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Background Briefing Enroute to Moldova

Presenter: Department of Defense Official
June 26, 2004
            Briefer: I don't know how much you know about the country itself so I'll just give you a few factoids.

 

            It's a small country, 4.5 million people roughly. By most standards, the poorest country in Europe. They don't have much of a defense establishment, about 7,000 to 8,000 troops. The importance for us is Maldova now with the accession of the new NATO members is a borderline state. It's on the border between Romania and Ukraine. So it's a frontier state and it's a state where there's an unresolved conflict in the Trans-Dniestrian region. So it's of concern to us.

 

            First of all let me say they participated in Iraq, they had the demining unit and some other forces there until March of '04, and they're contemplating now, in fact they're actually planning positively to send another contingent to Iraq, so we have to thank them for that.

 

            We also want to discuss with them issues of security, stability. As I said, being a borderline state between NATO and the rest of the states of the former Soviet Union we're concerned about stability on NATO's borders.

 

            They participate in the NATO Partnership for Peace program. They're quite active in peacekeeping exercises. In fact the most developed battalion in the military is a peacekeeping battalion. Many of the officers in this battalion have had some training in the U.S. at various staff colleges, et cetera.

 

            The Maldovan constitution professes a foreign policy status of permanent neutrality, so they're a PFP member but they have no particular aspirations to ever be a NATO member, so it's a bit of a buffer state in between NATO and the rest of the states of the former Soviet Union.

 

            A couple of words -- First of all this conflict in Trans-Dniestrian, and I have a map up front if you want to take a look at it, stems from the days of the collapse of the Soviet Union. On the eastern side of the Dniester River, you have a strip basically the length of Maldova between Maldova and Ukraine that's populated by Slavs-- Ukrainians and Russians predominantly. The rest of Maldova to the rest of the Dniester River and bordering Romania is predominantly I think 65 percent ethnic Romanian. They're Maldovans but it's an ethnic Romanian stock.

 

            So we've had this since about '90, the Dniester region declared themselves a separate republic, even around the time the Soviet Union was starting to crumble. It's been a separatist region ever since. There was some fighting there in '90, '91. A ceasefire was brokered in '92 east of the river. There's a multi, a five-sided group that's working to try and negotiate settlements in this conflict. It includes the OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, Maldova and Trans-Dniestria. This is the separatist region -- the Dniester River, Maldova, and this is the separatist region here.

 

            This five-sided negotiating group made a number of proposals. The primary sticking point seems to be all sides agree that some sort of federated or federative status would be proper. The Trans-Dniestrians want like a co-equal federation. The Maldovans want what they call an asymmetric federation which means they have a few more rights than the separatist region. That's sort of hung up in negotiations.

 

            In November of last year the Russians worked a separate negotiated settlement directly with the Maldovans and at the 11th hour it fell through. I guess President Veronin from Maldova decided not to sign it. It slightly changed the complexion of the negotiations. Now seeing how that fell through there seems to be a bit of an impasse.

 

            There are parliamentary elections in Maldova in February '05 and the conventional wisdom now among analysts is that there will be no movement on this negotiated settlement until at least several months after the elections.

 

            The way the Maldovi government works, it's a parliamentary presidency, I guess. The parliament is elected directly and then the parliament elects the president. So right now it's a unicameral legislature. There's 101 seats. Seventy of them are members of the communist party of Maldova who elected President Veronin who is also of the communist party of Maldova. So depending on the elections in February of '05, we'll see what direction the government takes and what direction the settlement might take.

 

            There are about 1400-some-odd Russian forces in Trans-Dniestria. As part of the final summit declaration of the OSCE -- incidentally in Istanbul in 1999 they held a summit. Russia agreed to withdraw forces from Maldova and Georgia. Precisely, they agreed to take out forces and armaments. They successfully withdrew all items limited by the CFE Treaty -- heavy equipment, tanks, personnel carriers -- by the deadline which was December '01. The troops were to, according to the declaration from 1999, were to have been withdrawn by December '02. The Russians missed that deadline. A subsequent OSCE summit at Porto in '02 extended the deadline until December '03. The Russians have also missed this deadline. They've gone on record as saying that because of the unrest they believe if they withdraw their troops it would quickly, the situation would deteriorate to civil war. There's also a very large ammunition dump in Trans-Dniestria, and the Russians say they need their forces there to guard this ammunition dump. They had been taking the -- over 40 tons of ammunition. They had been taking some of it back to Russia, but that process is halted.

           

            Q:        [inaudible]?

 

            A:         I don't know if it's on the map here. It's in a city called [Kolbasnicz], it's the northern part of Trans-Dniestria.

           

            Q:        [inaudible]?

 

            A:         Over 40 tons of ammunition still remains there, thereabouts.

           

            Q:        All treaty-limited equipment has been taken out, but it's my understanding that not all [inaudible].

 

            A:         I'll check that, but our understanding is --

           

            Q:        [inaudible] forces which it's a bit of a gray area.

           

            Q:        First of all the Russians also claim they want these troops in to protect the Slavs. The Slavs who are in there against unrest, the Russians and the --

 

            A:         It's plausible, Charlie. I haven't heard that claim myself, but --

           

            Q:        Does the United States want those troops out?

 

            A:         We believe that these commitments are binding. Russia made them, and they should honor their commitments.

 

            Now where this affects current policy, we have negotiated an adaptation for the CFE Treaty. The U.S. position is we're not prepared to press for ratification of this adapted CFE Treaty until the commitments made at Istanbul in '99 are met.

           

            Q:        On the nature of the authority in Trans-Dniestria. It's not the case that half the Russian 14th Army turns itself into a Trans-Dniestrian army. The elite's in Trans-Dniestria are mostly ethnic Russians from Russia who went there I guess as the Soviet Union broke up to basically retain the place as a Russian-run entity.

 

            A:         I think he's correct about the elites. They're largely Slavic. The President, the so-called President of Trans-Dniestria, Smirnov, is a Russian. As far as the 14th Army becoming the Trans-Dniestrian Army, I think there is a large percentage. I couldn't tell you what percentage, but you [inaudible] Russian ethnic area, and it has been for quite some time, so a lot of those forces, and I'm just speculating, could very well have been Trans-Dniestrian even though they're ethnic Slavs and they were serving in the 14th Army. But yeah, when the Soviet Union broke up the 14th Army was there and many of them have stayed.

           

            Q:        Can you clarify, you've talked about an agreement and I didn't quite get when that agreement was made and between who?

 

            A:         As far as with [inaudible] forces? At the OSCE summit at Istanbul in 1999 the final summit declaration cites, I'll give you the language. "All OSCE member states welcome the commitment of the Russian Federation to completely withdrawal of Russian forces from the territory of Maldova by the end of 2002. So all the OSCE heads, I think it was heads of state, signed on to that final statement at the end of the meeting.

           

            Q:        Did the Russians [inaudible] to the OSCE or to Maldova?

 

            A:         I think the Russians and Maldovans made a joint statement at the OSCE summit and the OSCE recognized [inaudible] and became part of the summit proceedings. But I'll check on that.

           

            Q:        Is the United States in agreement that this is kind of a tinderbox, that there is a lot of instability [inaudible]?

 

            A:         It's unstable. It's an unstable situation, we recognize that. Now how unstable, I mean the ceasefire has largely held for 10 to 12 years now, but the seeds of unrest were there and it could rapidly deteriorate without some sort of political settlement. So we recognize that it's inherently unstable. We believe there needs to be a [inaudible] resolution for the whole issue of the separatist region.

 

            In all of these sort of ungoverned areas, and there are several of them throughout the territory of the former Soviet Union, the fact that they're ungoverned gives rise to corruption movement across borders of people, weapons, potential WMD threats. So we recognize in this instability, there's threats beyond say internal civil war related threats, but threats to the wider region.

 

            I mean Ukraine bordering as it does on Maldova or on Trans-Dniestria, there are difficulties along the border there with movement back and forth. So as a general rule, any ungoverned area like this is a potential threat not only locally but to the wider region.

           

            Q:        A lot of complaints that the Russians are getting an undue share of the influence in terms of a settlement of all of this issue and that the opposition in Maldova is much more pro-trans-Atlantic, pro-Western European oriented, but they're being sort of rolled over by the Russians. But with American compliance in that there really isn't a Western or an American negotiating partner. It's OSCE of which Russia is a member. Russia gets [inaudible] by consensus. Then Russia itself, then Ukraine which is very pro-Russian. Romania is not involved, and Romania should be involved. And people will argue that the danger here is that this place on the border of NATO now possibly going to be the EU, could become a Russian satellite.

 

            Is the Secretary going there in any way a message to the Russians that this place is now important to the United States, and that we're not prepared, the United States is not prepared to see undue Russian influence?

 

            A:         I wouldn't phrase it like that. First of all you're right, there is the five-sided group that works on the negotiations. At the same time the President of Maldova, Veronin, drafted a peace instability, stability pads that he publicly released on the first of June, I think, and he asked for five different sides. In this case U.S., Russia, EU, Ukraine and Romania, to sign on to some sort of agreement to promote the stability of a reintegrated Maldova.

 

            We're reviewing this pact. We find that it's [inaudible] some different sides to the agreement. As of now the official negotiating group is still that five-sided group.

 

            The fact that we're coming here to Maldova, it's first and foremost to encourage them to participate fully in the Partnership for Peace program which we believe is a stabilizing influence throughout the region; to encourage them to continue along the path of defense reform; and to thank them for participation in Iraq and other international efforts.

           

            Q:        Follow on [inaudible] contribution [inaudible]?

 

            A:         The head of the OSCE mission in Maldova is Bill Hill, a U.S. diplomat. So we do have a fairly direct line into the OSCE. We don't have to go through too many channels to discuss things with him.

           

            Q:        [inaudible] contribution [inaudible] up until March.

 

            A:         They're reviewing what the level of their contribution will be, but I think that's about right. They haven't deployed it yet. They've offered, and that's about in the ballpark.

           

            Q:        [inaudible] scattered all over?

 

            A:         In the north.

           

            Q:        [inaudible]? What is the number?

 

            A:         Forty-three, it might have been 42, but 40-some-odd.

           

            Q:        [inaudible].

 

            A:         That was March '04. Then there was a bit of a break. Now they've offered to send a squad of deminers, so nine to ten deminers and a couple of staff officers to work on headquarters.

           

            Q:        [inaudible]?

 

            A:         Right.

           

            Q:        How long will those 43 or 42 be there? When do they go?

 

            A:         September to March.

           

            Q:        You're saying there's no political component to the fact that the Russians [inaudible]? Like when the Secretary went to NATO in December he made a point of calling on the Russians to fulfill their obligations not just in Maldova but in Georgia as well.

 

            Secretary Powell came two days later and said the same thing. So the fact that he's going there is not a reiteration of an American position that the Russians have got to live up to their treaty obligations, A; and B, there's been talk that the Germans and the French were willing to back a sort of more -- to get off the NATO bandwagon on this idea that we're not going to ratify the CFE Treaty until the Russians fulfill their obligations but they've been making noises that maybe they should get off that. This is not a message to them, that the United States expects them to stay on board [inaudible]?

 

            A:         I can't speak about the Germans and French, what their approach to all this is. But I will note that it's been our position, clearly, and the position of our NATO allies that we won't ratify [inaudible]   adapt the CFE until Russia honors their Istanbul commitments. So that's been a public statement of our policy.

           

            Q:        What is our current level of aid to them? It's about $40 million or something, isn't it?

 

            A:         I don't know about the whole USGA. On the defense and security side it's more of the level of $2 million, something like that.

           

            Q:        Could you just talk about how this, because [inaudible] treaty [inaudible], how the politics work? I know there's that aspect. It's all part of --

 

            A:         I'll tell you why. I'm not responsible for the politics. It comes in a different AOR.

           

            Q:        [inaudible] for them.

 

            A:         The adapted CFE Treaty would incorporate all the new states that have joined NATO. Remember, the CFE Treaty was a treaty largely between the Warsaw Pact and NATO at the time it was --

           

            Q:        [inaudible].

 

            A:         Well, the Warsaw Pact was already out by '91. But as the map of Europe changes and you have these new NATO members, there's a need on all sides to somehow adapt this treaty if it's going to be relevant to meet the new political realities. The Baltics are a big part of that. We know their primary concern for the Russians, how the Baltics are going to relate to NATO force posture at large, and not just the Baltics but other regions as well.

 

            I think it's fair to say that all states would like to move towards an adapted CFE Treaty. It's just a matter of meeting the conditions for that to happen.

           

            Q:        Thank you very much.