I would like to begin by thanking, on behalf of the Government of my country, the U.S. Congress Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and its co-Chairman, Representative Christopher Smith, for following with constant attention and interest the developments in the Republic of Moldova and for permanently supporting us in dealing with the difficult issue of the political settlement of the Transnistrian conflict and withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova.
We highly appreciate the efforts made by the international community, particularly by the OSCE and its Mission in Moldova, as well as personally by Ambassador Hill, in order to find a solution for the Transnistrian problem and to implement the Istanbul Summit decisions on Moldova.
The Transnistrian conflict is a major problem that the Republic of Moldova started facing even before proclaiming its independence on August 27, 1991. This political conflict is the main threat to Moldova’s independence and security. It undermines our sovereignty and territorial integrity, obstructs our country’s social and economic development, maintains a source of tension in our society, as well as in the whole region.
The separatist regime in Transnistria is out of any control; it has created favorable conditions for all kinds of criminal activities, for money laundering, contraband, illicit trafficking of oil products, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, weapons. We can affirm with certitude that firearms manufactured in Transnistria are marketed to some other states and transferred to various conflict zones, falling into the hands of criminal and terrorist groups. The well-known French newspaper “Le Monde” dedicated a special report to this threat in its issue of August 25.
We think it is fair to assert that separatism is a real threat to the international community and that it has a very negative impact on global security, very much like terrorism. In fact, separatism generates terrorism. Therefore, it is imperative for us to put together our efforts in combating this scourge.
The new Moldovan leadership that came to power after February 2001 elections set as its priority goal the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict. President Vladimir Voronin issued a special decree on this matter on May 15, 2001, immediately after being sworn in as Head of the Moldovan State.
In the spring of 2001, after a break of more than one year, periodical meetings between Moldovan leadership and Transnistrian leaders resumed, as well as the expert groups activity. The 4 meetings that took place so far between Vladimir Voronin and Igor Smirnov (April 9, May 16, June 20 and August 8) were aimed mainly at giving a new impetus to the negotiation process, by removing existing obstacles between the two banks of Nistru river and solving the most pressing problems that our population faces on a daily basis.
These efforts, backed up by the international community, were rewarded when political prisoner Ilie Ilascu, former member of Moldovan Parliament, now – Romanian Senator, was finally set free by the separatist authorities. We highly appreciate the support from the American delegation led by Representative Christopher Smith, who proposed two resolutions on this subject, adopted by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in July 2000 in Bucharest. Moldovan Government will firmly pursue its efforts towards releasing the other three members of the so-called “Ilascu Group”, still imprisoned by Tiraspol.
We have to acknowledge, however, the lack of real progress in solving the conflict’s core problem that is to draw up a status for the Transnistrian region while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, as stated in the OSCE documents.
The negotiations over the status of Transnistria did not go forward, because the two parties disagree on matters of principle and have an opposite understanding of the notion of “common state”. E. Primakov launched this formula of “common state” at a certain point allegedly aiming to clear the way for the negotiation process; but in reality it only created a greater confusion amid negotiators.
Chisinau pledges to offer Transnistria a status of a broad regional self-government that would respect, however, the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova. But Tiraspol leaders insist on international recognition of the so-called “transnistrian moldovan republic” (‘tmr”) and on creating a “common state” by bringing together two distinct and equal state entities on the principle of “association”, through the signing of a number of cooperation agreements in various fields.
In spite of these divergences, our position in the negotiations has always been and continues to be very flexible. One could see this from the documents we have agreed to sign, in which there are many unilateral concessions made by Chisinau in some matters of principle. For instance, Transnistria took full advantage from different trade and economic clauses granted to Moldova through its trade agreements with the United States and the European Union. Chisinau gave Tiraspol authority on using Moldovan customs seal and other export marks.
The Chisinau's concessions, which could be viewed as defining elements of the future special status, did not soften, however, the harsh and intransigent position of Tiraspol leaders. One of the most solid proofs of Smirnov's intransigence is his persistence in requesting that the Moldovan Government “condemns the so-called Moldova act of aggression against the people of Transnistria and pays compensations for damages inflicted to Transnistria during the 1992 armed conflict”. To tolerate this approach would basically equal with an indirect admission that actions undertaken by Moldovan authorities in the spring and summer of 1992 in order to restore the constitutional order on the left bank of Nistru river were illegal. This would also mean that those who fought and died defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Moldovan state are in fact perpetrators of "an aggression act” against the “Transnistrian people”. Such an unfair and humiliating approach is totally unconceivable for us.
This is why we believe that Moldova has reached the limit of possible concessions trying to find a solution of the Transnistrian problem without giving up its sovereignty and territorial integrity. But despite all the divergences, we are confident that there are real premises for making progress towards defining the status of the Transnistrian region. This would call for a genuine political will from the mediator states – Russia and Ukraine – as well as from the whole OSCE community to renounce their policy of tolerance towards the secessionist Tiraspol regime.
Trying to make Tiraspol leaders adopt a more constructive and cooperative approach to negotiations over the status, Chisinau authorities recently initiated a range of restrictive political and economic actions. For instance, restrictions were introduced on traveling abroad for members of the so-called “transnistrian moldovan republic” administration (more than 70 persons); on August 16 the MFA sent to all diplomatic missions accredited in the Republic of Moldova a verbal note requesting not to issue visas to these persons. All diplomatic missions were also asked to refrain from direct contacts with Tiraspol officials without prior co-ordination with Moldovan authorities.
Starting from September 1, 2001, Moldovan Government introduced a new customs seal and other customs accessories, in line with the World Trade Organization requirements. Therefore Transnistrian economic entities will have to process their export and import papers through Moldovan customs offices, but still without paying any fees to Moldovan budget. (In a shameless propagandistic move, Transnistrians falsely accused Chisinau of not respecting previously reached agreements; in fact Tiraspol authorities did not honor their pledge to establish joint customs points on the Transnistrian segment of the border with Ukraine, made in 1996 when the customs seal was handed over to them by Moldovan government).
Chisinau has carried out these actions in order to strengthen the control over the economy and foreign trade of Transnistria that provides, mostly through contraband, financial support to the separatist regime. Therefore Moldovan actions are fully supported by the international community, including the United States, the European Union, OSCE, as well as – in principle – by the mediator states – Russia and Ukraine.
In line with these actions Moldovan authorities drew up a project aiming to strengthen the security of our country by reinforcing its Eastern border; our goal is to improve the border control, to amplify measures against organized crime, illegal migration, arms, drugs and human beings trafficking, etc. The U.S. and EU support this project, which is only at its beginnings.
In this context Moldovan government proposed to its Ukrainian counterpart to deploy joint customs and border control points all along Moldovan-Ukrainian border, including the Transnistrian sector. Tiraspol separatists labeled Chisinau’s actions an “economic blockade” and used it as a pretext for suspending the political dialog. This shows once again that the secessionists’ real aim is to obtain international recognition of the “tmr” statehood while rejecting the idea of a broad autonomy status of the Transnistrian region within the Republic of Moldova. Unfortunately, some influential forces within Russian Federation’s State Duma support Transnistrian separatism.
We hope that our actions will eventually have a positive effect over the political settlement of Transnistrian conflict, provided that the international community will continue to give them its crucial support.
We attach a particular importance to implementing the OSCE Istanbul Summit’s decisions (November 19, 1999) on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova. According to these documents, Russia is to withdraw its military equipment limited by the provisions of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) by the end of 2001, whereas the complete withdrawal of its troops should be completed before the end of 2002.
The withdrawal of Russian troops, whose presence on our territory is against our Constitution, would undoubtedly create more favorable conditions for a final settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, as well as contribute to consolidating peace and security in the region. We think that all the necessary conditions for the withdrawal exist, including substantial financial resources. We highly appreciate the willingness of several states, especially the generous contribution from the United States, to financially support the withdrawal of Russian troops, including through the OSCE Voluntary Fund created in accordance with the Istanbul decisions.
We hope that the signing of documents on the procedures of utilization of resources from OSCE Voluntary Fund to cover the costs of withdrawal of Russian troops, armament and military equipment (on May 24, 2001, the Head of OSCE Mission to Moldova, Ambassador Hill and Russian deputy Defense Minister, General Isakov exchanged letters of agreement), as well as of protocols on joint activities aimed at scraping armament, military equipment and munitions (signed by the representatives of OSCE Mission, the Russian Federation and Transnistrian region on June 15, 2001 in Tiraspol) will speed up the process of withdrawal/scraping of Russian armament from the region.
We are glad that during the 2nd review Conference on the CFE Treaty held in Vienna this year on May 28 – June 1, as well as afterwards, Russian Federation showed its political will to fulfill its commitments under the CFE Treaty taken at the Istanbul Summit, that is to withdraw/to scrap its for Treaty limited military equipment and armament before the end of 2001.
In this context, on June 15 2001, in Tiraspol, representatives of Moldova, Russian Federation, OSCE Mission and Transnistria signed a “Protocol on joint activities aimed at scraping armament, military equipment and munitions”, providing that the parties will come up with a Plan of concrete actions on “scraping the armament, military equipment and munitions that are not to be withdrawn to Russia”. A group of international experts headed by General Aussedat is also involved in these projects. The deadline for a final report on the actions carried out in this respect is set for September 30, 2001.
This year in July Russian Federation begun the scraping of military equipment and armament belonging to the Operative Group of Russian Troops (OGRT) stationed in the Transnistrian region of Moldova. According to our data, 120 heavy units have been scraped so far, including 43 tanks (out of 118), 20 armored vehicles and more than 50 communication units. We welcome these encouraging developments and hope that before December 2001 this process will be ended.
As for the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of the Republic of Moldova in accordance with the Istanbul OSCE Summit decisions, there is still enough time for this objective to be achieved. However, in order to abide by the existing deadline (set for December 31, 2002), and taking into account the considerable amount of stockpiled munitions, including obsolete, it is absolutely necessary to proceed with concrete actions.
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Solving these two major problems – the political settlement of the Transnistrian issue by defining the status of this region within the Republic of Moldova and the withdrawal/scraping of Russian armament and troops from our territory according to OSCE Istanbul Summit’s decisions – is the priority goal for Moldova. In achieving this goal we count very much on the political and financial support from the United States. During the 10 years of our independence American assistance has proven to be the driving force for reforms and democratization in Moldova, for strengthening our independence and sovereignty. Our country took full advantage of more than 20 big American assistance projects, becoming a recognized leader in the region, especially in the field of reforms in agriculture, land privatization and restructuring of former collective farms. Today more than 94% of land in Moldova is privatized and 98% of new landowners have received their property titles. This has lead to a growth of productivity in our agriculture by more than ¼ in the last two years. Help provided to our new farmers by our American partners (the Companies Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs, East-West Management Institute, Booze Allen, etc.) is extremely important for our country where 50% of the economy and 60% of the population are rural based. Extending this kind of assistance to the left bank of Nistru river could contribute to the reunification of our economic system. But unfortunately all the attempts to promote programs of reforms, democratization and protection of human rights in Transnistria are rejected by the separatist leaders desperately clinging to power in one of the last strongholds of totalitarianism in this part of the world.
I would like to thank the delegations of American congressmen led by Representative Curt Weldon (R., PA), who visited Moldova two times in the last years. I also like to take the opportunity of this hearing for addressing an invitation on behalf of the leadership of my country to the Honorable Christopher Smith and the members of the Helsinki Commission to visit Moldova in order to make their own impression about the real situation and the important role that U.S. Congress and the OSCE could play in solving once and forever the Transnistrian conflict.