By John Finerty
CSCE Staff Advisor
The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing on September 25, 2001 to examine the situation in Moldova, with a specific focus on developments in the Transdniestria region and the withdrawal of Russian military forces as well as armaments and ammunition from Moldova.
After years of delay and uncertainty, the Russian Government has made considerable progress in removing its armed forces and military equipment from Moldova in accordance with the 1999 Istanbul Declaration of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE). By mid-November 2001, the Treaty Limited Equipment (heavy weaponry) under the CFE were removed or destroyed. Russian armed forces are to be withdrawn by the end of 2002. Implementation of the agreements has been assisted by a voluntary fund established under the auspices of the OSCE.
Russia’s continued military presence in the sovereign nation of Moldova has been an unresolved and contentious issue since the breakup of the Soviet Union, when units of the Soviet 14th Army (now known as the Operative Group of Russian Forces) remained stationed in the Transdniestria region of Moldova. Some elements of the 14th Army assisted the pro-Moscow leadership of Transdniestria to secede from Moldova in 1991-2 and establish an unrecognized political entity known as the Dniestr Moldovan Republic (DMR). The current leadership of the DMR has strenuously protested the recent destruction of tanks and armored combat vehicles, seeking to secure some of the hardware for itself.
Testifying at the hearing were Ambassador Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs; Ambassador Ceslav Ciobanu, Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the United States; Dr. Kimmo Kiljunen, Member of the Parliament of Finland and Chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Working Group on Moldova; Ambassador William Hill, Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova; and Dr. Charles King, Assistant Professor, School of Foreign Service and Department of Government at Georgetown University.
Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing with Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) participating.
In response to a question by Co-Chairman Smith regarding the logistical and political problems facing troop withdrawal and weapons destruction, Ambassador Pifer replied that the main challenge is political, not logistical. Ambassador Hill added that the Russian Government appears prepared to leave; however, there is much resistance on the part of the Transdniestrian regime, since Tiraspol has relied on Russian troops as a “de facto shield” against attack, whether it would come from Moldova or elsewhere.
Ambassador Pifer said the Russian Government is “on a schedule that will bring them down to zero tanks, armored combat vehicles and artillery by the end of the year,” which proved to be the case. He added that the difficult logistical challenges arise in the disposition of ammunition and small arms. According to Ambassador Pifer, the United States and Russia “want to make sure that these are eliminated and do not fall into the wrong hands.”
Ambassador Pifer reported that the United States has already contributed $300,000 to the voluntary fund for destruction of equipment, as well as $69 million in financial assistance to Moldova from the Agency for International Development and other agencies.
Responding to a question from Commissioner Hastings regarding U.S. assistance, “in the furtherance of Moldova’s involvement in the Stability Pact and in their overall re-development,” Ambassador Pifer pointed to U.S. assistance in helping Moldova integrate into European institutions. He continued that it is important that a “total commitment come from the United States and the European Union together.”
Commissioner Pitts raised the possibility that perhaps Moscow is using the withdrawal tactic to gain concessions from the Moldovan Government in terms of the status of Transdniestra. Ambassador Hill described Russia as “deeply divided on this issue.” Most Russians realize that it is important to leave, but others see Transdniestra as part of Russia and thus desire the continued separation from Moldova.
Commissioner Aderholt raised the question of the Moldovan Government’s efforts in resolving the Transdniestrian issue. Ambassador Ciobanu testified that the new Moldovan leadership, under President Vladimir Voronin has “resumed the dialogue with the separatist leaders” and “proposed a whole package of measures with a view of granting Transdniestria the status of a broad, regional self-government but preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova.”
Ambassador Ciobanu expressed dismay that Transdniestrian officials have not responded positively, but rather Transdniestria’s separatist position “became even tougher.”
As a result, Ciobanu added, “We have reached the critical limits of possible concessions from our part.” Future concessions must come from Transdniestra and the international community should, according to the Moldovan Ambassador, commit to exerting pressure on the Transdniestrian regime.
Dr. Kiljunen described the efforts made by the Working Group on Moldova to facilitate a dialogue between Chisinau and Tiraspol. The current Communist-led government enjoys a stable majority in the parliament and, according to Dr. Kiljunen, has “contributed [to] the solution of this Transdniestrian issue.” Dr. Kiljunen added that Russia should continue to be involved in Transdniestra as part of its “international commitments” to create stability in the region.
With a more pessimistic view of the Transdniestrian conundrum, Dr. King suggested the current approach of the OSCE and the international community may have run its course. For the past ten years, he noted, “the people of Transdniestria have gone about, with the support of the Russian Federation, building something like a functioning state.” In fact, the last ten years have “strengthened Transdniestrian statehood,” instead of working towards reunification with Moldova. Today it is increasingly difficult to reintegrate these two societies because “they are fundamentally separate now.” The so-called Dniestr Moldovan Republic has solidified its position, and it may be too late for the type of resolution typically envisioned by the international community.
Commissioner Wamp asked if the Moldovan Government provided for basic freedoms, including movement, religion, and elections. Dr. King responded that Moldova has made remarkable progress in “implementing freedoms across the board.” Freedom of movement, in particular, is relatively easy for average Moldovans; however, the Transdniestrian authorities have frequently obstructed freedom of movement across the border for Moldovan officials.
Ambassador Hill suggested one problem in Moldova is not freedom of religion, but rather politicalization of the Orthodox Church. The European Court in Strasbourg is currently examining a suit against the Moldovan Government for not registering the Bessarabian Orthodox Church which sees itself as the legal successor to the pre-war Romanian Orthodox Church in Moldova.
With respect to elections in Moldova, Dr. Kiljunen stated they have been free and fair. However, not all adults in the Transdniestra region were able to vote. “It was only a token, a small token…who really voted.” In addition, there have been parliamentary elections in Transdniestra itself. Because these elections were not observed, it is not known how fair and democratic they have been.
Co-Chairman Smith noted Moldova’s status as a major source of trafficked women to Europe and inquired about the Moldovan Government’s response. Ambassador Pifer noted that the Moldovan Government has become more aware of the problem, and has begun to change some of its domestic legislation to include harsher penalties for trafficking. To help the women, Moldova has established a women’s crisis hotline center. Pifer said Moldova is attempting to recognize trafficked women as victims, not as prostitutes. Ambassador Ciobanu elaborated that Moldova has established a special governmental commission to deal with this issue. More importantly, Ciobanu added that Moldova is initiating economic and social programs in order to provide “some engagement, some jobs, [and] some prospectives for these young women in Moldova.”
Helsinki Commission intern Lauren Friend contributed to this article.