June 16, 2007

Moldova: The CFE Conference and a Secret Russian Deal

Source : Stratfor
June 15, 2007 21 34 GMT


Though an emergency conference between NATO and Russia on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe ended June 15 in deadlock, new insights into where Russia next will push back against Europe appeared, and the prospects for a secret deal between Russia and Moldova improved.


An emergency conference to discuss the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) ended June 15 in deadlock. Russia convened the conference after Russian President Vladimir Putin called on all NATO countries to ratify the treaty, which has formed the basis for collective security in post-Cold War Europe. Though the summit ended without any movement on the heated debates between NATO and Moscow, confirmation of secret deals between Moldova and Russia was evident, and Russia now has a chance of legally moving more forces into Europe -- at least on Europe's periphery.

The CFE conference was held in Vienna, Austria, June 12-15; representatives attended from most nations that emerged from the former Soviet Union and most major NATO states. It was rumored that many powerful politicians from Russia and NATO would also attend, but in the end, technocrats from each state ultimately met to continue hammering out the same disputes that have been in the headlines for months now.

For NATO, the outstanding issue is the continued presence of Russian troops in Georgia and Moldova. The United States and NATO have said they will ratify their end of the CFE only if Russia removes its troops from Georgia and from Moldova's Transdniestria region, and agrees that a NATO international peacekeeping force should replace them. Russia's representative to the talks, Anatoly Antonov, called the suggestion humiliating, and countered that U.S. bases in Romania and Bulgaria posed a direct military threat to Russian borders.

Though nothing new came from the main discussions, an interesting side deal was revealed in the process. Stratfor first mentioned a rumored deal between Russia and Moldova on May 30. It now looks as if the deal consisted of more than rumors, and that Russia might use Moldova as one of its points for pushing back into Europe.

Moldova, Europe's poorest state, lies sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. Its secessionist region, Transdniestria, is mainly populated by ethnic Russians and Ukrainians. Moldova refuses to release it, however, because it is Moldova's industrial center. Since the end of the Soviet Union, Transdniestria declared independence and went to war against Moldova; it now exists in legal limbo, with 2,500 Russian peacekeepers present to keep the situation from getting out of hand again. The West has accused Russia of violating the CFE, as Russia's military presence lacks a peacekeeping mandate. Meanwhile, Moldova has subjected the region to an economic blockade, with Russia recently blocking Moldovan access to Russian markets in return. Russia's response has hit the mostly agrarian country hard.

While the West confronts Russia on its allegedly illegal presence in Moldova and Russia begins to pull out of the CFE, rumors surfaced saying Russia and Moldova have agreed that, if the Russian military can remain in Transdniestria for another 10 years, Russia would agree to allow Moldova to reintegrate the secessionist territory -- and both sides would end their respective economic bans. The economic benefits of such a deal are obvious for both sides. The deal also would eliminate half of NATO's argument that Russia is in violation of the CFE. But the real twist of the rumored deal is that would put Russian troops in a strategically significant spot of Europe, namely, next to Romania -- just as the United States is moving in -- and flanking the far side of Ukraine, which Russia wants back.

Events at the CFE conference have made the rumor appear like more than just talk . At the meeting, U.S. representatives urged Moldova and Transdniestria to accept an international peacekeeping force, but the proposals were dismissed -- most likely because both countries already had a deal in the works with Russia, which Moldova hopes will end with territorial reintegration. An announcement came June 14 from Moldova's largest exporter, Moldova-Vin, that all outstanding trade issues between Russia and Moldova had been resolved. And at the end of the conference, Transdniestrian President Igor Smirnov asked Russia on June 15 to double its Transdniestrian peacekeeping contingent.

The deal between Moldova and Russia will benefit Moldova in the long run since ultimately it will be able to boot out the Russian troops and keep its separatist territory. But Russia is thinking in the more immediate term as it seeks to counter NATO expansion and the U.S. move to install missile defense and military bases closer to its border. Now Russia is pushing back, gaining a legal military foothold in Europe in the process

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