The Russian president’s visit to Kishinev where Putin planned to sign a memorandum on the settlement of the Trans-Dniester conflict did not take place. Dmitry Kozak, First Deputy Secretary of the Presidential Administration, thinks that this is the fault of the Moldavian government.

He stated: “The document was approved and initialed; the conflicting sides submitted 15 proposals, and we managed to find a compromise.” Dmitry Kozak said that the Moldavian government “unilaterally refused to sign the document on Monday evening”.

Mr. Kozak said: “This may hinder the process of negotiations.” He noted that he feels sorry for this situation.

When asked why Moldavia refused to sign this document, Mr. Kozak said that the Moldavian government probably lacks political courage, and does not want to open a dialogue, fearing the opposition’s criticism.

The Russian representative noted: “I am sure that it is possible to establish a sound dialogue with the opposition, my meetings with representatives of the opposition showed that a dialogue with political leaders and the population may bear fruits but the Moldavian leadership does not want to do this.”

In the meantime, Moldavian President Vladimir Voronin stated on Tuesday that the republican leadership considers it untimely to sign Russia’s memorandum; Moldavia wants to discuss this document with European structures. It should be noted that Moldavia refused to sign the memorandum because of these European structures. The OSCE mission in Kishinev stated that “members of the OSCE have not reached an agreement regard the plan of settlement of the Trans-Dniester conflict submitted by Russia”. In other words, the West rejected Moscow’s initiatives.

As is known, the plan was designed by the Russian Foreign Ministry and sent to both conflicting sides. The draft memorandum on fundamental principles of the state structure of the union regulates the character of relations between different Moldavian regions. The plan is aimed at creating an asymmetric federation, including the Trans-Dniester territory and Gagauzia. Dmitry Kozak commented on the memorandum as follows: “The construction, which we propose, is ideal.” According to him, the memorandum “must become an instruction for a commission, which will prepare the constitution, if the presidents and parliaments of the Trans-Dniester territory and Moldavia approve of this document”. The conception of reconciliation of the Trans-Dniester territory and Moldavia is aimed at organizing a referendum on the constitution in October 2004 and holding presidential and parliamentary elections in 2005.

It should be noted that the memorandum is aimed at demilitarizing the prospective union. Dmitry Kozak stated that both Kishinev and Tiraspol approved of this plan. The union will only have law enforcement agencies. Mr. Kozak also noted that government officials will be appointed only if all federation subjects support them. Representatives of the Moldavian and Trans-Dniester leaderships met last Thursday to discuss the provisions of this plan. Sources say that the conflicting sides reached an agreement regarding 93 out of 102 positions of this document.

It seemed that process of settlement of the Trans-Dniester conflict moved off dead center. However, there are many stumbling blocks. One of these concerns the presence of Russian troops in Moldavia. Kishinev has been trying to oust Russia’s 40th army from the Trans-Dniester territory for a long time. This process must end in 2003. However, Tiraspol suspended the withdrawal of Russian weapons and ammunition in summer, motivating its decision by the fact that Russia failed to meet its financial obligations (Moscow had to write off $100 million debt for Russian gas supplied to the Trans-Dniester territory). NO one knows the actual reasons of that decision. However, it is evident that the 40th army is the only factor, which does not let Moldavia seize the Trans-Dniester territory.

Russia is prepared to leave Moldavia if it manages to settle the Trans-Dniester conflict using political tools. The withdrawal of Russian weapons resumed last week. Igor Smirnov, leader of the Trans-Dniester territory, stated that he will sign Russia’s memorandum.

As is seen, the settlement of the Trans-Dniester problem has again been postponed. Moscow remains the main player in this game. The West does not like this. This is why the memorandum on the settlement of the Trans-Dniester conflict has not been signed yet.