A special envoy of the Balkan Stability Pact today concluded a three-day assessment of Moldova's readiness to join the European Union-financed group. Yesterday the envoy said he considers Moldova to be ready for membership and, if a final report is favorable, Moldova could become the first former Soviet republic to join the 10-nation pact. RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc reports:
Prague, 15 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Balkan Stability Pact coordinator's special envoy, Romanian diplomat Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, today ended a three-day (13-15 June) mission to Moldova, where he assessed the former Soviet republic's readiness to join the pact later this month.
Ungureanu and Donald Kirsch, deputy to pact coordinator Bodo Hombach, are working on a report on Moldova's progress due to be presented at a working meeting of the pact in Brussels later this month (28-29 June).
A favorable report is likely to result in Moldova being accepted as a member during the Brussels meeting. Ungureanu said yesterday that he and Kirsch were leaving with a favorable impression and that in his opinion, Moldova is prepared for admission to the pact.
"We are leaving with -- and I think Don [Kirsch] will agree with me -- a very good impression, and I hope that on 28 June [in Brussels] what we expect to happen will happen."
Moldova has been interested in joining the Stability Pact ever since the group's creation two years ago (July 1999), and has participated as an official observer in all the pact's working meetings.
The European Union, together with the Group of Seven industrialized nations plus Russia, established the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe to aid in the political and economic reconstruction of the region in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict. The pact's 10 current beneficiaries are the countries in that region and their neighbors: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Yugoslavia, and Turkey.
The pact promotes and finances regional projects aimed at economic reconstruction and development as well as the consolidation of the region's security and democratic institutions.
Ungureanu told RFE/RL this week that he and Kirsch wanted to make sure that Moldova is capable of upholding the pact's democratic principles and working on behalf of European integration.
"We are in fact verifying whether Moldova is able to observe the founding principles of the Stability Pact, and to what extent it has the political will to promote -- through the pact -- a European integration policy in accordance with those principles and with the expectations of the [pact's] donor and beneficiary countries."
Moldova's bid to become a full member of the pact has been strongly supported by its western neighbor, Romania, of which Moldova was part until World War II. Romania and Moldova have had a special relationship ever since the former Soviet republic declared independence in 1991.
But Moldova has been engaged in a 10-year dispute with the breakaway region of Transdniestr, which is regarded as a continuing danger to the peace and stability of the neighboring countries.
Pro-Russian Transdniestr broke away from Moldova in 1990 over fears that Moldovans would seek reunification with their ethnic kin in Romania. A brief armed conflict in 1992 between Moldova and the Transdniestr separatists ended in a Russia-mediated agreement, but a final settlement has yet to be concluded. Some 2,500 Russian troops are still deployed in Transdniestr, and a large Soviet-era arms arsenal is stockpiled in the region.
In backing Moldova's admission to the Stability Pact, Romania has said it will help promote a peaceful, negotiated resolution of the Transdniestr dispute, and thereby contribute to the security of the region.
Ungureanu says Moldova needs EU support to consolidate its stability. He told RFE/RL that Moldova can benefit politically from closer ties with the Union.
"Keeping an open communication channel between [Moldova's capital] Chisinau and Brussels gives Moldova's political future a much wider horizon and a fate infinitely more favorable for Moldova."
But Moldova has recently moved closer to Russia, after pro-Moscow communists won an overwhelming victory in parliamentary and presidential elections earlier this year (February and April).
Analysts say the communists' victory was largely the result of the country's poverty. Moldova, a country of some 4.5 million, is one of Europe's poorest nations, with an average monthly wage of $30. Its economy has shrunk by two-thirds since independence.
Moldova owes Russia some $600 million in unpaid gas and electricity bills, and an additional $800 million to international lending organizations. Moldova is due to pay back $90 million by the end of this year and $200 million in 2002.
Envoy Ungureanu says that Moldova's economy could benefit from Stability Pact funding, provided it comes up with projects that are of both national and regional importance. Yesterday, he met with Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev to discuss the projected construction of a Stability Pact-funded railway to connect Moldova with Romania and the rest of Europe. Moldova's Soviet-era wide-gauge railways cause substantial delays to international railway transport. Tarlev and Ungureanu have also discussed ways to integrate the two countries' energy grids.
Also yesterday, Ungureanu met with President Voronin to discuss Moldova's Stability Pact membership. Voronin says he is willing to seek closer ties with all countries and organizations that can help Moldova find a way out of its economic doldrums. But he has also said that his top priorities are closer ties with Russia and bringing Moldova into the Russia-Belarus Union.
Earlier this week (11 June), Voronin reiterated that Moldova's foreign policy will remain Russia-oriented: "For the first time, we have reached an agreement -- which we called strategic -- with the Russian Federation. Up to 60 percent of our exports go to Russia and 95 percent of our energy comes from Russia. I am telling you this in order not to have to answer again questions about the direction of Moldova's foreign policy. I have said, and I repeat: We must be where the interest of our country lies."
For Ungureanu, Moldova's likely entry into the Stability Pact will be a signal to other former Soviet republics that Europe's door is open to them. He says:
"Moldova's admission in the Stability Pact should make the European members of the Commonwealth of Independent States understand that there is a clear alternative -- European integration."
But Ungureanu warned that his and Kirsch's report will be carefully studied by the Stability Pact's decision-makers before a decision is made. If Moldova is admitted, he suggested, it will be because its membership is seen as a contribution to regional stability.