Ukrainian Potential in Transnistria Issue

By Serzh Katan

On April 17-18th in Vienna another fall of talks on Transnistria ended successfully. Kishinev and Tiraspol have finally managed to agree on the principles and procedures of negotiation process.

At the end of last year Transnistria faced significant domestic political changes. During the Presidential elections there the victory was gained by the former Speaker of the Parliament of the Separatist Republic Evgheni Şevciuk . He is not observed as the Kremlin’s protégé. This, naturally, doesn’t mean that the republic had a sudden change of foreign political orientation. All political powers and people keep on being strategically oriented at Russia. That is why, as experts consider, disagreements of the candidates for presidency were rather of declarative character. This was in fact proved by Evgheni Şevciuk himself, who after elections declared, that he didn’t plan to change the course of the republic for independence and orientation at Russia.

Nevertheless, at first Tiraspol didn’t get 300 million USD promised by Moscow as aid, as well as grants for development of agriculture, small and medium business.  It was nevertheless painful, that, as it turned out, for the period of power change gold and currency reserves of Transnistrian Republic of Moldova (TRM) somehow reduced thousands times: from 50 million USD to 49 thousand.  Meanwhile, according to Şevciuk, Transnistria needs two billion USD to get out of the crisis. This is a huge unavailable amount. And the situation meanwhile shall aggravate – in economy, social and political spheres. Although two months later the Security Council of the Russian Federation made a decision to grant Transnistria emergency aid in the amount of 150 million USD. And still there is an impression that the spirits of the TRM people change to some extent although not that sufficiently yet.

> Transnistria map
In this situation an important role can be given to the neighboring Ukraine which by the way divides the TRM and Russia geographically. First of all involvement of Kiev in stabilization of the situation in the region is obvious. It’s enough to say that not far from Ukrainian border in the village Kolbasna there is an arsenal stock of former Russian 14th army. By various data now it contains from 20 to 25 thousand tons of various ammunition, including missiles for multiple launch rocket system “Uragan” (Hurricane). Their effective radius covers 40 km which is enough to reach by-border Ukrainian villages. Further, through Transnistria-Moldovan part of Ukrainian border flows a great amount of smuggling and illegal migration, normal transit system is being violated.

Lately in Moldova they have observed a pretty noticeable process of Romanization – in Kishinev from time to time they claim not only about joining of Moldova to the European Union, but also about becoming a part of Romania. Election as the President of the country of the supporter of such choice Nicolae Timofti doubts its sovereignty in a mid-term prospect. Considering existence of Bucharest’s territorial claims towards Ukraine, such development of the events can only aggravate the situation. That is why it would be quite preferable for Kiev for the union of Transnistria and Moldova to come true, by this, naturally, peacefully. Then more than 400 thousand Transnistria voters shall be able to turn the way in favor of preservation of independence of the single country. Moreover acceptable form of such country is called a Federation with broad authorities of Transnistria.

Many analysts think that the situation can extremely seriously affect Ukrainian-Russian relations. Due to small distance between the region and Romania which is the NATO member and has four military bases of the USA, Transnistria has once again become the focus object of Russia. And if yet recently it seemed that the Kremlin’s attitude towards the TRM is almost neutral and Moscow shall only be happy to get rid of the responsibility for the peace on Dniester, then now it’s line has changed.

Literally in a few days after the end of domestic political crisis in Moldova, related with the election of the President of this country, the Kremlin appoints the vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin as a special representative for Transnistria. This step was negatively perceived in Moldova and West. In Kishinev for example some people thought that the appointment of a special representative on Transnistria is nothing else but establishment of foreign control over the part of sovereign territory of the Republic of Moldova, i.e. direct threat towards its statehood.

In Ukraine they also weren’t especially happy about this appointment of the Kremlin. It’s understandable: many people perfectly remember the declaration of Rogozin in 2003 – “Tuzla is ours, as well as Sevastopol”.  In Ukrainian and western Mass Media they paid attention that Moscow still had to consider the reaction on the appointment of Dmitry Rogozin and to cool down a bit its imperial intensions.

The fact that D. Rogozin become the predecessor of the Defense Minister Anatolij Serdiukov at Dniester, probably, was at all unexpected. By this Serdiukov decided to visit Moldova, which is called “from the rear” and requested from Ukraine an approval for his helicopter flight from Odessa to Transnistria, as well as convoy by half of troop of submachine gunners. But Ukrainian Defense Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs cooled down a bit the eagerness of the Russian official, having suggested crossing the border by car and without armed security.

It is not accidentally that during the visit of the special representative Rogozin to the region in Romania and Ukraine they started talking about the intentions of Russia, following the example of Kaliningrad region, to establish in Transnistria operative-tactic missile complex “Iskander”. A bit later a source close to the President in Moscow reported that in reply for American Missile Defense System in Europe and as a counter to mentioned NATO bases in Romania, Moscow can allocate in Tiraspol radio detection and ranging equipment “Voronezh”.

Rogozin himself hurried to refute these messages, referring to that Russian military establishment took the course at construction of such stations exclusively within Russian territory. At the same time he expressed an opinion that if Moldova unites with Romania, then Transnistria can become a part of Russia. This allows suggesting that in this case it can become the territory on which they’ll be able to locate not only RDRE but also whatever they wish. In particular there are suspicions that Russia wants to have a real military base in Transnistria instead of current operative group of troops, comprising totally one and a half thousand military men. Referring to “leaks” from Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, information occurred about alleged real plans of evacuation of military storehouses from Transnistria. By this the process should start not later than at the end of 2012. It is underlined that evacuation of Russian weapon and ammunition from the region shall assist more rapid Transnistrian conflict regulation. Another one of the most significant prerequisites for “reconciliation of the two banks of Dniester is the consensus between Russia and West regarding establishment of security system in the Black Sea region”.

Russia after the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin not only doesn’t intend to give up the “Transnistria issue” without fighting but also tries to turn it into one of bargaining chips within its dialogue with the EU and the USA regarding regional security system in Europe. And let the case be not about allocating of Russian “Iskanders” in Transnistria as a counter to the European Missile Defense System in Romania, the smoldering conflict in this region shall remain to be one of the key factors of holding Moldova and partially Ukraine in the area of Russia’s influence.

Except for that, one shouldn’t forget also about integrational compound of Russian expansion. One of Moscow’s objectives is to engage not only Ukraine, but also Moldova into the Eurasian Union. Obviously that in this case corresponding pressure on Ukraine shall increase significantly.

According to expert evaluations, at the moment Russia has no urgent resources for guaranteed promotion of the unifying project on Transnistria issue. Moreover, it can be hardly expected that soon Russia shall evacuate its ammunition from Transnistria or that some sufficient progress shall be reached in the negotiation process on definition of Transnistria status. At the same time, pretty real can become more severe attempts of Russia to confront approach between Moldova and the EU up to blackmailing regarding the readiness of Moscow to “understand the unwillingness of Transnistrians to get back under the jurisdiction of Kishinev”.

In general, this is a responsible moment for Kiev. It already can’t ignore Transnistria issue and should search the mechanisms to solve it. Otherwise, the country can be involved into a serious conflict with grave consequences for it.

We can’t naturally say that Ukrainian authorities didn’t deal with it earlier. In 2005 Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko joined then interrupted negotiation process between Kishinev and Tiraspol and suggested a plan, anticipating involvement into the talks together with Ukraine also Russia and the OSCE, as well as the European Union and the USA. In this respect the only international law entity should have been Moldova. Transnistria would possess a special autonomous status in the form of the republic within its borders, with own constitution, symbols, three official languages – Moldovan, Ukrainian and Russian, as well as the right to establish foreign contacts in economic and humanitarian spheres and participate in  any foreign political activity of Kishinev, concerning Transnistria interests. The autonomy also could withdraw from Moldova in case of unification with another state.

Ukrainian plan was approved by the EU, USA and NATO. Moldova supported it with few exceptions as it didn’t suggest withdrawal of Russian military contingent. The Head of Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry Sergey Lavrov declared about his readiness to work on this plan. And even then Leader of Transnistria Igor Smirnov after the meeting with Ukrainian President in Kiev supported these suggestions. Moreover, then they published a sensational joint declaration of the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine. They called to transform the peacekeeping operation into “peace-guaranteeing” operation under the aegis of the OSCE. It was suggested to set legally the special status of Transnistria on the ground of sovereignty and Moldovan state territorial integrity observance, and also to create conditions for transparent and democratic election into the TRM Parliament with the participation of international community.

But these intentions were not meant to come true. And another step was made already by the President Victor Yanukovych. In May 2010 together with Dmitry Medvedev he made a statement on Transnistria, in which they said, that reformatting of the mission of peacekeeping forces may take place after complete conflict regulation. And before that the President guaranteed coordination of all activities regarding negotiation process. On this occasion the Head of the Committee of the Supreme Council on Foreign Affairs Oleg Bilorus from the block of Yulia Timoshenko stated that allegedly as a result of secret agreements between Medvedev and Yanukovych the TRM can join Ukraine, and Moldova shall get back into the influence area of Russia. By the way in a year and a half the mentioned ex-leader of separatists Igor Smirnov reminded that Transnistria was historically the territory of Ukraine, as it had been the autonomy of the UkrSSR during 16 years, and called to hold a corresponding referendum. But Kiev always stated that Transnistria is a part of the Republic of Moldova and should get back under the control of Kishinev. By this it appeared that the possibility of TRM joining wasn’t considered as it could provoke the process of borders review and damage Ukraine itself.

And now Kiev again attempts to enter the game, intending by this to intercept the initiative from Moscow. In the beginning of this year, Victor Yanukovych and the acting President of Moldova Marian Lupu held a meeting in Kiev, after which, unconventionally, no press conference was arranged. Moreover, the press-services of the Heads of the states didn’t announce official messages on the results of the talks.

In general the visit was mainly unusual: as the administration of Yanukovych reported, “the Presidents appointed a meeting on their own during phone conversation”. By this there even was no obligatory protocol of meeting of the guest with his formal colleague – the Chairman of the Supreme Council Vladimir Litvin.

And on January 27th in Odessa under the initiative and by assistance of Ukraine there was held a meeting of the Prime Minister of Moldova Filat with the newly-elected leader of Transnistria Şevciuk , the first one within the frameworks of a top-level dialogue between the two banks of Dniester after the  election of the new Head of Transnistria. Also Foreign Affairs Minister of Ukraine Konstantin Grishchenko met its participants.  Official representative of Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry called the event a “breakthrough within the dialogue between Moldova and Transnistria, achieved due to the efforts of Ukrainian diplomacy”.

At the same time quite a noticeable statement was made: “Starting from January 1st 2013 the OSCE shall be chaired by Ukraine and we have serious grounds to be optimistic, that Ukraine by the start of its chairmanship shall make such a significant present for Europe and the world, and really shall achieve if not complete regulation of Transnistria crisis, then at least we shall come out to the track that will lead to its regulation”.

Thus as now it is quite difficult for Russia to block someone else’s initiative on Transnistria, Ukraine is able to demonstrate that it possesses certain potential.

We can expect that now, when the heat within Russian-Ukrainian confrontation has almost reached the critical point, Kiev shall try to use this factor.

Profile: the Transnistria Republic of Moldova (TRM) is the biggest in population quantity formation among self-proclaimed within post-soviet area. Its population comprises about 530 thousand people, 150 thousand of which are the citizens of the Russian Federation. During the years of post-soviet existence this territory has been in a complicated situation: political non-recognition by international community, laying-off of big factories, economic and transport blocking, intensive reduction of working-age population.