Thursday, March 27, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Is Moscow Preparing a Grand Compromise for Moldova?

Paul Goble

Baku, March 28 – A Russian news weekly reports that some in Moscow are considering a “two-step” plan that would leave Moldova in its current borders but link it far more closely to the Russian Federation than it has been in recent years, while distancing Chisinau from the West.
According to the issue of Argumenty nedeli published yesterday, the plan would involve the following steps: “First Russia jointly with Moldova would take up the regulation of the [Transdniestria] conflict, by helping the Moldovan President V[ladimir] Voronin replace the current head of Transdniestria I[van] Smirnov.”
Then, Chisinau and Moscow would “replace him with a younger pro-Russian leader. And at a second stage, the young leader of Transdniestria would become the president of a unified Moldova” (
Rumors have linked this plan to Russian nationalist Duma deputy Konstantin Zatulin. Argumenty nedeli interviewed him, and while he refused to confirm or deny the existence of this plan, his comments about how he and others in Moscow view the situation in Moldova suggest the plan or something like it is very much under discussion.
Zatulin pointed out that the recent Duma declaration on the unrecognized states makes no mention of “a new course” for Transdniestria. “And this is completely appropriate,” he said, because that territory is very different “from the two other republics” in terms of its relationship with Russia.
In thinking about Transdniestria, he continued, Moscow must consider the position of Ukraine, which is located between the Russian Federation and Moldova, and the “nightmare” scenario in which Russian support for Transdniestria might lead Moldova to join Romania and Transdniestria to become part of Ukraine.
Moldovan President Voronin clearly does not want that to happen, Zatulin said. He knows that he would never make a career there. And consequently, Moscow is prepared to help him “in the resolution of the Transdniestria problem” under certain conditions.
Those conditions, the Duma deputy said, involve a compromise, “one that consists not in Moldova declaring that it will not join NATO or leave GUAM” but rather that Chisinau will be prepared “to establish a confederation” in Moldova. In that event, Moscow is ready to help.
Nothing that Zatulin said proves that the rumored plan is anything more than a subject for discussion, one of many ideas that some officials are considering but that will never see the light of day. But both the rumors and his remarks have three important lessons for everyone concerned.
First, the changeover from Putin to Medvedev in Moscow almost certainly is generating policy reviews on a wide variety of questions, including what to do about such neuralgic issues as the “unrecognized” states. Debates about that, at least behind closed doors, are not simply in response to Western recognition of Kosovo.
Second, Zatulin’s words highlight the fact that Moscow views each of the four “unrecognized” as unique. The Duma talked about the two within Georgia; it did not mention either Nagorno-Karabakh or, as Zatulin himself pointed out, Transdniestria. Thus assuming Moscow will adopt a common approach is almost certainly wrong.
And third – and this may prove to be the most interesting aspect of all – Zatulin’s comments about Moldova suggest what Moscow wants may be both more and less than it has said, an opening for other powers to explore if they are genuinely committed to the principle of the territorial integrity of Moldova and the other countries in this region.

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