin” has also sat down at “The Great Chessboard” described by known Zbignev Bzhezinsky. Exactly as in the mentioned book the fate wanted Ukraine to be a big stake at this “chessboard” while the irony of destiny wanted that the collective BZhZskin be declared in corpore persona non grata in this country this year. It is true that if Premier Yanukovich manages to get rid of the foreign and defence ministers from quota of President Yushchenko, Tarasyuk and Gritsenko, there will be no room for irony any longer.

However, we must note that despite origin and essence of the new strategy of Russia, the implementation of this document by President Putin is intelligent and mocking, including toward the West. Even more, Russia is imprudent to claim moral superiority. The only but minor problem for President Putin is that strategist Zhirinovsky is permanently and publicly claiming his copyright for all ideas laid at basis of strategic initiatives of the Russian administration.

Main elements of reference

We are interested in strategic behaviour of the Russian Federation at the extent it affects the interests of CIS members that face frozen conflicts, especially of the Republic of Moldova. It is based on three known things that we should reiterate:

  1. Once Belgium has taken over the OSCE Chairmanship and made public its priorities, President Putin replied on January 31, 2006 — the Russian Federation will interpret the eventual “Kosovo precedent” as universal and applicable for all frozen conflicts in CIS.
  2. The Republic of Moldova, its partners from the West and GUAM were recalled by Russia on various occasions the fundamental need of maintaining the “equal status of the sides” participating in frozen conflicts.
  3. Complete ignorance by Russia of calls by the West and GUAM members to honour the commitments assumed at the Istanbul OSCE summit, ignorance of multiple resolutions by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament on ECHR judgments on Ilascu case, as well as of arguments that the eventual “Kosovo precedent” cannot be applied on frozen conflicts in CIS, given the different origin of these conflicts.

It is a fact that Russia can afford all these things, hinting that it imitates only the West’s conduct as a measure of response, in order to protect own interests, being sure that it does not risk anything.

“Adequate and asymmetrical” reactions to maintain “equality of sides”

We have ascertained that the maintenance of “equality of the sides” involved in frozen conflicts is a basic element of efforts aimed to remedy consequences “of the biggest geopolitical catastrophe.” It is interesting how Russia ensures this “equality of sides” in the virtue of its power. In this respect, Russia holds some arguments that it may use how it wants:

  1. The 1997 Primakov Memorandum signed by President Lucinschi inclusively stipulates express the “equality of sides”, while an author of the excellent study “Thawing a frozen conflict. Legal aspects of the separatist crisis in Moldova”, professor Christopher Borgen of The Association of the Bar of the City of New York (ABCNY) has explained that under international law a “memorandum” has the value given by signatory parties. Thus, Moldovan authorities do not want to give any price to the Primakov Memorandum any longer, but Russian authorities regard it as the main document of reference in settling the conflict between Chisinau and Tiraspol. Russia is very strong, Moldova is very weak and therefore commentaries on consequences of divergent attitudes toward the invoked memorandum are useless;
  2. Russian authorities invoke on any occasion the rejection in 2003 of the Kozak Memorandum, a document worked out at the request of Moldovan authorities, in a move to outline the “dependent nature of Moldovan policy on negative influences of the West,” which “has torpedoed an almost ready solution to the Transnistrian conflict.” This way, Russia posts an alleged moral advantage and the right to treat the Republic of Moldova like a serious partner, which has cut the branch under its legs for sure;
  3. Moldova’s energy dependence and the dependence of Moldovan products on the Russian market are the main factors of influence in ensuring the “equality of sides” involved in the conflict.

Altogether these factors create a visible arsenal of tools of application and justification of “adequate and asymmetrical” answers toward actions taken by Moldovan authorities to settle the Transnistrian conflict. How this is done? The new regional political conjuncture formed after the presidential elections in Ukraine has produced a new approach of measures of settling the Transnistrian conflict. All actions of Moldovan authorities in this regard have been coordinated with the United States, the European Union and Ukraine at a bigger or smaller extent. They are: the Yushchenko plan on conflict resolution through democratisation of the Transnistrian region; introduction of the new customs system in the Transnistrian section of the Moldova-Ukraine border and setup of the European Union’s Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM); adoption by Moldovan Parliament of the law on basic principles of Transnistria’s status aimed to award more autonomy, etc.

Russia has negatively reacted to all these actions and initiatives and it argued that any initiative uncoordinated with Transnistrian authorities will fail and will be combated “adequately and asymmetrically.” It is true that:

  1. Putin’s adviser Modest Kolerov has arrived in Tiraspol to become founder parent of the Transnistrian civil society representative, the Proriv International Corporation, reacting to the Yushchenko Plan on democratisation of Transnistria. The refusal of the OSCE to monitor the December 2005 Transnistrian parliamentary elections was parried through an observance mission from the State Duma. Reproaches that there is no democracy in Transnsitria because of the lack of political parties have been combated through immediate constitution of five (!) political parties on summer 2006 and all of them support the separatism and Russia. Thus, Russian political technologists established the “equality of the sides” regarding democratic institutions;
  2. The “adequate measures” of the Russian Federation toward the new customs regime in the Transnistrian section of the Moldova-Ukraine border consisted of a quasi-total blocking of Moldovan export to the Russian market. The “asymmetrical” side of reaction is that while blocking the Republic of Moldova, Russia has granted humanitarian aid to Transnistria and hundreds of millions of dollars in cash in account of properties from the region. Now Transnistrian authorities do not hide their satisfaction to see who will succumb first — the separatist regime under the new customs regime but supported by Russia or the Republic of Moldova blocked economically by its main strategic partner? Even more, natural gas prices for Moldova are raised two-fold compared with 2005 and they could be increased three-fold in 2006. Transnistria pays the old price or it will be lowered, being allowed not to pay for the current consumption. This “asymmetrical” treatment aims to undermine any pretension to make the Republic of Moldova economically attractive for Transnistrians.
  3. The law on basic principles of Transnistria’s legal status adopted by Moldovan Parliament in July 2005 has produced a reply with the longest period of manifestation. Truly, how could Russia reply adequately to adoption of a law by Parliament of a recognised state? The adoption of a law with contrary provisions by Transnistria’s Supreme Soviet would not be regarded as an “adequate” and “asymmetrical” response. For this reason, Russia has inspired, supported and financed an alleged referendum on joining to itself; it means “a direct people’s vote” which it did not recognise. This is part of the notion of “adequate and asymmetrical” answer.
  4. Finally, Moldova’s tries to reply in its turn “adequately” to confiscation of its property from Transnistria, especially of infrastructure by bypassing Transnistria in passenger railway communication with Russia was combated with an “adequate” answer — the Russian Federation has stopped the railway communication with Moldova. This case is interesting especially through co-participation of Ukraine in railway blocking of Moldova. In this regard, it should be mentioned that a Ukrainian minister from “quota of President Yushchenko” supports Moldova within GUAM, OSCE, U.N., etc., while ministers of the majority party of Premier Yanukovich co-participate in organisation of “adequate and asymmetrical measures” of the Russian Federation against the Republic of Moldova. It seems that this is only the beginning.


  1. The thawing and settlement of the Transnistrian conflict is postponed for an indefinite term. Russia’s strategy cannot be left aside in settlement of this conflict.

  2. Russia’s policy on frozen conflicts is resumed to ensure de facto the “equality of the sides” participating in so-called frozen conflicts. It is not prepared to incorporate the separatist enclaves in itself, as these actions are capable to create big external problems. Also, the recognition of independence of Transnistria and other separatist regimes in spite of results of so-called referendums and recognition of their legitimacy by State Duma is not very probable. If so, it would mean that the entire space of remedying consequences of the “geopolitical catastrophe” is reduced to these separatist regions only. It is too little for the new Russian elite, which has stirred up the nationalist spirit and revengeful expectations in Russia for the entire post-Soviet area. The risk is that the “Russian march” inspired by present elite could turn against itself, if the inspired expectations are impossible.

  3. Russia will probably act on long term to destabilise the socio-economic condition and, as a result, the political situation through its economic-financial and commercial policies. The most devoted partner of the Russian Federation, Belarus, is also tested its awareness over gravity of the “geopolitical catastrophe” that took place 15 years ago. There will be tries to change political elites in CIS. Organisations such as “Patria-Moldova” based in Moscow will be involved to speak on behalf of CIS nations and nationals from all meridians. Eventual changes of ruling elites should ensure the achievement of older claims for settlement of frozen conflicts on basis of principles “equality of sides”; it means through creation of contractual federations with equal subjects or confederations anchored by Russia through present separatist regimes.

  4. Eventual yielding by Moldovan authorities must be regarded in the light of the Russian strategy described above. Nobody should nourish illusions that accepting ceding in certain fields could restore the status quo antes. For example, if Moldova cedes in the “transit protocol” problem, which Russia is negotiating to ensure the economic and commercial freedom of Transnistria, this will be the consent to be an “equal side” with Transnistria in Russia’s strategic calculations. What would Transnistria have to negotiate later with Moldova but a confederation with a certain orientation of foreign policy? We could admit such a version, if Russia has a behaviour and image similar to the one of the European Union. But so nobody should be surprised that “Russian marches” will take place in all Moldova for implementation of such a scenario.

  5. One more argument has appeared for the ruling party of Moldova besides the one that there is more socialism in Moldova than in CIS to promote a firm pro-European policy. It will be really hard to find arguments in favour of a relation of partnership and perspectives of cooperation after the Russian Communist Party decided at the October plenary session to give up the principle of internationalism and to choose instead the “Russian issue”.

  6. In spite of changes in Ukrainian policy, the hope to settle the Transnistrian conflict may be linked further to this country. It was observed that Ukrainian oligarchs are very interested in an eventual free exchange agreement with the E.U. They are ready to give up other agreements such as synchronisation of Ukraine’s access to the World Trade Organisation together with Russia but to obtain a free trade agreement with the E.U. after the joining to the WTO. Like formerly, the Republic of Moldova should persuade the E.U. that the attitude toward the Transnistrian conflict remains the good faith test of Ukraine. Indeed, this fact was recently confirmed by Javier Solana, high representative for foreign policy and common security. Moldova’s request should be found in documents signed by E.U. with Ukraine, of course in the right place. The impact would be significant through fact that such an introduced practice would undermine the hopes of citizens from Transnistria that a new independence referendum or joining to Russia is possible. Citizens would finally realise that they are in a trap and they are used to satisfy self-pride of some revengeful elites.

  7. The Republic of Moldova must make place of manoeuvre to advance to the European direction only, so that not to become the “pawn of sacrifice” from “big backgammon” of big players. An authentic democratisation is the only way to do this.

Governmental monitoring of the EU-Moldova Action Plan’s implementation process Elections in Gagauzia