Moldova Presses Russia over Transnistria: What Next?
Alex GORKA | 28.08.2017 | WORLD

Moldova Presses Russia over Transnistria: What Next?

The government of Moldova has called on the United Nations to discuss the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the breakaway Transnistria region at the upcoming 72nd session of the General Assembly to open on September 12. A letter from the Permanent Representative of Moldova to the UN, Victor Moraru, was forwarded on August 22, calling the presence of Russian troops in Transnistria «a threat to international peace and security».

The Russian Federation has stationed about 1,200 troops in Transnistria in accordance with the «Agreement on the Principles for a Peaceful Settlement of the Armed Conflict in the Transnistrian Region of the Republic of Moldova» signed on July 21, 1992 by the presidents of Russia and Moldova in the presence of Transnistria’s leader. Transnistria, a largely Russian-speaking region, broke away from Moldova following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Its relations with Moldova’s central government in Chisinau have been tense ever since. In 1992, a bloody armed conflict sparked, with civilian casualties estimated in hundreds on both sides. The truce ended a war between pro-Russian forces and the Moldovan military.

Besides the peacekeepers, there are also around 800 Russian military personnel who guard ammunition depots near Kolbasna settlement left over from the days of the USSR. Their scrapping and removal started in 2001, but was blocked by Transnistria’s residents in 2004 amid deteriorating relations with Chisinau.

In 2008, NATO's Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution urging Russia to «withdraw its illegal military presence from the Transnistrian region of Moldova in the nearest future». Since 2014, after conflict erupted in Ukraine, Moldova has banned Russian military from crossing its territory and the Russian Aerospace Forces from landing at the airport in Chisinau.

In November 2016, the defense ministers of Moldova and Ukraine concluded an agreement on the organization of a «green corridor» for the withdrawal of Russian troops, together with weapons, from the territory of the Transnistrian Republic. It was perceived by Moscow as a provocative move as neither Russia nor Transnistria had been consulted.

On May 2, the Constitutional Court of Moldova declared unconstitutional the presence of Russian soldiers on the territory of the Transnistrian region of the republic. On July 30, the Government of Moldova called the Russian peacekeepers «a factor in the freezing of the Transnistrian conflict».

In July, Moldova's parliament adopted a declaration, asking Russia to withdraw its troops from Transnistria. The move came a day after the Moldovan Foreign Ministry warned the military aircraft with Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on board was not allowed to land in Chisinau for a visit to mark the 25th anniversary of the Russian peacekeeping mission in Transnistria. Andrei Neguta, the Moldovan ambassador to Russia, was invited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin expressed a firm protest against the Moldovan government’s decision to declare Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin a persona non-grata.

The official emphasized that Russia has been consistently working to develop good relations with Moldova in the past few years. In contrast, Chisinau’s irresponsible steps are aimed at deliberately undermining bilateral relations.

Moldova’s President Igor Dodon condemned the declaration on withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers adopted by the parliament, accusing the pro-Western lawmakers of trying to worsen relations with the Russian Federation. He also claimed that such a decision could only come from «outside Moldova», presumably referring to Romania. Romania's Prime Minister Mihai Tudose and several Romanian ministers were in Chisinau on July 21 - the day the resolution was passed - for a joint government meeting with the Moldovan executive. 

The parliamentary resolution was not approved unanimously. «This is a serious violation of common sense. At least allow us to look at it properly», Socialist MP Vlad Batrancea said in parliament. «We believe this is a geopolitical provocation», he added. The lawmakers from the opposition Socialist Party left the parliament’s meeting in protest.

Transnistria’s legislators condemned the declaration, adopted by the Moldovan parliament. The Transnistrian authorities also strongly oppose the Moldova’s plan to withdraw Russian peacekeepers. During 25 years, the peacekeeping mission has been a success. There have been no clashes. After all, nobody else but Moldova insisted on an international peacekeeping force in 1992.

Russia considers Moldova’s letter to the United Nations requesting the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Transnistria as another hostile action. Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, has objected to the Moldovan government's call for the UN to discuss withdrawing Russian troops at the next month's General Assembly session. He believes the «sudden move» was «not very friendly», especially in view that Moscow had not been warned in advance of this request. The Russian representative to the UN also said that this initiative of Moldova would not contribute to the 5 + 2 talks on Transnistrian settlement.

There is a very important aspect of the problem to be mentioned here. Chisinau puts forward the argument that the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit included the commitment by the Russian Federation to withdraw from Transnistria by December 31, 2002. It fails to mention the fact that the agreement was linked to the provisions of the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) that limited NATO and Warsaw force disposition in Europe. The treaty was never fully observed by NATO as it kept on expanding. In 2007, Russia suspended its participation in the treaty, and on 10 March 2015, citing NATO's de facto breach of the CFE, Russia formally announced it was completely halting its participation in it as of the next day. The treaty has become history today, it’s not effective anymore. It’s worth to emphasize that the Istanbul document does not rescind the 1992 truce accord.

There is no doubt that the Moldovan letter is an element of the propaganda war to be used by the West in its effort to paint Russia as an «aggressor». Ukraine will use the opportunity for attacks against Russia.

And now, last but not least. Neither the Moldovan government, excluding the president, nor the parliament has mentioned the need to take into account the opinion of Transnistrian people. After all, they have the right for self-determination. The Moldovan letter to the United Nations includes everything but the right of the Transnistrian people to decide their own fate. Should Russia abandon them?

Is there any guarantee there will be no armed conflict sparked right after the Russian military personnel’s withdrawal? If Russia leaves and innocent people die again, will Moldova take on responsibility? Will it be ready to admit its guilt? Is there any other OSCE member but Russia willing to dispatch peacekeepers to Transnistria and shoulder the expenditure? Is there any progress on finding a solution to the problem through talks? Finally, is Moldova ready to provide answers to all these questions at the United Nations General Assembly’s session in September?

RELATED ARTICLES