Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Ambassador William Hill
Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova - OSCE


Mr. Chairman, I wish to thank you and the members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe for the honor of appearing before you today. Since the OSCE Mission to Moldova opened in April, 1993, diplomats from the United States have served in Chisinau and Tiraspol as Mission Members. For the past six years the last four Heads of Mission have been Americans. Building on their efforts, and the efforts of colleagues in the Mission from all over Europe, the Mission has recently produced results that I believe demonstrate the promise of what the OSCE can achieve, in terms of both real cooperation and real security.

The Mission’s mandate is first of all to facilitate negotiation of a political settlement to the short, bitter conflict in 1992 between Moldova and its Transdniestrian region on the left bank of the Dniestr River. The Mission is also mandated to follow military and security developments and to encourage the withdrawal of foreign troops and armaments. The Mission is further charged to assist in the process of democratic reforms and implementation of CSCE/OSCE commitments, in particular with respect to human rights. In December, 1999, following the OSCE Istanbul Summit, the Mission’s mandate was expanded to include administration of an OSCE Voluntary Fund to support withdrawal of Russian troops, arms, and ammunition from the Transdniestrian region of the Republic of Moldova. The United States is the first and single largest donor to the Voluntary Fund.

Thus the basic aims of OSCE involvement in Moldova are conflict resolution and post-conflict rehabilitation. The consistent policy of OSCE participating states since 1992 has been support for the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Moldova. To achieve a peaceful settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict consistent with these policy goals, the OSCE Mission early in its existence recommended granting a special status to the Transdniestrian region, with a high degree of local self-government.

Why is achievement of these goals of interest to European states beyond the immediate region and to the United States? Moldova is sandwiched between two larger neighbors – Ukraine and Romania. Its population is ethnically mixed, with 65 percent Moldovan/Romanian speakers, almost 15 percent each of Russian and Ukrainian background, three percent Gagauz (originally Orthodox Christian Turks), and Bulgarian and Jewish minorities. For centuries the territory has been a crossroads, fought over by neighboring empires and great powers. Moldova might be compared with Switzerland or Belgium in the early stages of their history, with its population made up of co-nationals with various larger, more powerful neighbors. The best solution in such cases seems to be establishment of an independent, ethnically and linguistically mixed state, averting potential rivalry over the territory and population between larger neighboring powers.

The Transdniestrian conflict in Moldova to a considerable extent reflects a competition for influence among neighboring and regional powers. The conflict was not primarily ethnic, but the rulers and leaders on both sides of the Dniestr found ethnic and linguistic fears and aspirations useful in mobilizing their populations. Pro-Romanian sentiment dominated the independence movement in Chisinau in the late 1980s and early 1990s, reflected in particular in establishment of Moldovan/Romanian in the Latin alphabet as the state language. The leaders in Tiraspol mobilized Russian speakers and pro-Russian and pro-Soviet elements to support their effort to establish a regime separate from Chisinau. The aim of the negotiating process since 1994, in which the OSCE Mission has played a major role, has been to work out an institutional relationship between the national government in Chisinau and local authorities on the left bank which could encompass the disparate linguistic, economic, ideological, and ethnic concerns of all parties.

With signature of the so-called “Moscow Memorandum” in 1997, negotiators thought a breakthrough had been achieved which would soon bring a settlement. These hopes soon faded, as the Moldovans and Transdniestrians gave very different interpretations to the provision of the Moscow Memorandum that the sides develop their relations within the framework of a “common state.” The Moldovans understand this as reintegration of the Transdniestrian region into a unitary Moldovan state, with a status of broad autonomy. The Transdniestrians claim this means construction of a new state by two separate, equal state subjects. The negotiation process has tried to bridge this conceptual gap for over four years, with only limited success.

With the election in Moldova of a new Parliament and President in February and April of this year, negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol showed renewed promise. President Voronin compromised on several longstanding Transdniestrian requests on economic, administrative, and information issues. Transdniestrian leader Smirnov freed Moldovan legislator and former Popular Front leader Ilie Ilascu, although three of his colleagues still remain in jail. However, the atmosphere between the sides quickly deteriorated, as little progress proved possible on the key issue of Transdniestria’s status. On September 1, Moldova introduced new customs stamps and seals, ending a five and one half year arrangement with Tiraspol sharing Moldovan customs documentation. Transdniestria failed to respond to earlier Moldovan offers to establish joint customs posts on the border with Ukraine. Tiraspol accuses Chisinau of imposing an economic blockade (which the Mission does not believe to be the case). I hope that in the days and weeks to come both sides will use the Moldovan action (which is linked both to WTO entry and anti-smuggling efforts) as an opportunity to take the first step toward creation of common economic institutions.

Over the past two years the OSCE Mission in Moldova has received significant support in its efforts to facilitate a political settlement from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. In January, 2000 the OSCE PA established a special Team on Moldova, headed by Finnish MP Kimmo Kiljunen. The Mission has worked closely with Mr. Kiljunen and his colleagues to facilitate contacts with and between parliamentarians on both sides of the Dniestr. The Team on Moldova has visited the country several times. Most recently the Team sponsored a seminar on self-government and autonomy in Finland and the Aaland Islands, in which the parliamentary leadership from both Chisinau and Tiraspol participated. The OSCE PA Team on Moldova has given me invaluable assistance in promoting contacts and negotiations not just between leaders of the executive branch on both sides, but between the legislatures and a broad range of citizens. As we overcome other obstacles, this will be extremely helpful in putting the country back together.

The other major concern that currently occupies much of the time and effort of the OSCE Mission to Moldova is the withdrawal of Russian troops remaining in Moldova’s Transdniestrian region and disposal of the arms and equipment of the former 14th Army, now the Operative Group of Russian Forces (OGRF). Since Moldova gained independence in 1992, the Russian Federation has many times pledged to remove its forces from Moldova. At the November, 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit for the first time a deadline was attached to this commitment, with CFE Treaty-limited equipment (TLE) to be removed by the end of this year, and all troops, arms and equipment to be out by the end of 2002. At the same time, OSCE states established a Voluntary Fund to provide financial support for Russian expenses in the withdrawal.

Transdniestrian authorities have posed bitter resistance to the Russian withdrawal. They claim the vast stores of OGRF arms and ammunition are Transdniestrian property, by virtue of being located on their territory at the time the Soviet Union disintegrated, and demand compensation before allowing their removal. The Transdniestrian regime has received tacit and overt support from some individuals and groups in Russia who desire to maintain a Russian presence and influence in the region. Most of all, I believe authorities in Tiraspol have sought to keep Russian troops in the region as a shield against possible Moldovan efforts to end their de facto independence and reintegrate the left bank back into a reunified country.

The OSCE Mission has sought to facilitate the Russian withdrawal through a cooperative approach. We have established excellent working contacts at all levels with Russian Federation representatives who are committed to fulfilling our common obligations, in particular the OSCE Istanbul decisions. By late 2000 the Mission successfully negotiated with the Russian Federation Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Defense procedures for inspection and verification to enable use of the Voluntary Fund to support withdrawal and destruction operations. In May I exchanged letters with the Ministry of Defense to formalize these procedures, and in June the Operative Group of Russian Forces began orderly reduction of its CFE TLE, a process which should be completed before the Bucharest OSCE Ministerial Meeting this December. Early this month I transferred over $70,000 to the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense to compensate for expenses in the initial destruction of over 70 pieces of CFE TLE. I trust there will be many more such transfers in the near future, representing the rapid progress we hope and expect to see.

This June the OSCE Mission also established a tripartite working group with Russian and local Transdniestrian officials to investigate the possibility of industrial reprocessing and disposal of substantial portions of the 40,000-plus tons of ammunition at the Russian ammunition depot near the small left bank village of Colbasna. This working group has visited Colbasna, the first time the OSCE has been able to gain access to this facility, and traveled to Russia and a number of western countries to investigate technologies available for disposal of the ammunition. The group is currently in Chisinau and Transdniestria completing its work, and will present conclusions and recommendations to the OSCE Voluntary Fund donor states in Vienna on October 3. We hope to offer a range of options that will result in elimination of all munitions within the overall Istanbul deadline of December 31, 2002.

We are thus at last actually moving forward with destruction and withdrawal of Russian arms and ammunition after many years of promises without action. This is a significant achievement for the OSCE Mission and the Russian Federation. I wish to emphasize that we have done this with and because of our cooperation with our Russian colleagues. There has been resistance to this process in the past from Russia, and there are still parties in Moscow who do not agree with this policy course. However, we and our Russian colleagues have succeeded in identifying the overarching policy aims which we share, such as adaptation and preservation of the CFE regime. We have also been able to work out cooperative procedures, and to work together to implement them. I think our experience in this respect demonstrates how OSCE as a forum can be used to identify win-win solutions on important political and security questions, and how OSCE institutions and mechanisms can be employed to implement these solutions.

There is obviously much left to be done in Moldova, and much that could still go wrong. Nonetheless, I believe our most recent experience in the OSCE Mission in Moldova shows promise, not only for eventual resolution of some of the most important problems facing the region, but also for proactive use of OSCE mechanisms in addressing significant political and military security issues. The most important thing the United States can do – both the legislative and executive branches – is to provide continued attention and support to this process. U.S. attention, in the form of policy statements, dialogue, and visits, is crucial in demonstrating to all parties in Moldova the possibility and opportunity of integration into European and North Atlantic structures. Continued support, in particular material support, is essential in letting all parties know they will not be left without assistance in making and implementing the tough decisions in the ongoing post-communist transition. Today’s hearing is a step in that direction, Mr. Chairman. I applaud you and the Helsinki Commission for the initiative and thank you for the honor and opportunity to appear before you.