Overview: “International Control over Soviet Armament in Transdniestria is a Clear Message to Moscow”

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Integration with Euro-Atlantic structures and response to the Russian threat will be the main topics of the first session of the Parliamentary Assembly of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova to be held in Tbilisi in early October. Anticipating the meeting of the parliamentary delegations of the emerging ‘triple alliance’ of the post-Soviet republics, Ukrainian and Moldovan officials mainstreamed the issue of the withdrawal of Russian troops from breakaway Transdniestria. This time, they discussed the possibility of attracting international observers to guard the old Soviet depots near the border with Ukraine on the territory of the unrecognized “PMR”. Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov and Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration of the Republic of Moldova Christina Lesnik declared the intention to deepen cooperation on “demilitarization of Transdniestria and its further reintegration into Moldova”. The thesis on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transdniestria is mandatory part of the politesse for the Moldovan leadership. Moreover, initiated by Chisinau, the topic reached the high corridors of international organizations and became the subject of discussion at the sites of the UN General Assembly and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Nevertheless, as such, the idea of international control over depots in Transdniestria is an innovation in the rhetoric about the “Russian occupation of Moldova”. Before, politicians of the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Europe insisted on the need for immediate removal of ammunition and the subsequent evacuation of the Operational Group of Russian Troops (OGRT). So, even the possibility of providing a transport corridor through the territory of Ukraine has been discussed recently. Certainly, this approach was in many respects a counterargument to Moscow’s position on the need to guard ammunition depots for the purposes of regional security by Russian military forces. This is how Moscow explained their presence in Transdniestria in the first place, and also by conducting a peacekeeping operation on the Dniester. The Kremlin insists that the completion or transformation of the peacekeeping mission is possible only after the final political settlement of the Transdniestrian issue. Chisinau, as a rule, avoids speaking directly about peacekeepers and each time demands to separate them from the Operational Group of Russian Troops. The latter, according to Moldovan politicians, should leave Transdniestria in accordance with the 1999 Istanbul agreements. Russia, in its turn, stresses that it has already fulfilled its obligations under these agreements, leaving only the forces that should support the peacekeeping operation in the territory of the unrecognized Transdniestria. Until recently, the peacekeeping operation and the Russian military on the Dniester were the topic of only diplomatic discussions and were brought in public by politicians from time to time. However, recently, in the context of the intense geopolitical rivalry between Russia and Washington, the Russian military presence in the “PMR” has become a key component of the discourse about the Russian threat. This appeal that “the Russians must leave” is heard not only in Chisinau, but also at various international venues. Although the resolution of the UN General Assembly refers only to the complete withdrawal of foreign military units, the resolution of the OSCE PA refers to the complete withdrawal of foreign troops and the transformation of the current peacekeeping mission into a civil mission with an international mandate. Thus, the legitimacy of the peacekeeping mission on the Dniester is questioned for the first time at the international level, despite the fact that it has a UN mandate. The idea of international observers controlling the depots of the old Soviet arms in Transdniestria, apparently, picks up the torch and hints that it is possible to provide regional security without the Russians. Moreover, Moscow is now represented not as a peacemaker, but as the main threat to peace. The given evidence thereof is the OGRT trainings in the uncontrolled territory of Transdniestria, although experts say that these troops are not capable of conducting any offensive actions because of their small numbers. Kyiv and Chisinau’s keeping up to the image of targets of Russian aggression successfully coincides with the strategy of Washington. For the US, military and political interests in Europe have traditionally been the determining factor of policy. In this sense, limiting Moscow’s influence in the post-Soviet space, including due to the growth of anti-Russian sentiments in Moldova, in general plays into Washington’s hands. It is no coincidence that the new ‘triple alliance’ is guided by Washington on the key issues of the country’s foreign policy positioning. It is also important that the political elites of these countries sometimes see the legitimacy of their power not so much in the support of the population of their political programs (which sometimes do not exist), but in the approval of the Western community. Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, for example, even declared the country “the outpost of Western civilization”. “By our will, by the fact that we consciously began to defend ourselves against the Russian invasion, we have become an outpost of Western civilization,” the official said in a recent interview. It is fair to say that Washington does not leave such an effort unnoticed. The US Congress regularly passes resolutions in support of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. They condemn Russia, call for increased military and financial cooperation with Kyiv, Chisinau and Tbilisi. Moreover, they let the political elites of the states that “chose the Western model of development” go unpunished for the distortion of democratic reforms, corruption and voluntarism in domestic policy. In this context, it is important to understand whether Ukraine and Moldova will go further than joint anti-Russian statements. Kyiv and Chisinau may take more decisive action against the Russian military contingent in the unrecognized Transdniestria. Taking into account the fact that the problem of the “Russian occupation” of the Moldova’s territory has already been brought to the international level, the innovations in the form of observers (again, international) over the armament depots indicate the far-reaching plans of their authors, in this case, Moldova and Ukraine. The discourse “on Russian occupation” is likely to be the basis for the creation of a new ‘Little Entente’ directed against Moscow and consisting of post-Soviet republics – this can happen in connection with the forthcoming elections in Moldova and Ukraine. The leadership of these countries may also decide to support the sanctions regime against Russia in support of the American concept of containing geopolitical rivals. It is not completely clear whether this will benefit the pan-European security as a whole, but Brussels not is the first violin in this matter.