Among other significant events linked with the Russian-Moldavian relations analysts focus on Moldavian President Vladimir Voronin’s visit to the CIS summit. He visited Moscow on May 8, but refused to attend the Victory Parade. He preferred to organize his own military parade in Kishinev. When leaving Moscow, Voronin stated that “Moldavia and Russia failed to reach an agreement regarding the Trans-Dniester problem”. In other words, the situation does not promise a speedy solution to the Trans-Dniester conflict.
At his inauguration a month ago, Vladimir Voronin determined the main tasks of the republic. Moldavia seeks to integrate into Europe. Vladimir Voronin said, “We understand that our country must turn into an integer European state with an advanced economy, higher incomes for the population, efficient level of social protection, modern infrastructure and modernized agriculture in four years.”
Mr. Voronin also focused on Moldavia’s allies in the GUUAM.
The Moldavian president stated, “Fresh blasts of European revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine filled the sails of Moldavian democracy with air. Moldavia is not alone on the path to Europe. We are lucky to move to European integration together with our old and loyal friends. This means that this path will not lead to disappointment.”
The Moldavian president also spoke about “new friends”. The matter concerns opposition parties, which supported him in the election. Voronin’s new allies have more radical views on the political course of the country. Mayor of Kishinev Seraphim Urekyan, leader of Democratic Moldavia, has repeatedly stated that Moldavia must leave the CIS and outlaw the Russian group of forces stationed in the Trans-Dniester territory.
It is not ruled out that Voronin’s alliance with the opposition will lead to aggravation of relations between Tiraspol and Kishinev because the leadership of the Trans-Dniester territory seeks to extend the presence of Russian troops in the region.
The Trans-Dniester conflict was close to settling several times. In spring of 2001, when pro-Russian Voronin was elected for the first term in office he signed many promising agreements with Trans-Dniester leader Igor Smirnov. Meanwhile, the Trans-Dniester territory found itself in a customs blockade in the autumn.
Another serious attempt to settle the problem was made in late 2003. Russia proposed Kishinev and Tiraspol sign the Memorandum on the basic principles of the state structure of the united state. It was supposed that Moldavia would become a federation, and the Trans-Dniester territory and Gagauziya would have specific rights. The Memorandum determined, what decisions Kishinev could make independently (control over state property, hard currency regulation, foreign policy), and what decisions it would discuss with Tiraspol (customs regulations, natural resources, federal budget, energy system, voting, law enforcement agencies). At first, Igor Smirnov and Vladimir Voronin stated that Russia’s proposals were constructive. Meanwhile, Kishinev refused to sign the document.
The situation reached a deadlock last year when Moldavia imposed economic sanctions on the Trans-Dniester territory and suspended negotiations regarding the Trans-Dniester conflict. As is known, Kishinev did this after Tiraspol stopped teaching Moldavian language in schools on the basis of the Roman alphabet.
Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko stated at the CIS summit that Kyiv prepares its own solution to the Trans-Dniester conflict, which will probably be announced in two weeks. In addition, the Ukrainian president said that he showed this plan to Russian President Vladimir Putin in mid-March. However, Yushchenko did not say how the Russian leader commented on this plan.
It should be noted that Victor Yushchenko and Vladimir Voronin discussed Ukraine’s participation in settling of the Trans-Dniester conflict on March 1. The Ukrainian president said that he intends to hold a trilateral meeting: Ukraine, Moldavia and the Trans-Dniester territory. Kyiv and Kishinev agreed to invite the EU and the US to this process.
In other words, it’s obvious that Moldavia and its allies are trying to bar Russia from settling the Trans-Dniester conflict and decrease its influence in the region. Many Russian experts agree with this opinion.
Victor Alksnis, a member of the Duma committee for the affairs of the CIS and relations with compatriots and co-chairman of the For Peace and Stability in the Trans-Dniester Territory inter-faction group, forecasted the development of the situation in the Trans-Dniester territory after the presidential election in Moldavia.
Alksnis said, “I think that Moldavia’s position will become stricter because this is the position of the West, which seconds Voronin. He is a puppet in the hands of Western structures. This is why the Trans-Dniester territory will face hard times if Russia fails to show a principal position aimed at defending its strategic interests in this region.”
On the other hand, it’s hardly likely that Tiraspol will participate in negotiations regarding its status without Moscow. As is known, the Russian group of forces has been settling the conflict in the region for 13 years. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the issue of withdrawal of ammunition and military property of the former 14th army has not been solved yet. Who can settle this issue without Russia’s participation?
It should be noted that Moscow assumed obligations to withdraw troops and weapons from the Trans-Dniester territory by 2001, at the OSCE summit in Istanbul in 1999. However, a substantial part of ammunition has remained in arsenals near the village of Kolbasno because of the Trans-Dniester territory’s unwillingness to let Russian troops go.
It’s easy to understand Tiraspol. It’s not ruled out that Moldavia will try to settle the conflict using force. This will not happen while the Russian military group is stationed in the republic. At the same time, Russia seeks to meet its obligations. For instance, Moscow wrote off $100 million of Moldavia’s gas debt last year as a result of which 40 trains carrying ammunition left the Trans-Dniester territory (in all 60 trains with ammunition have been withdrawn since 1999). However, aggravation of relations between the Trans-Dniester territory and Moldavia forced Tiraspol to suspend the withdrawal of the Russian military property.
In other words, the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Trans-Dniester territory has become a geopolitical issue. It’s easy to guess that the US and NATO want Russia to leave the Trans-Dniester territory. However, Moscow understands the importance of control over the situation in this region. To all appearances, Russian peacekeepers will stay in the Trans-Dniester territory for a long time.