After a request of the President of Moldova to Russian authorities to influence the breakaway Trans-Dniester Republic and urge it to unite, situation in the region became aggravated again. According to military sources, Tiraspol authorities are preventing implementation of the agreements achieved in November 2001 on evacuation of armaments, ammunition and other combat materiel of the former 14th army, now the operational group of Russian forces in the Trans-Dniester Republic, to Russia.
Recently commander of the group Lieutenant General Valery Yevnevich announced, “Non-observance of the schedule for evacuation of combat materiel to Russia is brought about by the stance of Tiraspol authorities.”
Yevnevich added, “in accordance with the agreements we already partially transferred parts and assemblies of combat materiel suitable for civil use to the Trans-Dniester party.” According to the general, “The remaining part of property chosen as a compensation for the four trains evacuated to Russia is loaded on trucks and is ready for immediate delivery to the places pointed out by the Trans-Dniester party.”
However, stated Yevnevich, “Tiraspol authorities are not in a hurry to accept this property. They are currently attempting to interpret the agreement in a way other than stipulated at the moment of the agreement’s signing. They say that they need “to make war” and demand other property due to this.” Yevnevich emphasized that the command of the group “is stringently following orders of the Defense Ministry and Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces, and would never reassign property not stipulated by the agreement to Tiraspol.” Yevnevich reported that according to an order of the Trans-Dniester authorities, “When I headed a group of officers of the group’s staff, which arrived to check condition of the military installation, aspects of its guarding and defense, people at a Trans-Dniester checkpoint demanded my documents, and we were forced to let them examine our cars. Trans-Dniester servicemen did not listen to my remark that examination is not applicable to the commander of the group. Director of the Rybnitsa department of internal affairs was present during this incident,” stressed Yevnevich.
Meanwhile, officials of the Trans-Dniester Republic explain the situation in a different way. Vyacheslav Sapronov, director of the industrial sector of the Trans-Dniester Republic, reported that evacuation of combat materiel occurred because “the Russian party did not fulfill undertaken obligations to transfer a part of military property to the Trans-Dniester party.” Sapronov reiterated that the agreement between Moscow and Tiraspol of November 2001 stipulated reassignment of parts and assemblies of combat materiel suitable for civil use to the Trans-Dniester Republic. However, the republic received full compensation only for the first three trains with military property evacuated to Russia. “For the fourth train we received only 43% of parts and assemblies stipulated by the agreement from the command of the group of Russian forces.” Sapronov expressed his hope that negotiations held last week in Tiraspol with Lieutenant General Gennady Baev, Deputy Director of the Main Missile and Artillery Department of the Russian Defense Ministry, “will allow quick resolving of the conflict. Meanwhile, sources in the group report that Trans-Dniester authorities will hardly let new trains with ammunition go to Russia soon, because they are going to demand that the command of the group give them not only the parts and assemblies but also discarded armored personnel carriers, combat infantry vehicles and tanks. Authorities of the breakaway republic are going to renovate them at their industrial enterprises. The Russian party is averse to these plans.
Thus, evacuation of ammunition stored in warehouses of the group of Russian forces from the Trans-Dniester Republic will hardly be resumed in the near future.
The agreement on evacuation was achieved in 2001, when Vladimir Isakov, Russian Deputy Defense Minister and Director of the Logistics Department signed a protocol with the government of the republic on conditions for evacuation of ammunition from the region. After signing of the document three trains with rockets for the Uragan multiple rocket launcher systems, projectiles and other ordnance were evacuated, but the fourth train prepared for evacuation “got stuck.”
In exchange for permission to evacuate the ammunition Moscow promised to give not only parts and assemblies to the Trans-Dniester Republic but also to pay $100 million, although not in cash, but as offsetting of the debt for gas supplied to the region.
As already stated, Yevnevich and other observers confirmed that the remnants of the combat materiel transferred to Tiraspol would evidently be used for military purposes. The breakaway republic has enough industrial facilities at which it is possible to renovate the discarded combat vehicles. The Trans-Dniester Republic is not going to unite with Moldova yet, and, according to its leaders, is prepared to defend its sovereignty.
Meanwhile, for Russia this factor is already not so important as it was ten years ago, when the conflict between the Trans-Dniester Republic and Moldova was in full swing. Despite the fact that the contradictions in the region were not eliminated, Moscow promised the OSCE to withdraw its troops from the region by the end of 2002. According to the Istanbul agreements, Russia destroyed its armaments and combat materiel already by the end of 2001. Although, according to the final act of the conference of member states of the conventional arms limitation treaty in Europe, Russia had the right not to do this, authorities of the republic did not let it evacuate armaments to Russia. Only a small part of the vehicles, mainly engineering ones, were evacuated to Russia, and 364 modern tanks and combat infantry vehicles were scrapped.
Not to lose its reputation in the eyes of the OSCE Russia had to sacrifice a part of its military potential. At any rate, situation with ammunition is more beneficial for Russia. Overall, there is approximately 42,000 tons of ammunition in warehouses of the Russian group of forces. Russia needs to evacuate more than 50% of it (the ordnance that is new and badly needed, for example, in the North Caucasus) and to destroy the rest on site. It is good that both OSCE and European Union are helping Russia to keep this promise.
Meanwhile, it is not clear yet who will keep the peace in the Trans-Dniester Republic after disbanding of the group of Russian forces, because the conflict is not settled and Tiraspol is not going to unite with Moldova still. One way or the other, the international community and Russia will have to face this problem in the future. In the meantime, Yevnevich was appointed Deputy Commander of the Ground Forces for peacekeeping operations. Henceforth he will be curator of the peacekeeping mission not only in the Trans-Dniester Republic, but also in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Tajikistan, and zones of the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts. Major General Boris Sergeev, Chief of Staff of the group of Russian forces in the Trans-Dniester Republic, was appointed Commander of the group in Yevnevich’s place.