Friday, October 9, 2009

Russia on the defensive

Vlad Filat and Iurie Leanca have quietly but firmly demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Transnistria and their replacement with an international civilian peacekeeping force.  The AIE's position on this is supported by the EU and the US and also by the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which prohibits the disposition of Russian forces in the region.

This stance has pushed the Russians into a corner.  They know that there is no legitimate reason to refuse the AIE's request.  Russian 'peacekeeping' has proven to be a sham, as all too evident from the conflict in Georgia, and it would therefore be positive for the peace process if Russian military forces were replaced by an impartial group of peacekeepers.

On the other hand, the Russians also understand that the introduction of truly neutral peacekeepers will be the beginning of the end for Transnistria.  As the basis for the conflict is artificial, the entity will quickly disintegrate once information starts flowing freely across the Prut and the disinformation of the last 18 years is counter-balanced.

And so Russia is trying to wiggle its way out.  Lavrov made a statement yesterday that the Russian peacekeepers couldn't leave until the conflict was settled.  Wrong.  First of all, it is not as if there won't be peacekeepers on the ground; they'll just be wearing different helmets.  Secondly, the partial Russian presence is actually a hindrance to settlement of the conflict; the conflict can't be settled until they are gone.

Lavrov went on to say that the destruction of arms at Colbasna was stopped because Chisinau refused to sign the Kozak memorandum in 2003.  I don't see the link here.  The arms dump is a threat to all the peoples of the region - Moldovan, Russian or Ukrainian, and needs to be dealt with whether or not there is a settlement in Transnistria.

Russia seems to be trying to dodge responsibility for the Transnistrian conflict by putting the blame on Chisinau for not signing Kozak.  The Western powers won't buy this, of course, as it was at their urging that Voronin refrained from signing the agreement in the first place.

The good news is that a win-win outcome could be possible, which would allow Russia to save face and Moldova to reintegrate without compromising its sovereignty.

The main problem with the Kozak memorandum was that it envisaged Moldova being a confederation of two sovereign states.  This meant that Transnistria could secede at will and that Moscow could use the threat of secession ad-infinitum to get its way in Moldova.  If Moscow was to back down and allow Moldova to insetad be a 'federation' in which Transnistria doesn't have sovereignty (but is a subject like Gagauzia), then the problem goes away.  As a consolation Transnistria could be given the right to secede in the specific event of Moldova losing its status as a subject of international law (i.e. reunion with Romania), and Moscow could appear to gain a small victory

The Transnistrians won't like it, as they would come back under the control and jurisdiction of the national authorities in Chisinau.  For a Russia anxious to save some money and improve their standing in the world, however, it could be tempting.

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