It seems that the October initiatives by President Vladimir Voronin released in three interviews with two Moscow-based newspapers will have the fate of precedent proposals; that means mediators and observers will welcome them in continuation, they will fuel new debates and consultations, etc., but they will not have a significant impact. In November, immediately after the initiatives seeking the restoration of mutual confidence between the conflicting sides, restoration of the common infrastructure, demilitarisation and disarmament, recognition of the property right on Transnistria-based enterprises in exchange for progress in elaborating the legal status of the separatist region, and the settlement of the conflict, a series of events dashed any optimistic expectations. Some participants in the “Five-Plus-Two” negotiations were the main generators of these events, which deepened the discrepancies between the conflicting parties rather than approached them on basis of President Voronin’s initiatives.
Transnistrian leaders commented with sarcasm the proposal by President Voronin, describing them as “paper initiatives”, fanciful and unreal, good for propagandistic campaigns, and ignoring the participation in 7 working groups created under the Moldovan Government Decision # 1178 from 31.10.2007 “to implement the initiatives by Moldovan President aimed to strengthen the confidence and security in the context of the Transnistrian settlement process.” The negative remarks by Transnistrian leaders came on background of a visit to Moscow by Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov, who brought an encouraging message to Tiraspol that Russia would eventually resume the economic support for Transnistria, accordingly to the so-called “Zhukov-Smirnov Protocol” signed in May 2006. Russia ceased its economic-financial aid in 2007, after the Transnistrian administration has inappropriately used it and particularly after a scandal related to the use of the funds for the current gas consumption, resources gathered on GAZPOMBANK accounts chaired by Smirnov family.
On November 4, Igor Smirnov attended the “summit of heads of state of the Organisation for Democracy and Rights of Nations” created by Abkhazia, Transnistria and South Ossetya on June 14, 2006. The meeting approved documents contrary to President Voronin’s initiatives, in particular, the status of this “separatist international”; the economic, financial and humanitarian cooperation framework; strengthening and priority of relations with the Russian Federation; maintenance of the Russian military presence in the regions concerned.
Chisinau has launched a campaign to warn the Transnistrian residents that the Tiraspol administration has rent the farm land to some firms for a 99-year term. President Voronin invited Transnistrians to appeal upon competent bodies of Moldova in order to receive property titles for free, so that to self-protect against an eventual disinheritance. In their turn, Transnistrian authorities bitterly reacted to the Chisinau-held campaign, invoking the need of reforming the agro-industrial complex in the region and expressing confidence that none of residents of the breakaway enclave will call on Moldova’s services.
The Ministry of Information Development (MID) promoted on November 7 the “temporary regulation on free traffic of vehicles with irregular number plates in Moldova,” which says that cars registered in Transnistria will be banned to cross the Moldovan borders starting January 1, 2008, and they will be prohibited on the right bank of the Dniester River starting January 1, 2009. This decision raised queries. Transnistrian leaders described it as a proof that President Voronin’s initiatives are a screen which hides the intensions to press Tiraspol. In turn, mediators and observers of the “Five-Plus-Two” format raised concern that Chisinau did not coordinate this action with them, the least with Ukraine, which could simply ignore it and Chisinau could have to give up its intentions, the way when it had plans to control the imports in Transnsitria.
The European Parliament (EP) adopted on November 15, 2007 a resolution on consolidation of the European Neighbourhood Policy, recognising the possibility of principle for the accession of Ukraine and Republic of Moldova to the EU. In this context, Article 37 of the Resolution says that the EU “Encourages Ukraine, within the framework of its alignment with the EU?s Common Foreign and Security Policy declarations and positions, to join in the restrictive measures taken by the EU against the leadership of the Transnistrian region of Moldova, thereby making a further significant contribution to the peaceful settlement of the Transnistrian conflict”.
The EP recommendation is part of the recent approach regarding the need of finding ways to break the vicious circle enjoyed by Transnistrian leaders due to Russia’s direct support, turning down any initiatives to settle the conflict without abiding any consequences. It seems that the new idea means the possibility to impose restrictions on separatist leaders, if they continue to unjustifiably torpedo initiatives capable to approach the conflict resolution. The EU has introduced travel restrictions on 17 Transnistrian high-ranking officials a couple of years ago, asking now Ukraine to do the same. If Ukraine refuses now, this measure could become a reality later on, the way it happened with the control on the Transnistrian segment of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. Of course, Transnistrian authorities had a negative reaction to the EP recommendation, saying that the restricted right of separatist leader to travel is a violation of human rights. They care much about their rights, but they forget that the EP adopted a resolution last summer signalling the violation of human rights in Transnistria by leaders of the secessionist region. If Ukraine invokes that it could not restrict Transnistrian leaders from entering its territory because they are Ukrainian and Russian citizens, Moldova could seek a new direction of the interdiction; that means it could admit Transnistrian leaders to leave the eastern region of the country via Ukraine, demanding a ban to enter the Moldovan territory via the Transnistrian segment and declaring them persona non grata. Ukraine practices such interdictions for Russian citizens and even MPs whom it accuses of undermining its statehood. Of course, legal subtleties must be minutely elaborated, but this could be done only at the insistent recommendation of the EU to Ukraine in the light of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. This approach could prevent accusations of violation of human rights, and a motivation for this interdiction would be that the separatist leaders breach the Moldovan Constitution and torpedo any conflict resolution initiatives.
Another important event is the statement by EUBAM head and General Ferenz Banfi, who said on November 21 that the Transnistrian region is a place where Ukrainian citizens massively register luxury automobiles in exchange for small fees and avoid the high taxes of Ukraine. He noted that approximately 400 cars were registered in nine months of this year. This is could be seen as a hint at the trafficking in automobiles stolen in Europe and it justifies somehow the decision to restrict the traffic of motor vehicles with Transnistrian number plates.
Russian authorities have decided to open 24 polling stations in Transnistria in order to let more than 100,000 Russian citizens who reside the secessionist region “exercise their right to vote” at the December 2, 2007 parliamentary elections. Thus, they ignored an appeal by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration (MFAEI) of Moldova, which opposed these intentions. As a result, the Russian Embassy to Moldova released an ample commentary, saying that it does not recognise the independence of Transnistria, but calls for the “guaranteeing of the right to vote of Russian citizens, no matter where they are.” It is curious, but arguments invoked by Russian authorities concerning international documents and the basic Moldovan-Russian treaty should be effective for Ukraine, too. The Transnistrian Central Electoral Commission has truly called upon Ukrainian authorities to open polling stations in the separatist region, so that 65,000 Ukrainian citizens be able to cast their ballots at the March 2006 ordinary parliamentary elections and September 2007 early elections. However Ukrainian authorities respected the MFAEI stance and they did not open polling stations. In contrast, the Russian authorities made an inverse decision within the same international and bilateral framework, saying that they have troops in Transnistria and that justifies measures aimed at opening as many polling stations as they want. Again, very curious argument as Moldova urges Russia for many years to withdraw its military presence from Transnistria. For a long time it became obvious that the Russian military presence notably is the ground of the vicious circle — Transnistrian authorities want to incorporate the region into the Russian Federation and they do not want the Russian military to leave the secessionist enclave, while Russian authorities claim that they cannot pull out the troops because the Tiraspol administration opposes. It is very comfortable for argumentation.
The Russian military presence was also debated at the November 29–30 Madrid OSCE Ministerial Summit. Transnistrian foreign minister Valeri Litskai has also attended the Madrid summit thanks to Russia, which persuaded the Foreign Ministry of the host country which runs the OSCE Chairmanship to issue a visa to him, in spite of the EU travel ban. If this was the great stake, the presence of Litskai in Madrid was useless, as the OSCE Summit failed to adopt a final declaration for the fifth year in a row. Instead, Litskai made a description of the OSCE work of which he is unlikely proud. It is worth to note that the Moldovan authorities maintained their stances regarding the necessity of pulling out the Russian troops from Transnistrian in compliance with the commitments assumed at the November 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit. In spite of the Russian moratorium, the NATO member states maintained their attitude regarding the ratification of the Adopted Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, invoking the arguments of Moldova and Georgia.
At the same time, Moldovan authorities did not tackle in Madrid the ignorance of their opposition against opening of 24 polling stations by Russia. Instead 20 Moldovan NGOs held a news conference in Chisinau and called the things by name. They said how Russia’s conduct in Transnistria is called when: Russian citizens rule Transnsistria; the Russian Government provides financial and economic support to the secessionist region; the Russian military presence ensures the security of the breakaway enclave under any pretexts; the same military presence justifies the organisation of elections for highest representative bodies of the Russian Federation, etc.? It is unclear why the Russian Federation was unsatisfied with the ECHR arguments in “Ilascu case”, as the European Court found that Russia is completely controlling the Transnistrian region and, therefore, it is responsible for all actions there.
The November developments revealed that “Voronin’s initiatives” in Moldova are like “Putin’s Plan” in Russia; that means everybody should read newspapers or watches “analytical broadcasts” in order to make an impression on them. Transnistrian leaders have made very negative impressions about “Voronin’s initiatives” and for this reason they chose “Putin’s Plan”, opening 24 polling stations in Transnistria, a part of the sovereign Moldova, to participate in the elections for the Russian State Duma.
After reading newspapers and watching “analytical programmes” the main conclusion is that the essence of “Voronin’s initiatives” is generally reduced to recognising Russia’s property right on main enterprises in Transnistria in exchange for its support for settling the conflict. The November developments revealed that Russia is interested in properties, but it firmly insists that the conflict be settled by two equal parties, in line with the May 1997 “Primakov Memorandum”.
As the Russian Federation invoked the need of “ensuring the human rights,” opening 24 polling stations in the eastern districts of Moldova while assuring that it recognises the independence and sovereignty of this country, the Chisinau authorities even more so have to ensure the equal rights of all citizens in the region concerned and prevent the discrimination. But Moldovan authorities fail this task. Thus, 100,000 Russian citizens who reside Transnistria could vote for the State Duma on December 2, 2007, while 65,000 Ukrainian citizens could not elect the Supreme Rada on September 30, 2007. It is interesting that there are no differences between the status of Russia and Ukraine in Transnistria in terms of international law and bilateral relations with Moldova, perhaps except for the “Putin Plan” and “sovereign democracy” in Russia, which produce international effects, with Russia demonstrating this way that Ukraine does not know the “international law” and it does not ensure the rights of own citizens? The attitude of Moldovan authorities towards this injustice in ensuring “equal rights” may hint Ukraine to equal its number of military observers and citizens with the number of Russia in Transdniestria.
The only real possibility to encourage a lasting solution to the Transnistrian conflict is to motivate the Tiraspol leaders through methods that the EP Resolution has recently recommended to Ukraine. The eventual opposition against this initiative is explainable, as Ukraine has actually incorporated Transnistria in its domestic consumption market and there are many persons in the neighbouring country which profit of the status quo of Transnistria. Under these circumstances, Moldova may try to persuade the EU to condition the progresses in relations with Ukraine with the gradual elimination of conditions which fuel the existence of the status quo. The principle of the Common Foreign and Security Policy suggests this thing.
Finally, a simple question should be answered before the eventual restart of the negotiation process in the “Five-Plus-Two” or other format — how can Russia be a mediator and guarantor of the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict if it can hold legislative elections in the plenitude of electoral process, 17 years after the separation of Transnistria from Moldova, while Moldova could not do this at least once during the 9 national electoral campaigns? The answer to this question will raise other questions for sure, notably regarding the role of the Russian military in the region, Moldova’s sovereignty, the presidential initiatives and “the corn of abundance” from which they effuse, double standards in international policy and those who promote them, etc.