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Moldova: OSCE, Russia, Ukraine Present Joint Draft For Federalization

  • Eugen Tomiuc

Moldovan state media this week published what they said was a draft plan endorsed jointly by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia, and Ukraine that proposes to turn Moldova into a federal state. The measure is apparently meant to settle a decade-long dispute between Moldova and its breakaway Transdniester region. Under the plan, Transdniester would have the right to its own constitution and to an equal number of deputies as Moldova in one of the chambers of the future parliament. Moldova's Communist government and the OSCE mission there declined to elaborate on the measure. But the plan has come under harsh criticism from Moldova's opposition parties.

Prague, 11 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Communist government's newspapers in Moldova have published a draft plan that calls for turning Moldova into a federal state, where regions would have their own constitution and equal representation in parliament.

The plan, made public on 9 July, was first presented during negotiations in Kyiv last week between Moldova and its breakaway Transdniester region. Negotiations took place under the tripartite mediation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia, and Ukraine.

The talks produced what the OSCE calls a "non-paper" -- an unofficial document for which no country or organization takes responsibility -- containing ideas for the parties involved.

Matti Sidoroff, the spokesman for the OSCE mission in Moldova, told RFE/RL that the non-paper was presented jointly by the three mediators. "This project or draft, working paper or working document -- non-paper -- was presented by the mediators of the Transdniestrian conflict in Kyiv last week to the sides of the conflict. It was presented jointly by all the mediators -- that means the OSCE, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine," Sidoroff said.

Russian-speaking Transdniester broke away from Moldova in 1990 over fears that Moldova would seek reunification with neighboring Romania, of which it had been part until World War II.

Some 65 percent of Moldova's 4.5 million people speak "Moldovan," which is virtually identical to Romanian. Of the rest, the vast majority speak Russian. But there are also other ethnic groups, such as the ethnic Turkish Gagauz minority, which lives in an autonomous region called Gagauz-Yeri.

In 1992, Moldova and Transdniester fought a short war that ended with a truce enforced by Russian troops already stationed in the region since Soviet times. Little progress on Transdniester's status has been made since, despite mediation attempts by Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. No country has recognized the self-proclaimed Transdniester Republic.

But the current draft plan, called the "Agreement between Moldova and Transdniester," provides for turning Moldova into a federation where "state entities" will be formed. Such entities would be entitled to their own constitution and laws.

The draft does not say how many such entities would be established. But analysts say it is Transdniester and Gagauz-Yeri that would primarily benefit from the proposal.

The draft also provides for splitting the current 101-member parliament into two chambers: a chamber of representatives and a chamber of legislators.

The chamber of legislators would number 71 deputies, where entities will have representation proportional to the number of voters.

But the chamber of representatives would have 30 members, who analysts say would evenly represent Moldova, Transdniester, and Gagauz-Yeri, despite the fact that Moldova has overwhelmingly more people than either of the other two combined.

Moldova's pro-Russian Communist President Vladimir Voronin and his government have so far declined to comment on the proposal, which they say should first be discussed by the public.

But the proposal caused an uproar among Moldova's opposition politicians, who say it is a renewed attempt by Moscow to revive a similar project that it had launched several years ago, known as the "Primakov Plan" -- named after the then-chief negotiator in the dispute, former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. The plan was launched after Primakov's tenure as prime minister.

The pro-Romanian Christian Democratic People's Party (PPCD) said the plan will provoke renewed tensions in the region. PPCD leader Iurie Rosca said the proposal amounts to an attempt by Russia to counterbalance NATO's expected enlargement in the region.

Rosca told RFE/RL the draft is incoherent and lacks any legal basis. "This draft proposal cannot be treated seriously. It is a caricature, characterized by a crass lack of legal coherence. It isn't clear what its authors wanted to say when they claim that state entities will be formed. They don't even say how many such entities there will be. They don't elaborate on how they thought up a dual-chamber parliament where these entities are represented by an equal number of votes. Which are these entities? Are Transdniester and Moldova equal? This is a legal monstrosity, which has probably been promoted through the OSCE's mission to Moldova only because of the current international circumstances," Rosca said.

Rosca said both Russia and Ukraine have vested interests in the region and therefore the plan they back is not in the interest of Moldova.

The plan holds that Moldovan would remain the state language throughout Moldova. But the entities would be entitled to have their own official languages used alongside Moldovan in their administration and government institutions.

It also provides for what it calls "a delimitation of competencies" between Moldova and the entities, with the latter enjoying a wide array of powers.

Moldova would remain in charge of foreign policy, defense, and security, as well as guarding external borders and airspace.

A single currency would circulate throughout Moldova -- the current Moldovan leu issued by Moldova's central bank -- while all customs taxes and tariffs within the borders of Moldova would be abolished.

Furthermore, the project states that the transition to the federal state will take place under the presence of OSCE peacekeepers in Moldova.

Despite the Communists' official silence on the proposal, analysts say their decision to publish the plan in party newspapers alongside criticism from the opposition may indicate the government does not favor the measure.

OSCE spokesman Matti Sidoroff also declined to comment on the plan.

But critics have said that the OSCE needs to focus primarily on ensuring that Russia observes its commitments and withdraws its troops and armaments from Transdniester.

Under a 1999 OSCE agreement signed in Istanbul, Moscow pledged to withdraw its 2,500 troops, 50,000 weapons, and 40,000 tons of ammunition from Transdniester by the end of this year.

Opposition leader Rosca said the Russian withdrawal remains the region's top priority. "The real, serious issue here is the urgent demilitarization of the region, which means the complete evacuation of Russian troops and armaments from Transdniester, and at the same time, the removal of the [Transdniestrian] dictator [Igor] Smirnov's criminal gang," Rosca said.

Sidoroff admitted that Russia is way behind schedule in destroying and removing the arms and munitions from Transdniester. "[The destruction of ammunition] is far, far behind schedule, so we are worried about whether that can be destroyed or withdrawn by the [December] deadline. But we still try to be optimistic," Sidoroff said.

However, Sidoroff said he is positive that the draft plan to turn Moldova into a federal state will not influence in any way Moscow's commitment to withdrawing its equipment and personnel from the region.