NATO Eyes Transnistria
Nikolai MALISHEVSKI | 14.09.2014 | OPINION

NATO Eyes Transnistria

This is an election year in the United States. There will be new faces in the House of Representatives and Senate in November. Elections in the United States are being held throughout 2014, with the general elections scheduled for Tuesday, November 4, 2014. During this midterm election year   all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested; along with 38 state and territorial governorships, 46  state legislatures (except Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia) four territorial legislatures and numerous state and local races. An important event to influence US domestic affairs and foreign policy. 

The US «war party» eyes Moldova and Ukraine to be used as staging areas for offensive actions the same way Georgia was in August 2008 before the presidential election. Bellicose rhetoric was heard in March 2014 as the Congress was involved in heated debates over the next fiscal year’s budget. The war party wants to avoid the sequester, especially the army cuts, boost the military presence in the Baltic and Black Sea and have boots on the ground in Ukraine. It also wants Europeans to shoulder higher military expenditure losing billions of dollars as they from suspended contracts with Russia (Mistral-class amphibious assault ship deal suspended by France and Germany suspending the contract for equipping the Russian training center in the town of Mulino in the Volga region). The hawks would like Sweden and Finland to speed up their NATO entrance while the West broadens and toughens sanctions against Russia.  

US military experts have been reported to appear in Moldova and Ukraine. Headed by General Major Key Randy Allen, the Director, Strategy and Policy, Headquarters U.S. European Command, Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany, the 180 strong team came to Ukraine by the end of July and was involved in the operations against Donetsk and Lugansk self-defence forces. All servicemen are reported to be seasoned warriors with Latin American and other experiences behind. Many of them are reported to come through an expedited Ukrainian language training course. The $70 million United States military aid offers rations, radios, concertina wire, first-aid kits and limited supplies of body armor. Formally the package does not include arms. But much of the assistance is still in the pipeline, including such important items as night-vision goggles. The United States has also promised to train 700 members of Ukraine’s National Guard. This program is scheduled to get underway in 2015. Administration officials say they are considering a number of options, such as providing the Ukrainians with reconnaissance drones, counterbattery radar to pinpoint the source of enemy artillery fire, and Javelin antitank weapons. The State Department has been careful not to rule out expanding at least some types of assistance. In July The U.S. Congress passed a bill, whereby Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia can obtain the status of allies of the U.S. without a NATO membership. The bill is proposed by Robert Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee. If it passes into law, Senator Corker’s bill - the «Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014 - could precipitate a distinctive, new US approach toward Russia and the wider post-Soviet space.   The bill proposes «Major Non-NATO Ally» (MNNA) status for Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, and closer interaction by US Armed Forces with these three countries plus Azerbaijan. Specifically, it calls for increasing military exercises and training efforts as well as bolstering security assistance from both the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). MNNA status would benefit Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova by providing access to US defense sales and military advantages on a similar level to that currently enjoyed by NATO-member countries. On July 24, nine members of the House of Representatives – including members of both parties - introduced the Ukraine Security Assistance Act of 2014 to provide MNNA status to Ukraine and to commission a report by Secretary of Defense Hagel assessing Ukraine’s military capabilities, with the intent of providing up to $100 million for weapons and training. Procedurally and legally, the realization of MNNA status is relatively straightforward in comparison to full membership, which requires a two-thirds Senate majority. The bill fails to give details on how the US will encourage and help aspirant countries - especially Georgia - with further NATO integration. The existing law merely requires Washington to «encourage» NATO to create a European Partners Security Fund to support the provision of expanded Alliance trainings, as well as provide assistance for the armed forces of Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan and other key non-NATO countries. 

About the time the US military instructors arrived in Ukraine Kiev launched a mobilization and demanded the Russian peacekeepers out of Transnistria. American instructors are also reported to be present in Moldova. According to the sources from the Socialist Democratic Party, Americans started to train the country’s national armed forces for combat actions conducted by the Republic of Moldova 

Ukrainian expert Dmitry Tymchuk wrote on July 31, «We must clearly make up our mind regarding Transnistria. For a long time, Ukraine has actively participated in resolving the «Transnistrian issue.» Kyiv has always considered, and continues to view Transnistria as a territory of Moldova… This is the Kremlin’s springboard for acting against our state. In the future, Ukraine must make every effort to restore Moldova’s control over this territory. Without this control, Transnistria is like a Russian landmine near Ukraine, biding its time until it blows».

On August 4, 2014 the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying, «Coordinated actions by Moldova and Ukraine to implement the economic and transport blockade of Transnistria in the attempt to force it to climb down in the negotiation process, refuse from foreign policy priorities will cost the escalation of the situation around this region.

In parallel, at summit level Kishinev makes appeals for the removal of Russian troops, another splash of discussions regarding the need to change the status of the peace-keeping operation on the Dniester, to transform it into some civil mission is observed. Against this backdrop, the degree of discussion within the framework of the Joint Control Commission is raised artificially. Under the pretext of Ukrainian events, they create obstacles for communication with the left bank of Dniester through the Ukrainian territory. There are threats of denunciation of respective Russian-Ukrainian agreements. Throws of disinformation into the mass media regarding alleged supplies of weapons from Transnistria to the conflict area in the South-East of Ukraine continue. The works to build an excavated anticrossing ditch in the Transnistrian section of the Moldavian-Ukrainian border, which Kiev started «for security purposes», provokes escalation of tensions.

As we warned our partners in the negotiation process – Ukrainian, OSCE representatives, as well as OSCE and European Union observers – today all the mentioned trust-destroying actions can become a deadlock in the negotiation process. Kishinev and Kiev should be aware about their direct responsibility for the potential negative consequences of the step they make to spin the situation. As to Russian peacekeepers, they ensure security in the area of their responsibility on an international legal basis and a respective mandate. They fulfil their mission in good faith and unselfishly. They are strong not because of their number, but because of the trust they have earned among the population. Any non-constructive actions aimed at destabilisation of the situation in the region, any attempts to squeeze Russian forces, which are part of Joint Peacekeeping Forces, from Transnistria, will be perceived as unfriendly actions against Russia, which disrupt the foundations of the peace-keeping operation on Dniester and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Agreement on friendship and cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Moldova». 

Late August-early September the tensions were rising high over the Transnistria issue. On September 11 Ukraine’s deputy Internal Affairs Minister Sergey Chobotar said that the soldiers of machardie (National Guard) armed formations and the volunteer company of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine will be stationed in the Odessa region. He explained that this resolution is approved subject to «possible armed risks from Transnistria.» Military preparations are on the way in Romania. On September 5 Romanian edition Click! offered a video clip with armor unites advancing to the Ukrainian border. (2,3). Click! reported that a train with armor medical vehicles and army trucks came to Ploesti at the distance of 180 km from Romania-Ukraine border. The edition asked a question, «Are we preparing for a war with Ukraine?» There is no definite answer as yet. 

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