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Moldova: President Presents Federalization Plan, But Analysts Are Skeptical

  • Eugen Tomiuc

Moldova has come up with a new plan to settle a dispute with its breakaway region of Transdniester. President Vladimir Voronin says the measure contains specific proposals for a new, jointly drafted constitution that would turn Moldova into a federation and give official-language status to Russian. Voronin said Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have welcomed the proposal. But analysts say it is unlikely that the plan will prove successful, since separatist officials have no apparent interest in resolving their dispute.

Prague, 14 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has announced a new initiative to resolve the country's 12-year-long dispute with its separatist Transdniester region. Voronin said his plan provides for a new constitution that would turn Moldova into a federation.

Under the plan, Moldovan and Transdniestrian officials, as well as representatives of Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), would jointly draft a new constitution. It would then be subjected to referenda in both Moldova and Transdniester.

On 12 February, Voronin said the whole process would last about a year and would be followed by common general elections no later than February 2005, when his presidential term expires. "I think that all this period must be extended over 12 to 14 months, not more. That means early elections, parliamentary elections with the resignation of the government, the resignation of the president, all leadership of the country. A single parliament of Moldova will then be elected and then a new government will be formed and a new president will be elected [by parliament] in accordance with the new constitution. All these measures are going to be taken already in accordance with the provisions of the new constitution," Voronin said.

Moldova and Transdniester fought a short war in 1992 after the Russian-speaking Transdniestrians broke away in 1990, fearing that Moldova would seek reunification with neighboring Romania.

The conflict ended in an uneasy Russian-imposed truce enforced by Russian troops present in the region since the Soviet era. The two sides have yet to come to an agreement despite mediation attempts by the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine.

Voronin, a native of Transdniester himself, has said in the past that he was ready to grant the pro-Russian enclave a large degree of autonomy. But Transdniestrian leaders insist they want Moldova to become a loose confederation of two independent states.

Voronin said his new project was received favorably by the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine. "The OSCE mission has been informed about these proposals. Russian President [Vladimir] Putin, as [head of] a guarantor country, has also been informed. Ukrainian President [Leonid] Kuchma has also agreed with these proposals," Voronin said.

According to a draft of the plan, which was made public to the media, Transdniester would have its own governing and legislative bodies, as well as its own budget and fiscal authorities. The customs, monetary, and defense systems would be common for all of Moldova.

Furthermore, Transdniester would be entitled to its own language policy on its territory, while Moldovan, which is virtually identical to Romanian, would remain the state language. But the draft also says that Russian would become an "official language" on Moldova's territory. It does not specify the difference between official and state languages.

Analysts remain skeptical about prospects for the proposal.

Moldovan-affairs expert Vladimir Socor of the Washington-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies said that one of the main sticking points is the language issue. "It is the wrong approach," he said. "Transdniester should not set its policy on languages. It would have been much better to enshrine rights for the Russian and Ukrainian languages in Transdniester. We know that the language policy of Transdniestrian leaders continues the policy of linguistic Russification of the population of Transdniester: Moldovans and Ukrainians. Instead of allowing Tiraspol to set its language policy, Chisinau should propose that all the ethnic linguistic communities in Transdniester should be completely free to develop and cultivate their own languages," Socor said.

Furthermore, analysts agree it is unlikely that a solution to the dispute can be found outside international efforts to withdraw the 2,500 Russian troops from Transdniester.

Under a 1999 OSCE-sponsored agreement, Russia pledged to withdraw all troops and equipment by the end of last year. But Moscow claims that its attempts to withdraw military equipment have run into steady opposition from separatists, who say the weapons are their property.

Socor said that the plan neither calls for the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Transdniester nor does it state Moldova's neutral status. Both conditions are present in the current constitution.

However, Socor thinks that, judging by the long history of failed negotiations between the two sides, the plan has little chance of success. He believes the Transdniester issue will not be solved unless the international community involves itself more in the negotiations process, which is currently dominated by Moscow. "The OSCE can do nothing to offset Russian influence. The OSCE itself is subjected to Russia's veto. All the decisions and actions of the OSCE are subjected to Russia's veto. There is no situation anywhere in Europe, anywhere in the peacekeeping practice of the UN or of other international organizations in which one country, in this case Russia, dominates the negotiations so heavily. The negotiating framework in Moldova is not an international one. It needs to be internationalized," Socor said.

Meanwhile, analyst Charles King of Georgetown University in Washington believes the current proposal will stir little interest among Transdniester separatists or among their core of supporters in Russia and Ukraine. King said that Transdniester, a hub for lucrative criminal activities, wants to preserve the status quo. "I think the issue right at the moment, the solution, if you like, to this puzzle is the fact that what the Transdniestrians really want is the status quo, that is, no real resolution, no strong state authority in Moldova, no final settlement, simply because the current ambiguity benefits a lot of people on the ground," King said.

Transdniester's foreign minister, Valerii Litskay, has said that Tiraspol will "seriously consider" Moldova's proposal.

(RFE/RL's Romania and Moldova Service contributed to this report.)