Moldova: Changes in Geopolitical Configuration of the Region
18th Economic Forum in Krynica's Panel: "Moldova: Changes in Geopolitical Configuration of the Region"
By Vlad Spânu*
There are two significant events that changed the geopolitical configuration that affects the Republic of Moldova:
1. Expansion of NATO and EU reaching the Moldova’s border, when Romania became a NATO member in 2004 and EU member in 2007.
2. Russia’s military aggression against Georgia.
The first event made the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) to pay more attention to Moldova. Both these two international players got involved in the Transnistrian conflict negotiations (in the 5+2 format [Moldova, Transnistrian region, Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, along with EU and US]); the EU started to monitor Moldova-Ukraine border to prevent smuggling of arms and goods; and relations between EU and Moldova started to get to a new level. The goal of the European Union and the United States [in the Transnistrian conflict settlement] coincide with the goal of Moldova, which is to unite Transnistria with the rest of Moldova, thus, eliminating this security regional threat. Besides, EU and US support democratic reforms in Moldova, including in the Transnistrian region.
The second event – Russia’s full scale war against Georgia – gave leverage to Russia over Moldova, the last fearing of a possible Russian military intervention. In this position of strength, Russian President [Dmitry] Medvedev invited his Moldovan counterpart [Vladimir] Voronin to Sochi -- not by accident there, near the border with Georgia’s region of Abkhazia. There, Voronin was told that he should learn a “right” lesson from the Russia-Georgia war and solve the Transnistrian conflict on Russia’s terms. In Sergey Lavrov’s own words, after Medvedev-Voronin meeting, Russia and Moldova “agreed” to get back to the 2003 Kozak Memorandum’s principles.
What this Russian plan meant for Moldova? The main objective of the Kozak Memorandum was to transform Moldova in a dysfunctional state through disproportional presence in the Moldovan Parliament of deputies from the Transnistrian region that would have veto power over any decisions on foreign relations or internal policies. This move would mean “NO” to reforms and to the EU integration of Moldova and, of course, to NATO. Besides, to be sure the proposed scheme stays in place, Russia wanted to make its military presence in Moldova permanent, that is, to have Russian military base for at least 20 years.
The declared goal of the Russian Federation in the Transnistrian conflict is to protect Russian citizens who became such over night when they were generously handled Russian passports. It is simply a bluff. In reality, in the capital of Moldova, Chisinau, there are more ethnic Russians than in the entire Transnistria, where Russians are the third largest group after Moldovans and Ukrainians. And Moldovan citizens of Russian ethnicity in Chisinau and in the rest of Moldova enjoy the same rights as the majority or any other ethnic groups.
Another declared goal of Russia is to have a stable and neutral Moldova. But how can one have a stable Moldova when Russia made efforts to create a conflict, then to freeze it, encouraging separatism by supporting it financially, economically and politically? Today, the only obstacle for Moldova’s neutrality, a status declared in its Constitution, is the presence of the Russian military forces on its territory, which Russia calls them peacekeepers. After the Georgian crisis [in August 2008], there are no doubts around the world that Russian forces in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria are anything but peacekeepers. Since the escalation of the Transnistrian conflict, Russian troops are part of the conflict and this is clearly stated in the 1992 ceasefire agreement between the two belligerent countries, Russia and the Republic of Moldova. This was reiterated by Strasburg’s Court of Human Rights in its 2004 decision [on the Transnistrian conflict] on the “Ilascu and others versus Russia…” case.
How do we move out from this cul-de-sac to a resolution of the Transnistrian conflict?
There is a need for the following conditions to be met:
1. A full cooperation of the Russian Federation: its political will to establish relations with Moldova and other parties involved in the Transnistrian conflict negotiations based on long lasting peace and a stable Moldova, not a fake short-term advantage for Russia, while worsening its image and relations with the international community.
2. We need an active Ukraine. From 1992 to 2005, Ukraine was a passive mediator in the Transnistrian conflict, at best. At worst, Kiev had a hidden agenda, it allowed Kazaks paramilitary formations from Russia (but also from Ukraine) to march in route to Transnistria to fight Moldovan government forces; it allowed smuggling of arms and goods through its territory. Fortunately, since 2005, President Victor Yushchenko and new governments of Ukraine reversed that course, coming [at the negotiation table] with their own ideas on the conflict resolution, cooperating with the European Union and the Moldovan government in monitoring its western border with Moldova. In my view (and of many other experts), Ukraine has the potential to become not a key player, but the key player in the Transnistrian conflict. Looking at the map, one can see that Ukraine is encircled by Russia or Russian military bases: from the North (via Belarus), to the East and to the South (with the Russian Navy stationed in Sevastopol). The only window Ukraine has is the West, but the Transnistrian conflict and the Russian military forces station in Moldova prevent Ukraine from having that window. Therefore, it is in Ukraine’s national interest to contribute positively further to the final resolution of the Transnistrian conflict and evacuation of the Russian troops out of Moldova.
3. The EU and US must be active as participants of the 5+2 format. Discussions outside this format would not be productive; they wouldn’t lead to a lasting peace and Moldova should be encouraged to stay on the 5+2 course. More than that, EU and US, along with other parties, should revisit a 2006 proposal of independent experts regarding the need for change of the current Russia-dominated military format in the security zone of the conflict into a true unbiased multinational peacekeeping format. This move would prevent any military actions like we have witnessed in Georgia last month. In that experts’ non-paper, it was offered to look at the experience of the Sinai Peninsula’s Multinational Force & Observers that were established in 1981 by an agreement between Egypt and Israel, intermediated and signed by the United States. That agreement works and we have a solid piece in the Sinai Peninsula; why not try that experience in Moldova?
4. The last, but not the least, we need an active Moldova. After all, the population East of the Nistru (Dniester) River are Moldovan citizens and the central government in Chisinau should assist, protect them, letting them know that they are entitled of benefiting from all rights other Moldova citizens enjoy. There are some cases when public institutions in Moldova (in healthcare, judicial system) treat the population leaving in the Transnistrian region as foreigners. This should change. Moldova should be also active internationally, engaging important players in assisting Moldova to overcome not only the conflict, but also its difficult transition to a true democratic society.
* Vlad Spânu is the President of the Washington, DC-based Moldova Foundation. This is his presentation at the 18th Economic Forum in Krynica, Southern Poland, Sept. 10-13, 2008; Panel: "Moldova: Changes in Geopolitical Configuration of the Region").
The Economic Forum in Krynica is often referred to as the Davos of Central Europe, where serious debates on European and global issues take place. Annually, around 2000 guests take part in panel discussions, which turns the Economic Forum into the largest gathering of elites and experts in this part of Europe. In 2008, some 60 countries were represented at this event.