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Moldova: No Quick Fix


The conflict in the Transdniestrian region of the Republic of Moldova is not as charged with ethnic hatred and ancient grievances as others in the area of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and it is more conducive to a sustainable settlement. However, a “quick fix” in 2003, as envisaged by the Dutch Chairmanship of the OSCE, is also unlikely. To reach the sustainable agreement that is required if the forthcoming European Union (EU) enlargement is not to be compromised by a nearly open border with international crime and serious poverty, a comprehensive approach is needed that takes into account the root causes of the original conflict and the factors that have blocked the settlement process since 1992.

The Transdniestrian authorities are not recognised by any state and have been subjected to targeted sanctions such as travel bans by the EU and the U.S. but they have acquired for their small territory on the left bank of the Dniestr River with barely one-sixth as many people as Moldova some of the attributes of a state. They have gained control over local enterprises and the customs service covering their section of the Ukraine-Moldova border and their side of the internal Moldovan boundary. This enables them to profit not only from legal trade but in all likelihood also from the trafficking of other goods in transit to Moldova and beyond. Such illicit activities pose a threat to the security of the wider region. The EU, which will share a common border with Moldova after the accession of Romania in 2007, has a particular interest in settlement of the conflict and regularisation of Transdniestria’s status.

The Transdniestrian elite (and others) prefer the status quo to any negotiated agreement. An important part of a settlement process, therefore, must be to design steps that would reduce and even abolish the benefits that flow from that tainted status quo – for example, the imposition of sanctions on Transdniestrian leaders and enterprises and help for the Moldova government to establish a unified customs system along its entire border.

The vested interests of elites on either side of the river do not necessarily correspond to the interests of the broader population. Although the majority on both sides would certainly profit from increased investments and trade after settlement of the conflict, there is no general awareness of the real costs of separation and the political stalemate. Moreover, the authorities in Transdniestria hinder the development of civil society, free media and party pluralism. As a result, there is no opportunity to express views freely on the future of the region. Another important pillar of the process, accordingly, must be the fostering of an open society in Transdniestria. A settlement that merely cemented the Smirnov regime in place would be unacceptable.

At the same time, economic transformation, democratisation, rule of law, freedom of the media and human rights are also deficient on the other side of the river. The third pillar of a comprehensive approach to a final settlement, therefore, should be to make Moldova more attractive for the Transdniestrians in order to provide incentives for them to support an agreement. Joint benchmarks for legislation and its implementation in Moldova and Transdniestria should be worked out and reviewed regularly, with clear rewards for compliance and targeted punitive measures for non-compliance. For Moldova, this initially could mean not getting loans or access to aspects of the European market. For Transdniestria, it would include further visa restrictions, the freezing of individual and enterprise assets and perhaps a ban on trade with Transdniestrian companies not registered with the Moldovan authorities. Additional aims of this process would be to harmonise the legislation of Moldova and Transdniestria and reintegrate state structures that have developed in parallel for more than a decade, in order to prepare the way for reintegration.

The fourth pillar would have to be a fair proposal for a final settlement tabled by the Moldovan side. A federation – preferably asymmetric and multi-member – would be the best political system for a unified Moldova; it would not only give Transdniestria broad autonomy but also keep it in constant interaction with the central authorities. It should include a framework for a functioning dispute settlement mechanism to cope with new disputes.

Finally, any agreement would need political and military guarantees. The former should include a functioning dispute settlement mechanism. The latter are important to prevent spoilers from provoking violence, including military people on both sides until they are decommissioned, and should come in the form of an international security presence mandated by the OSCE.


To the OSCE, the EU and the U.S.:

  1. Plan a comprehensive settlement process involving simultaneous democratisation on both sides of the Dniestr River, with a special emphasis on the left bank (Transdniestria).
  1. Establish an international security presence under an OSCE mandate, led by the EU and including troops from Russia and other interested OSCE participating states, to take over from the current trilateral peacekeeping forces in Moldova by 1 January 2004.
  1. Urge Ukraine and Moldova to come to an agreement on joint customs posts and on the presence of independent observers, both to be located on Ukrainian territory if Transdniestria continues to refuse to allow Moldovan customs to operate on its territory.
  1. Establish a trust fund under international supervision into which all revenues collected by Moldovan authorities from Transdniestrian enterprises would be deposited and which pending a final agreement between the two sides would be used exclusively for financing economic development, infrastructure, education, public health and social welfare.
  1. Draw up a reconstruction program for a unified Moldova based on a co-ordinated approach by international donors.
  1. Increase aid for language education and social integration programs in both Moldova and Transdniestria.

To the EU:

  1. Open a full European Commission delegation office in Moldova.
  1. Draw up and assign priority to an Action Plan for Moldova that sets clear benchmarks – worked out in close co-operation with the OSCE and the Council of Europe – for development of democracy, rule of law and human rights, including specific benchmarks to be met in Transdniestria.
  1. Target the Transdniestrian leadership with further sanctions if it continues to block the negotiation process and removal of Russian ammunition or fails to meet the benchmarks in the EU Action Plan for Moldova described above, and urge Russia to join such measures and refrain from helping the Transdniestrian regime consolidate its power.

To the OSCE:

  1. Increase the OSCE Mission to Moldova by at least three international staff members responsible for promoting reunification, including democracy and rule of law, especially in Transdniestria.
  1. Include economic experts, inter alia from the International Monetary Fund, among the international experts working with the Joint Constitutional Commission.
  1. Conduct an awareness-raising campaign in Moldova on the nature of power sharing, especially through various federal models, as a conflict resolution tool.
  1. Strengthen co-operation between Transdniestria and Moldova at non-official levels (for example, economic agents, NGOs, and the media) by organising and/or supporting such measures as round-tables, workshops, and summer schools.
  1. Have the donor states agree that the OSCE voluntary fund for destruction or withdrawal of ammunition can be used to finance destruction of the ammunition also in Russia after it has been withdrawn or establish a new voluntary fund for that purpose.
  1. Task the Strategic Police Matters Unit of the OSCE Secretariat to conduct a full scale needs assessment in Moldova and to prepare a program for police training with a special view to the need for increased policing in a security zone after final settlement of the conflict.

Chisinau/Brussels 12 August 2003

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