Friday, April 24, 2009

Time for a peace dividend

In this post I want to present some new thinking with respect to Transnistria. With right-bank Moldova in crisis, it may seem an odd time to be raising this subject.

Actually not. The events in Chisinau are inextricably linked to the issues of identity that stand at the heart of the Transnistrian dispute. Furthermore, all parties to the dispute (including Russia) are staring into the abyss of economic collapse. A good settlement would bring a considerable economic dividend in the form of reduced military spending and increased foreign investment.

Any settlement must consider the interests and 'red-lines' of each party. In the case of Moldova, the red-lines are that Transnistria must remain attached to Moldova under international law, that the 'Moldovan' identity of the state be preserved, that the rights of Moldovans living on the left bank be respected, that Russian forces should withdraw and that Transnistria shouldn't have undue influence in Moldova's democratic processes. For the Transnistrians the red lines are the 'Russian' identity of their region, international recognition of their political entity, security from attack by Moldova and continuation of their self-government. Russia is of course interested in maintaining Transnistria as a forward military base in Europe, but is also interested in improving its image and in reducing military spending.

The starting point for my proposed settlement are the channel islands, which lie off the coast of Normandy, France. These have never formally been part of the United Kingdom, although they are possessions of the British crown. They have their own constitutions and governments, are not represented in the British parliament and are not even part of the European Union. They do, however, rely on the United Kingdom in their relationships with the outside world. Note also that Hong Kong and mainland China have a very similar relationship.

Transnistria could enjoy a similar status, being a 'possession' of the Republic of Moldova rather than being part of it. It could be entirely self-governing, having its own basic law & political systems and managing its own borders. Its citizens would be free to enter Moldova proper, and Moldovans would be free to enter Transnistria. A neutrality provision would be written into the basic law, requiring the withdrawal of all foreign forces. Transnistria, could, however maintain its own self-defence forces under a treaty with Moldova governing force levels.

The President of Moldova would be Transnistria's nominal head of state, although Transnistrians would not participate in the right-bank's political processes. Moldova would represent Transnistria diplomatically and in all forms of relationship with the outside world, under instruction from the Transnistrian authorities.

A council made of of representatives from both entities would meet regularly to communicate and overcome difficulties, as well as seeking ways to deepen cooperation to mutual benefit. Both entities would commit to observing the provisions of the Copenhagen convention on minority rights.

The buffer zone between Moldova & Transnistria would be disestablished as would the Joint Control Commission. The border would be tidied up to make incidents less likely - Moldovan villages on the left bank would be transferred to Transnistria in return for the municipality of Tighina (Bender). The Nistru would become the border.

People on both banks would carry Moldovan passports, although there would be different classes of citizenship for each entity, which could be considered differentially by foreign states.

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