The “frozen” Transdniester conflict

Meanwhile, Slavs in Transdniestria took the lead in declaring a “Dnestr Moldavian Republic,” with its capital at Tiraspol, as a part of the Soviet Union.  Igor Smirnov was elected "president" of the Dnester Republic. Fighting broke out in the city of Dubrasary in 1990. Combatants included local militia and Moldovan police, and eventually involved the newly formed Moldovan internal security troops, soldiers of the new Moldovan National Army and Transdniester Guard, volunteers from Romania (with the Moldovans), and Cossack volunteers from Russia (with the Transdniesters). The Russian 14th Army, deployed on the Left Bank, remained officially neutral, but its members sympathized with the Transdniesters and provided them with arms. By June 1992 hundreds had been killed, over a thousand wounded, and at least 100,000 refugees.

Transdniestrian Leader Igor Smirnov; Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, Ambassador Philip Remler, and Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat, leaving the OSCE Mission's office in Bender after a meeting, 21 November 2011. (OSCE/Igor Rotari)

Transdniestrian Leader Igor Smirnov; Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, Ambassador Philip Remler, and Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat, leaving the OSCE Mission's office in Bender after a meeting, 21 November 2011. (OSCE/Igor Rotari)

On June 25 the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania met and agreed on a plan to enforce a ceasefire. The forces of the two sides were to be separated, a peacekeeping force interposed between them, and a (Russia, Moldova, Transdneister) Joint Control Commission established in Bendery. These arrangements have been in place since August 1992. The peacekeepers are mainly Russian troops together with small Moldovan and Transdniester contingents.

Negotiations and OSCE

Hostilities have not resumed. Neither, however, have the numerous rounds of negotiations between the two sides made much progress toward a settlement. Negotiations have been conducted between the Moldovan government and the Transdniestrian authorities, under the joint auspices of Russia and the OSCE, with a Ukrainian representative also present from 1996 onward. (The U.S. and EU joined the process as observers in 2005.) The OSCE mission has played an active role, keeping channels of communication open and attempting to mediate a lasting political settlement between the sides. It has also sought to monitor human rights in all parts of the country, including Transdniestria.

From an early stage Moldovan leaders have accepted that the Transdniester region should be given a special autonomous status within Moldova, including the right to secede in the event that Moldova unites with Romania. A proposal for a special status for Transdniestria was presented in 1993 by the CSCE mission to Moldova and accepted by the Moldovan government, but not by the Transdniestrian authorities.

The OSCE Mission to Moldova

Some limited agreements

Concessions offered by successive Moldovan governments have never been enough to satisfy Transdniester leaders, who seem willing to contemplate only a loose association with Moldova. Agreement has been reached only on the non-use of force (July 1995), some confidence-building measures, and certain practical matters. In June 2001, Smirnov and Voronin met and agreed to dismantle checkpoints, rebuild bridges across the Dniester, and cooperate in the economic field.

OSCE proposal for federation

In 2002, the OSCE Mission proposed a federal solution to settle the Transdniester conflict. Several rounds of negotiations followed between the Moldovan government and Transdniestrian authorities with mediators from the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine.

Moldova federation plan
Ambassador William Hill, Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, hosts a historic meeting of a joint commission which will draft a new constutition for the country, Chisinau, 24 April 2003. (OSCE)

Ambassador William Hill, Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, hosts a historic meeting of a joint commission which will draft a new constutition for the country, Chisinau, 24 April 2003. (OSCE)

A 2003 Moldovan proposal for a Joint Constitutional Commission (JCC) to draft a new constitution within three months was approved by Tiraspol. Despite several months JCC meetings, the agreement to devise a Moldovan federation masked unresolved basic differences between the two sides.  

Russian Kozak plan

As a result, later in 2003, President Voronin turned to Russia and asked it to put forward a proposal for a federation, which was announced as the Kozak plan. (Putin aide Dmitry Kozak was the author of the document.) Transdniester leaders accepted the plan, which envisaged an equal or symetric federation, and dropped their earlier demands for a loose confederation. In the face of U.S. and EU opposition, Voronin turned away from the Russian plan.

2005 Ukrainian initiative

In May 2005, new Ukrainian President Yushchenko proposed a new peace plan to reintegrate Transdniestria into Moldova. Ukraine’s stepped-up involvement was publicly welcomed by both Transdniestrian and Moldovan authorities. A meeting was held in Ukraine attended by Moldovan and Transdniestrian representatives, but nothing followed.

5+2 Negotiating process launched

In October 2005, the EU and U.S. joined the negotiating process as observers. The process thus became the 5+2 format (Moldova, Transdniestria, OSCE, Russia and Ukraine + U.S. and EU).

During mid-2007, media reports asserted that the Voronin government was again engaged in secret bilateral talks on a Transdniestria package deal with Russia outside the 5+2 format.

2008 Voronin-Smirnov meeting

Voronin and Smirnov unexpectedly met on April 11, 2008 for the first time in seven years.

According to official reports, they agreed:

  • To form confidence-building working groups that would propose concrete projects in infrastructure development, road construction, security and disarmament, and in the social, cultural and humanitarian fields
  • On concrete steps to enhance the negotiating process
  • That Moldova would ask the U.S. and EU to cancel their travel bans on Transdniester leaders, and that Transdniestria would cancel its restrictions on the entry and freedom of movement for all Moldovan officials

They did not make any public comments on resumption of the 5+2 negotiating process.

Smirnov reportedly put forward a “Treaty of Friendship Between Moldova and Transnistria” which treated them as equals, and included Moldova’s recognition of Transdniestria’s secession and a Russian military presence. Moldova had previously rejected these points.

Another high-level meeting in 2009

Russian President Medvedev hosted Voronin and Smirnov at a meeting outside of Moscow on March 18, 2009. The three leaders committed themselves to finding a solution to the Transdniestria conflict, but there was no suggestion of any progress in addressing the core issue of the secessionist area’s status.

5+2 Talks resume in 2011
Chişinău Railway Station in the Moldovan capital provides the starting point for the 180km journey to Odessa – which passes through the heart of the Transdniestrian region. The region saw intense fighting in 1992, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, over control of the area mostly situated between the left bank of the Dniestr/Nistru River and the border with Ukraine. (OSCE/Jonathan Perfect)

Chişinău Railway Station in the Moldovan capital provides the starting point for the 180km journey to Odessa – which passes through the heart of the Transdniestrian region. The region saw intense fighting in 1992, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, over control of the area mostly situated between the left bank of the Dniestr/Nistru River and the border with Ukraine. (OSCE/Jonathan Perfect)

The 5+2 Talks resumed in 2011. Five official meetings were held in 2012.  The December 6-7, 2012 OSCE Dublin Ministerial meeting adopted a statement on the negotiations:

  • Welcoming adoption during 2012 of “Principles and Procedures for the Conduct of Negotiations” and "a comprehensive agenda for the negotiating process"
  • Looking forward to advancement of the negotiations on all three baskets of the agreed agenda: socio-economic issues, general legal and humanitarian issues and human rights, and a comprehensive settlement, including institutional, political and security issues;
  • Expressing satisfaction that resumption of work in the “5+2” format has been accompanied by reactivation of the work of expert working groups and direct contacts between the sides, leading to concrete achievements such as resumption of rail freight traffic through the Transdniestrian region 
High level meeting with new leaders in 2012
Ambassador Erwan Fouéré (c), the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the Transdniestrian settlement process, opens the meeting between Moldovan Prime Minister Vladimir Filat (l) and Transdniestrian leader Yevgeny Shevchuk (r), in the presence of the 5+2 representatives on the margins of an OSCE conference on confidence-building measures, Rottach-Egern, Germany, 20 June 2012. (OSCE/Igor Schimbator)

Ambassador Erwan Fouéré (c), the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the Transdniestrian settlement process, opens the meeting between Moldovan Prime Minister Vladimir Filat (l) and Trans-dniestrian leader Yevgeny Shevchuk (r), in the presence of the 5+2 representatives on the margins of an OSCE conference on confidence-building measures, Rottach-Egern, Germany, 20 June 2012. (OSCE/Igor Schimbator)

Another high level meeting, bringing together a new generation of Moldovan and Transdniestrian leaders, took place on the margins of an OSCE conference in Germany in June 2012.

Ukraine OSCE CiO: Transdniestrian settlement process "highest priority"

OSCE 2013 CiO Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara termed the Transdniestrian settlement process his chairmanship's "highest priority." He wanted to include political and security issues on the agenda, as well as meet with Moldovan Prime Minister Filat and Transdniestrian leader Shevchuk on the margins of the 5+2 talks in Lviv in February 2013. But Russia and Tiraspol vetoed any shift from focus on the socio-economic track to political and security issues.  Russia also pressed Shevchuk not to meet with Filat on the margins of the 5+2 meeting.  The meeting broke down over Tiraspol's demands on transportation -- which it termed "freedom of movement" issues -- which actually involved de facto recognition of Transdniestrian separation from Moldova.

This 5+2 meeting in Odessa in May 2013 discusseed freedom of movement and removal of radioactive waste issues.  A protocol decision to dismantle the cableway across the Nistru River was signed, envisaging the removal of the cable car between Rybnitsa and Rezina (two localities on opposite banks of the Nistru River) which had not been used for more than a decade, and posed a safety threat to the people living beneath it.

The 5+2 talks in Vienna in July 2013 discussed freedom of movement, arrangements  for dismantling the Rybnitsa-Rezina cableway, environmental and economic issues, co-operation between law enforcement structures and education.  A draft joint action plan on environmental issues and sustainable use of natural resources was signed. The joint action plan included legislative cooperation, monitoring and issues related to fisheries, and was to be developed by a working group with OSCE support.

Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson for protracted conflicts, Ambassador Andrii Deshchytsia, chairing a 5+2 meeting on the Transdniestrian settlement process in Lviv, 19 February 2013. (OSCE/Sarah Crozier)

Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson for protracted conflicts, Ambassador Andrii Deshchytsia, chairing a 5+2 meeting on the Transdniestrian settlement process in Lviv, 19 February 2013. (OSCE/Sarah Crozier)

The OSCE Chairperson's personal representative on protracted conflicts, Ambassador Andrii Deshchytsia (c) and the chief negotiators in the Transdniestrian settlement process, Eugen Carpov and Nina Shtanski, discuss a protocol on environmental co-operation during 5+2 talks in Vienna, 17 July 2013. (OSCE/Sarah Crozier)

The OSCE Chairperson's personal representative on protracted conflicts, Ambassador Andrii Deshchytsia (c) and the chief negotiators in the Transdniestrian settlement process, Eugen Carpov and Nina Shtanski, discuss a protocol on environmental co-operation during 5+2 talks in Vienna, 17 July 2013. (OSCE/Sarah Crozier)

 

High-level meetings resume in 2013

The OSCE CiO and 5+2 states organized a meeting between Moldovan Prime Minister Leancă and Transdniestrian leader Shevchuk in Tiraspol September 23.  The focus appears to have been on freedom of movement, with the result being resumption of full-scale freight railway service through Transdniestria.

High-level confidence-building conference
Leanca, Shevchuk meet again

OSCE CiO Kozhara. the OSCE Mission to Moldova, and the German government organized a conference in Germany October 29-November 1, 2013 focused on confidence-building, with Moldovan Prime Minister Leanca and Transdniestrian leader Shevchuk heading their respective delegations.  OSCE Mission Head Brush suggested the opening of the Gura Bicului bridge, exchange of television channels, and the Latin-script schools in Transdniestria as possible areas for confidence building.

Senior Moldova official negative on "5+2 format"
Deputy Prime Minister Eugen Caplov (Government of Moldova Website)

Deputy Prime Minister Eugen Caplov (Government of Moldova Website)

Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Eugen Carpov, responsible for policymaking on Moldova's territorial reintegration, told Radio Free Europe in a December 31, 2013 interview that the "5+2" negotiation format "does not bring results."   He did not, however, suggest an alternative approach. 

5+2 talks and confidence-building efforts continue in 2014

A February 2014 5+2 meeting in Vienna produced a protocol decision to remove obstacles to the free movement of permanent residents of the Transdniestian region holding foreign passports.

A 5+2 meeting in Vienna in June 2014 continued to discuss dismantling the Rybnitsa-Rezina cableway, as well as freedom of movement of people, goods and services, the situation of the farmers in the Dubassary region, law-enforcement cooperation, and the situation of Moldova-administered Latin-script schools in Transdniestria.

Jennifer Brush (l), Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, alongside the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the Transdniestrian Settlement Process Ambassador Radojko Bogojević, Freising, 11 June 2014. (OSCE)

Jennifer Brush (l), Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, alongside the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the Transdniestrian Settlement Process Ambassador Radojko Bogojević, Freising, 11 June 2014. (OSCE)

Subsequently, a confidence-building conference was held in Freising (Germany) in June 2014, organized by the OSCE Mission in Moldova with the support of the German government.  Delegations were led by Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Negotiator Eugen Carpov and Transdniestrian Chief Negotiator Nina Shtanski, and included representatives of expert working groups, 5+2 representatives,  German officials, and international experts.  Working groups discussed economic issues, trade and infrastructure; freedom of movement; ecology and environment; and education.

Scanlan becomes new OSCE Head of Mission
The Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, Ambassador Michael Scanlan. (OSCE/Liubomir Turcanu)

The Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, Ambassador Michael Scanlan. (OSCE/Liubomir Turcanu)

Michael Scanlan from the United States became the new OSCE Head of Mission in July 2014.  

Background:
Related Transdniestria settlement issues
Promised Russian withdrawal -- not implemented

Moldova and Russia signed a 1994 agreement on the withdrawal of all Russian forces together with their equipment within three years.  Transdniester representatives, concerned that the agreement would undercut their existence as a Russian entity, walked out of the talks.

At the OSCE Summit in Istanbul in 1999, Russia promised to complete the withdrawal by the end of 2002. Russia did not withdraw its troops as promised. The deadline was then extended. Of the 20,000 troops in the 14th Army (name changed in 1994 to Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova, in short OGRF), about 1,200 still remain.

Moldova has called for Russia to withdraw its "peacekeeping" troops from the region, a demand rejected by Russia. 

Remaining munitions, weapons, vehicles, and equipment
OSCE personnel inspect a train of Russian munitions before their shipment out of Transdniestria, 4 October 2002 (OSCE).

OSCE personnel inspect a train of Russian munitions before their shipment out of Transdniestria, 4 October 2002 (OSCE).

The problems in the Transdniester region involve not just the remaining Russian troops, but also the enormous quantities of old munitions, weapons, vehicles, and equipment still stored in the area. According to the OSCE Mission to Moldova, only about half of the 42,000 tons of ammunition stored in Transdniestria was shipped back to Russia during 2001-2003.  Transdniester leaders have done everything in their power to block the removal or decommissioning of the stores, which they aim to bring under their own control.

Role of EU Border Assistance Mission

A substantial majority of OSCE participating states, in the absence of full consensus, expressed great disappointment that the withdrawal of Russian forces from Transdniestria slowed considerably in 2004. CiO Passy noted at the OSCE ministerial meeting in December 2004 that “most ministers” supported a border and customs monitoring initiative on the Ukrainian border with Moldova (i.e., Transdniestria), to facilitate the often interrupted flow (by the Transdniestrian authorities) of traffic on road and rail lines across this border.

Subsequently. Moldova and Ukraine asked the EU to assist their border and customs services to prevent smuggling, trafficking and customs fraud. A EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) was established in 2005, and consists of about 100 EU police personnel.  

EUBAM staff in the field (EUBAM)

EUBAM staff in the field (EUBAM)

EUBAM has limited enforcement power, is underfunded and too short-staffed to have a significant impact along the 285-mile Transdniestria-Ukraine border. Smuggling tracks, usable by vehicles to carry contraband (mostly tobacco and food products), are visible throughout the often unmarked and porous border areas.

U.S. favors multilateral peacekeepers to replace Russian force

In 2007 the U.S. suggested replacement of the Russian peacekeeping force by a broader more genuine multilateral force, which would also include Russian participation.

Russia claims it has satisfied all its Moldova obligations

Speaking to the media after the Bucharest NATO-Russia Council Meeting in 2008, President Putin asserted that Russia’s obligations in Moldova were limited to scrapping or evacuating heavy weaponry from Transdniestria, that it had fully complied in this, and that this compliance had been internationally verified. He also said that Russia was obligated to withdraw all its forces from Moldova by 2002 (extended to 2003), but was maintaining “peacekeeping” forces there and had transferred part of its heavy weaponry to Transdniestrian forces.

Transdniestria 2011 "presidential" election

 

Over 73 per cent of voters cast their ballots for Yevgeny Shevchuk in a second round run-off poll on December 25, 2011. Shevchuk beat incumbent president Igor Smirnov, who had been in power since Transnistria declared independence in 1990. Moscow was perceived as having shifted its support to Shevchuk, considering him better suited to protect its interests in Transdnistria.  Soon after taking office, President Shevchuk announced that approximately 90% of Transnistria's hard currency accounts had disappeared and may have been been transferred out of the region with the knowledge of former president Smirnov.

Yevgeny Shevchuk (Wikimedia Commona/Public Domain)

Yevgeny Shevchuk (Wikimedia Commona/Public Domain)

Shevchuk expressed his determination to convince international bodies to recognize Transdniester’s statehood and, in addition, cooperate more closely with Russia. He said that Moldova and Ukraine will remain good, stable neighbors, and stressed that he would work with Chisinau to facilitate freedom of movement across Transdniester's borders with Moldova. Shevchuk soon made good on his word, and in January 2012 repealed the 100 percent customs duty on goods imported from Moldova, which was introduced in 2006.

Deadly incident involving Russian peacekeepers

In January 2012 a Moldovan civilian who disregarded warnings to stop while driving across a bridge between Moldovan and Transniestrian communities was shot by Russian peacekeepers and later died of his wounds.  Moldovan officials were critical of the Russian action.

Russian peacekeeping contingent has been deployed in Transnistria since 1992 (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation)

Russian peacekeeping contingent has been deployed in Transnistria since 1992 (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation)

The U.S. and Germany expressed readiness to enage in discussions to demilitarize the area and convert the current peacekeeping force into an OSCE-led one.

Transdniestria sees Russia as its legal model?

According to the Moldovan media, a group of nine Russian officials from the State Duma and scholars visited Tiraspol in February 2013 to take part in a conference called: “Adjustment of local legislation to the Russian one – baseline of the Transnistrian statehood.”

Both Moldova and Transdniestria changing status quo

Moldova says it will set up new "border" posts May 1, 2013 where it meets the breakaway republic of Transdniestria in order to secure the eastern borders of the EU.  Some have interpreted this action as Chisinau's efforts to step up pressure, but whether against the Transdniestrian authorities, Transdniestrians, Russians or the EU is unclear.

Transdniestria has forbidden Moldovan police in the town of Bender, which is in the security zone between the two, to wear their uniforms. 

What Russia will do after a Transdniestria settlement

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said in July 2013 that the issue of Russian weapons can be resolved  and a new format for an international presence can be discussed -- once there is an agreement on Transdniestria's status.

Russia unable to deliver new helicopters to Transdniestria
Moldova opposed, Ukraine defers to Chisinau

Russia's effort to send new helicopters for its "peacekeepers" in Transdniestra, re-opening Tiraspol military airport for the delivery, and eventually reconstructing the airport, was blocked by Moldova in July 2013.  Ukraine has taken the position that it cannot allow the shipment of  Russian military equipment by air or overland to Transdniestria without the consent of Chisinau. 

Moldova view is that Trandniestria should be demilitarized, not re-militarized through the addition of new military equipment.  (Russia had military helicopters in Tiraspol 1992-1998, but they were withdrawn or mothballed at that time.)  Transdniestrian authorities welcome the establishment of a new airport that would make it more indepedenent of Moldova.  Transdniestria has raised the airport issue in the 5+2 talks.

Incidents in security zone

The U.S. Mission to the OSCE noted a "troubling escalation of tension" in February 2014, pointing to the arrest of the principal and two colleagues of one of the eight Moldova-run Latin-script schools operating in Transdniestria, as well as of six Moldovan military observers, both in Parcani village.

"Transdnestr republic" appeals to Russia, the UN and OSCE to recognize its "independence"
Parallel to developments in Ukraine

The "Transdnestr republic" appealed to Russia, the UN and OSCE in April 2014 to recognize its "independence," noting its 2008 "referendum" to join Russia.  In response, Russian President Putin said Trandnestr should be allowd to decide its own fate.  Moldovan Prime Minister Leancu condemned the appeal, emphasizing that it ignores the reality that Transdniestria is part of Moldova.

Earlier, the separatist entity had asked to be included in Russian legislation being drafted to annex Crimea.