After years of deadlock year 2008 showed some promising signs of progress with dispute between Moldova and Transdnistria/Pridnestrovie – its separatist region or independent state depending of viewpoint. After a 7-year long pause the leaders of Moldova and Transdnistria met on April 2008, conflict in Georgia launched new process while Russia took a stronger role as mediator. The culmination of year was meeting between President Voronin/Moldova and President Smirnov/Transdnistria on Xmas week.
In 1992 Moldova and Transdnistria fought a brief, bitter war which the separatists won, with the assistance of a contingent of locally-based Russian troops left over from the Soviet Red Army. Cease fire left Russian troops in place as peacekeepers and Transdnistria has since then acted de facto as independent – although not recognized – state.
Conflict was frozen nearly ten years, then started first serious try to find sustainable solution. In the Spring 2003 Dimitry Kozakin – a special envoy of Russian President Putin – started to broke deal between local stakeholders. His plan known as “Kozak plan” was ready and preliminary agreed to sign on November 2003 but western powers put some pressure towards Moldova and everything was by President Voronin’s rejection.
2004-2008 “outsiders” like U.S., EU, OSCE as well Ukraine and Russia made some attempts to launch new negotiation process but without success. (More in my article “…numbergame …”.)
The mediators and observers in the so called “5+2” process – Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE, the EU, and the US – continue to call regularly for resumption of the negotiations. However, a full-scale negotiating round scheduled for October 7-8 in Vienna failed to materialize.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brokered a one on one meeting between Voronin and Smirnov in April 2008; the two had not met in person since August 2001. Shortly after his Sochi conversation with Voronin, Medvedev also received Smirnov.
Kozak plan was still on the background but Transdnistria stresses that at present Transdnistria sees the improving of the relations with Moldova within the Treaty “On Friendship and Cooperation between the Republic of Moldova and the Transdnistrian Moldovan Republic” as two international legal entities. The treaty was proposed at the April meeting.
As events in Kosovo and Georgia developed in 2008, Moldova took more moderate position as e.g. Georgia. Moldova did not recognize Kosovo, declared itself a neutral country and announced that it had no need to seek NATO membership. Russia from its side has not recognized Transdnistrian independence.
Before Xmas meeting President Voronin said that the most essential questions for the present moment were: to resume talks in the 5+2 format, to set in motion the work of the Moldovan and Transdnistrian expert groups and to create proper conditions for a free movement of people, goods and capitals.
President Voronin asked his Transdnistrian colleague to set a date for talks in the said format, but Smirnov refused to, saying that there are yet many problems that need to be solved prior to that. In his turn, Vladimir Voronin remarked that the negotiations are necessary for “reintegration and reunification of the country, and this is our chief task“, on which Smirnov agreed that “really, this is your task… As for me, I am fulfilling the will the Transnistrian people spoke out at the 2006 referendum on Transnistria’s independence… We have never been a part of your country“.
Transdnistrian leader Smirnov offered Moldovan President Voronin to fix legislatively a status for Russian peacekeepers, who he believes should remain in the conflict zone until the conflict has been finally settled.
Voronin and Smirnov nevertheless proceeded with their conversation, but they were unable to agree upon the 5+2 negotiations resumption. However they reached an agreement on continuing consultations on Transdnistrian conflict settlement in a format of 2+1 – between Moldova, Transnistria and Russia. The two officials have agreed to meet next in March 2009 and some expert groups are trying to solve minor and technical questions. (Source INFOTAG and MOLDPRES, Dec. 24.)
The bottom line in my view anyway is that there has been gradual progress with meetings of local stakeholders – without talks it hard to agree anything. Some other topics are also worth to watch for in 2009:
- In western media there has been exaggeration of Russian military presence in Transdnistria. However Russian troops now stationed in the Transdnistrian region (around 1400) is no match in military terms for either the Moldovan or the Transdnistrian armed forces. Including their armies, special forces, militia, interior ministry and security troops, both Chisinau and Tiraspol can muster between 12000 to 18000 men under arms. So Moscow will probably use political not military means for finding solution to this frozen conflict.
- It will be seen this year if the “Kozak plan” still is valid for further examination, if yes, it will consolidate Moldova’s neutral position as the plan included the change of the Moldovan state’s structure – creation of the federation where Transdnistria and Gagauzia would be granted extensive rights including the right to block the undesirable bills.
- Moldova will have general elections on Spring 2009 so of course it is possible that the state can take new course e.g. towards Western Powers. In that case Russia might be more inclined to formally recognize Pridnestrovie’s separation from Moldova.