The Last Anniversary of the Peacekeeping Mission on the Dniester?

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Anton ŠVEC
The peacekeeping mission on the Dniester has almost no chance of keeping its current format, given the growing crisis trends and absolutely opposed positions of the participants
On 27 July, the 31st anniversary of the Joint Control Commission, the lead body of the peacekeeping mission on the Dniester, saw the participants meeting for the last time before a break until 7 September. Once again, the meeting ended without signing the final protocol, which has not been possible for over a year. The stumbling block is the checkpoints of the Transnistrian militia in the Security Zone (SZ), which were established in April 2022 due to the “red code of terrorist danger” (now “yellow code”, extended by the leader of the region until September, is in force on the left bank). The Moldovan representatives to the JCC consider that there are no premises for the existence of these checkpoints. Moreover, Moldovan delegation insists that their appearance should have been agreed upon. Moldova, despite the state of emergency extension in the republic for another 60 days, did not set up any checkpoints in the Security Zone and did not reinforce the existing ones (except customs checkpoints). Meanwhile, the Transnistrians eliminated some of the checkpoints this spring, and reduced the infrastructure and the staff at others. However, consent on this issue has not yet been found, with delegations blaming each other and Russian representatives failing to offer an acceptable solution. A similar situation occurred in previous years. For instance, from mid-2015 to early 2017, it was not possible to agree on the adjustment of the military observers’ regulations, what was necessary due to the reinforced “border posts” of Transnistria in the SZ. Back then, the problem was tackled by the top brass – Igor Dodon and Vadim Krasnoselsky managed to solve it during their first meeting in Bender. The current problems in the activity of the JCC are a symptom of a serious crisis, reflecting the different attitudes of main participants to the prospects for the peacekeeping mission on the Dniester. In Transnistria, the anniversary of peacekeeping contingents’ deployment to the region was celebrated with the traditional solemnity - with scientific conferences, awards and commemorative events, which were actively covered by the local media. At the same time, Tiraspol complained that Chisinau had refused to participate in the joint celebrations. There were only small events at the locations of military units - at Varnita and at the battalion in Vadul-lui-Voda. Tiraspol talks a lot about the fact that the Moldovan peacekeepers have been refusing to participate in exercises for 10 years and now opt out other forms of interaction, up to joint training. Organizational and ideological problems do accompany peacekeeping mission. For example, last February Ukraine withdrew 10 of its military observers from the Security Zone and sent them to the frontline. Members of the OSCE Mission to Moldova are still here, but recently the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in its resolution advocated the transformation of the operation into a civilian mission with an international mandate and the curtailing of the Russian military presence on the Dniester. Similar ideas were heard at the recent NATO summit. These signals are hailed by our ruling regime, which often uses the international arena to raise the issue of the Russian military on Moldovan territory. Even Maia Sandu called for the withdrawal of Russian troops and the elimination of military depots in Cobasna from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly. The international community regularly reminds Moscow of its Istanbul commitments. However, Moscow replies that Russia was diligently fulfilling them until it withdrew from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which was not ratified by Western countries. Meanwhile, our experts speculate whether Moldova can exit from the 1992 ceasefire agreement signed by presidents Yeltsin and Snegur, and what would be the consequences of such a move. Meantime, theoretical debates are accompanied by practical actions that threaten the functioning of the commission and reflect an intention towards neutralizing the Russian presence in the region. For instance, our delegation to the JCC has had no co-chair for about six months now. Alexandru Flenchea, who replaced Ion Solonenco, failed to agree on a formal appointment in the government after the departure of Natalia Gavrilita (Dorin Recean refused to appoint him as his counsellor), so the position has been vacant since February. Representatives from the left bank claim this fact is the reason why the commission’s protocols cannot be signed. The situation for the Russian delegation is much worse. Two months ago, after the departure of the senior assistant military attaché, it had problems in securing a quorum. Given the reduction in the number of diplomats in the Russian Embassy to 10, we can assume that difficulties will arise in ensuring their presence at the JCC - this has already been mentioned by the Russian co-chairman, Alexander Andreev. A solution to this problem, for which Moscow has more than a month, is not yet in sight. In June, the Russians tried to approve the senior military commander of the Russian contingent as a member of the JCC, but were refused. In general, there is a lack of both mutual understanding in the commission and, consequently, decisions on acute issues (given the consent principle, it is impossible to take a decision when someone does not agree with the wording), coupled with constant criticism of the peacekeeping mission by Chisinau and the international community. Russia and the Tiraspol administration, meanwhile, have an absolutely different position, claiming the “unique efficiency and legitimacy of the mission on the Dniester”. This divergence in assessments leads to an escalation of crisis trends. Developments on the Ukrainian front can considerably affect the situation. If the declared goals of the invasion are achieved, Russia will be able to dictate its will. Otherwise, the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Transnistria will be left without cover (except for the political one provided by Tiraspol, which will most likely be an insignificant factor by then) and in a minority. There are only four further scenarios – preservation of the peacekeeping mission as it is (till the end of hostilities in Ukraine), its transformation into a civilian (police) mission, continuation of the mission without Moldova’s participation only on the Transnistrian territory, and its complete abolition. Which of the options is the most realistic depends on a number of circumstances related both to geopolitics and internal politics of the country. However, we cannot rule out that the current 31st anniversary of the peacekeeping mission on the Dniester will be the last in its current format.