Last week, President of the Trans-Dniester Republic Igor Smirnov, visited Moscow. Answering questions about the purpose of his visit, Smirnov said that he arrived in Moscow to take part in the Sholokhov Prize ceremony. Smirnov was awarded the prize. However, he added that it would have been impolite to come to Moscow and not to meet with Chair of the Commission for Regulating Relations between Moldova and the Trans-Dniester Republic, Yevgeny Primakov.
Of course, in Moscow Smirnov also spoke about the fate of the Russian forces in the breakaway republic. Moscow is currently attempting to begin withdrawal of Russian troops and armaments from the area. This requires 150 trains. At present, ammunition depots of the former 14th army are storing 49,476 small arms, 805 pieces of artillery, 655 combat vehicles, and 4,000 automobiles, sufficient to arm four mechanized infantry divisions.
After receiving an obligations to withdraw all armaments from the territory of Moldova by the end of 2001, undertaken during the OSCE summit in Istanbul in 1999, Moscow delivered only two trains with ammunition and combat material to Russia (on November 19, 1999, and November 28, 2000). The European public is concerned about the speed at which this is being carried out and OSCE leaders frequently voice their concern to representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Meanwhile, there is nothing Moscow can do. During one of his press conferences in Moscow, Smirnov said that in 1999, Russia created problems for itself in undertaking the obligation to withdraw its forces from the Trans-Dniester Republic. When it signed an agreement with Moldova (“bear in mind, that was with Moldova and not with the international community, ” emphasized Smirnov), it clearly stated that Russian forces should be withdrawn simultaneously with the resolution of the so-called Trans-Dniester crisis.
“Then Mr. Yeltsin undertook an obligation in Istanbul, and that is their problem. There is a contradiction at this point. The memorandum clearly states that political decisions cannot be made without our participation,” announced Smirnov.
Speaking about the prospects for resolution of the Trans-Dniester-Moldovan conflict, Smirnov added that the process of integration was hindered by “numerous contradictions.” He stressed that the unwillingness of Moldova to fulfill previous agreements, added to insufficient activity by guarantor countries, including Russia, were the reasons for the length of the negotiation process. Russia still does not want to recognize the Trans-Dniester Republic as an equal party in negotiations. According to Smirnov, “All official relations are maintained only with Moldovan leadership to preserve good relations with them.”
Speaking about the Russian forces stationed on the territory of the Trans-Dniester Republic, Smirnov asserted that they played a primarily psychological role, “Even one soldier is Russia. Nobody will allow us to be trampled down.”
The President of the Trans-Dniester Republic also said that he has not discussed the problem of withdrawal of Russian forces from the republic during his current visit.
Thus, Tiraspol will not let Russia withdraw weapons from its territory and is ready for violent action. The Russian military has announced that it will not remove anything from Moldova by force.
Tiraspol authorities invited the new Moldovan leadership to make a unilateral decision about the unacceptability of withdrawal of Russian forces and armaments from the Trans-Dniester Republic. So far, the stance of Kishinev is not clear. Observers have not ruled out the possibility that, if the Trans-Dniester conflict is resolved and Moldova joins the Russian-Belarussian Union, Kishinev will be able to leave Russian forces on its territory (that is, in the Trans-Dniester Republic) for an indefinite length of time (approximately 20-25 years). Of course, the OSCE will not like this decision.
However, Smirnov considers the possibility of Moldovan integration into the Russian-Belarussian Union as unrealistic at the moment, adding that Moldova owed $2 billion to Western creditors and cannot pursue an independent active policy, particularly one aimed at joining the Russian-Belarussian Union.
Meanwhile, according to Smirnov, the Trans-Dniester Republic is actively promoting such a step. Smirnov emphasized that the Trans-Dniester Republic planned to join the Russian-Belarussian Union as “an equal country,” although the final decision is up to Russia and Belarus.
Thus, the problems of the Trans-Dniester conflict remain, and it is already evident that Moscow will be unable to keep its promise to the OSCE regarding withdrawal of forces from the Trans-Dniester Republic.
However, this is very important for Russian interests, while NATO plans to continue its expansion eastward. In this case, a group of Russian forces in Moldova would be quite appropriate.