GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany, April 28, 2017 —
Natalia Albu, associate professor at the Military Academy of the Republic of Moldova, was still in high school in 1992 when war broke out in her country, and more than 25 years later, it remains a “frozen conflict.”
Tackling this conflict between Moldova and “Transnistria,” an unrecognized state along its eastern border with Ukraine, were 47 government and military professionals from 25 countries attending the Seminar on Regional Security at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.
Moldova and Transnistria Conflict
Transnistria broke away from the Soviet Union in 1990, and fighting broke out between the two sides in the spring of 1992. In July of that year, the Transnistrian authorities and the central government in Moldova agreed on a ceasefire.
Although there has been economic cooperation and free movement between the two, the conflict remains to this day and is a major obstacle for Moldova’s membership into the European Union.
“The SRS course is a key component of what the Marshall Center does, and that is analyzing conflicts and developing tools to mitigate or mange conflicts,” retired German army Brig. Gen. Johann Berger, the Marshall Center’s German deputy director, said at the SRS graduation yesterday.
To practice what they learned, participants delved into the complex nature of negotiations during the “Normalization of Relations Between Moldova and Transnistria” capstone exercise in the final week of the three-week long SRS, which started April 4.
“We decided to look into this conflict that has nearly been forgotten,” said German air force Col. Jörg Kunze, course director of the Seminar on Regional Security. “Maybe we can help our participants take home some creative ideas on how to tackle this conflict and conflicts in their neighborhoods in the future.”
“As a citizen of the Republic of Moldova, I realize and sense very deeply that this conflict is a principal threat to our national security,” said Albu, who was a member of three working groups to develop a national security strategy for Moldova.
‘5 + 2’ Format
In what’s known as the “5 + 2” format, participants portrayed five sides of this conflict: Moldova, Transnistria, Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Marshall Center faculty represented the outside actors or observers: the European Union and the United States.
OSCE has followed the format in the negotiations to find, comprehensive, durable settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, Kunze said.
“I was very amazed that I was going to portray Ukraine in the peace negotiation exercise, because I felt I would better represent Moldova. I am Moldavian; I know a lot about this conflict,” Albu said. “It dawned on me later how useful it is to play a different side in these negotiations. You have a better idea of the other party’s viewpoint.”
That’s the idea behind it, Kunze said, adding that the other Moldovans, as well as the Ukrainian participants, were placed in other delegations to develop a better understanding of the other side.
Learning from another’s point of view was one of the reasons why this class had five participants from African nations for the first time in the five-year history of SRS, Kunze said.
“We studied migration cases in our second week, which not only affects Europe, but also the entire world,” Kunze said. “I think having [African participants] address certain topics and learn about how [Europe approaches] conflict management is important for cooperation to mitigate or manage future conflicts around the world.”
Malian army Capt. Cheickne Konate, instructor at the in Mali’s Defense Ministry, said the SRS and the capstone exercise will help him in his job when he gets back home.
“My country is facing this kind of conflict situation,” he said. “What I have learned here is how to analyze conflict, and what kind of resolution tools I can use for my country. I will be able to teach my students about conflict management and hopefully, reduce their danger and danger to the population.”
Learning from Each Side
Before they began the exercise, participants heard from subject-matter experts from the five sides of the negotiations. Ambassador Wolf Heim, special representative of the OSCE for the Transnistrian Settlement Process, gave the OSCE perspective. U.S. Ambassador to Moldova James Pettit gave the perspective of the United States. Andrei Popov, a Moldovan career diplomat, gave the unofficial Russian perspective. Vladimir Yastrebchak, former head of delegation from Transnistria, represented the Transnistrian perspective. The three Ukraine participants in SRS provided the Ukrainian perspective to their classmates.
Gheorghe Balan, Moldova’s deputy prime minister for reintegration, is responsible for the Transnistria settlement, and he presented the Moldovan perspective.
“Participating in this kind of course or exercise helps you to put yourself on the other side of the conflict resolution process,” said Balan, who is a Marshall Center alumnus. “This helps you to better understand your needs and targets, and what you would like to achieve in the settlement process.”
Balan attended SRS in 2015. “Having participated in the exercise on the Ukrainian crises when I was in SRS has helped me to better understand the approaches of the other players, including the Transnistrian side, as I’m negotiating the Transnistria settlement,” he said.
The intent of SRS is to provide participants with the knowledge and tools needed to address current and evolving international and regional security challenges, Kunze said.
“We hope the participants leave with those capabilities and are able to effectively manage conflicts in their countries and neighborhoods,” he added, “but we also want them to build and strengthen personal networks within the realm of international crisis management and maintain those networks after they return home.”
Results of the Exercise
An overall agreement could not be reached by the negotiation teams during the capstone exercise. “They came a long way and were able to agree on some issues,” Kunze said, “but if you can’t agree on all, then you can’t sign the overall agreement.”
Kunze added that he is not disappointed with the results.
“It shows the complexity of this conflict. It hasn’t been resolved in more than 25 years,” he explained. “The aim was not to sign a ‘Garmisch Peace Accord,’ but to go through the process and practice what they learned about conflict management and resolution during the past three weeks.
“They made good progress and learned a lot during the negotiations,” he continued. “They have new skills and knowledge that they will bring back home to their countries.”