Accessibility links

Newsline - May 12, 1997




YELTSIN, MASKHADOV SIGN PEACE AGREEMENT

President Boris Yeltsin and his Chechen counterpart, Aslan Maskhadov, today signed a treaty "on peace and the principles of Russian-Chechen relations," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. On arriving in Moscow this morning, Maskhadov said the signing of the treaty would deprive unspecified hard-liners in Russia of "any basis to create ill-feelings between Moscow and Grozny." He added that the signing means "Russia, the North Caucasus, and the whole Muslim world" will enter a new political era, according to AFP. Details of the treaty are not yet known. Late last week, substantive differences were reported between Moscow and Grozny. Maskhadov is also scheduled to meet with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin later today to sign bilateral socio-economic agreements , including on customs and banking, ITAR-TASS reported.

CHERNOMYRDIN SETS CONDITIONS FOR AID TO CHECHNYA

In an interview with ITAR-TASS on 10 May, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin said that Moscow continues to view Chechnya as a constituent part of the Russian Federation and that no funds will be made available for reconstruction before the signing of a formal peace treaty between Moscow and Grozny. He added that Russia will not assume the entire cost of reconstruction since Chechnya has its own resources in the form of crude oil as well as the facilities to refine and process the oil.

RADUEV PLEDGES NO FURTHER ATTACKS AGAINST RUSSIA

Meeting in Grozny on 10 May with Chechen First Deputy Premiers Shamil Basaev and Movladi Udugov, maverick field commander Salman Raduev pledged to desist from further terrorist threats against Russia or other acts that could jeopardize the peace process, ITAR- TASS reported. Only hours earlier, however, Raduev had told fellow members of the Dzhokhar's Path movement at a rally in the Chechen capital that he vows "to continue the fight until full political independence for Chechnya" is achieved. He also accused the Chechen leadership of planning a peace agreement "behind the people's back."

THREE MORE JOURNALISTS ABDUCTED IN CHECHNYA

While returning from filming the Grozny rally of Raduev's supporters, three NTV journalists were abducted by six armed masked men in the village of Samashki. Yelena Masyuk, one of NTV's best-known correspondents, was among those abducted. She has broadcast many interviews with Chechen field commanders. Chechen President Maskhadov told Ekho Moskvy yesterday that the journalists had refused the offer of an armed escort and blamed their kidnapping on Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov. The Russian Federal Security Services attributed the abduction to the inability of Chechen law enforcement agencies to control the situation, ITAR-TASS reported.

PRIMAKOV SAYS NATO TALKS THIS WEEK WILL BE DECISIVE

Foreign Minister Yevgenni Primakov says talks this week with NATO officials will determine whether a charter between Russia and the alliance can be signed on 27 May. In an interview broadcast yesterday on Russian TV, Primakov repeated that signing a document is not a goal in itself for Russia. He did not specify which military and political issues would be discussed at the sixth round of talks between him and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, which are scheduled for tomorrow in Moscow. Reuters reported that Primakov's interview was recorded on 8 May, the same day Yeltsin said the Russian-NATO charter was "98% complete." Meanwhile, Solana told journalists on 10 May that he remains optimistic that a deal can be signed on 27 May, although he noted that "the most difficult questions" still have to be resolved, ITAR-TASS reported.

BEREZOVSKII SAYS NEW SECURITY DOCTRINE ALLOWS FIRST STRIKE

Deputy Security Council Secretary Berezovskii has confirmed that, according to the doctrine approved last week by the Security Council, Russia could use nuclear weapons first in a conflict (see "End Note," RFE/RL Newsline, 30 April 1997). In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 9 May, Berezovskii said Russia would not use a nuclear strike to secure an advantage but would do so only "if we are driven into a corner and have no other alternative." Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin announced in February that Russia might respond with nuclear weapons if it faced a conventional attack. In 1982, the Soviet Union declared it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but a military doctrine adopted in 1993 did not include the "no first strike" pledge.

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW

Iraqi Vice President and Foreign Minister Tareq Aziz met in Moscow on 9 May with Foreign Minister Primakov and Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk to discuss the prospects for lifting the UN-imposed sanctions against Iraq. Also on the agenda was the implementation of an agreement whereby Iraq may export limited quantities of oil to finance the purchase of food and medicines. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman stressed the previous day that, in its dealings with Iraq, Moscow will comply with the restrictions imposed by the international community, ITAR-TASS reported.

COMPETING MARCHES IN MOSCOW TO COMMEMORATE VICTORY DAY

Yeltsin reviewed a parade of some 5,000 soldiers on Red Square on 9 May, the anniversary of the World War II victory over Germany, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. There were neither tanks nor missiles in the military parade, which Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov described as "sad and not impressive." A rival Victory Day demonstration organized by various communist groups took place on Lubyanka Square. Law enforcement officials estimated the crowd at 50,000, but organizers said the number of participants was several times higher. Zyuganov, addressing the rival rally, slammed proposed budget cuts and warned that the government plans to dissolve the State Duma. Meanwhile, Duma Legislation Committee Chairman and Communist Anatolii Lukyanov told RFE/RL that the Duma is not planning a vote of no confidence in the cabinet, since Yeltsin would probably respond by replacing Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin with a "more odious" figure.

NO VICTORY DAY PARADE IN VLADIVOSTOK

For the first time since 1945, no naval parade was held in Vladivostok to mark Victory Day, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 May. Primorskii Krai is facing an acute energy crisis and lacked the funding for a parade. However, the agency said the Dalenergo regional utility persuaded workers at one coal mine to ship coal to a power station on 9 May, which helped alleviate power shortages. In addition, ITAR-TASS reports today that workers have restored power lines in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast that were damaged by a fire at an arms depot two weeks ago. Two of those lines supply electricity to Primore.

CONTROVERSY SURROUNDS ARREST OF BANKRUPTCY OFFICIAL

The Russian media continues to speculate about the reason for the recent arrest of Petr Karpov, the deputy director of the Federal Bankruptcy Administration (FUDN). Karpov has been in custody since 28 April on suspicion of taking a bribe of 5 million rubles ($870) from an enterprise in Saratov in 1994. He was first arrested last July but was released in October and allowed to continue working at the FUDN. His lawyer has complained that pre-trial detention is usually reserved for violent criminals or those who pose an escape risk. Izvestiya suggested last week that the security services hope Karpov will provide compromising information on First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. Segodnya speculated on 6 and 8 May that Karpov was arrested because "the real corrupt ones and treasury robbers" believe Karpov knows too much about how enterprises hide their profits from tax collectors.




CHERNOMYRDIN TO MEDIATE IN ABKHAZ STANDOFF?

Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 10 May that Russian President Yeltsin has created a special task force to resolve the Abkhaz conflict, Interfax reported. That force will be headed by Russian Premier Chernomyrdin, who may travel to Georgia to mediate a meeting between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba. Abkhaz parliamentary speaker Sokrat Djindjolia told Interfax on 10 May that if Russia does not lift its economic blockade of Abkhazia, the Abkhaz leadership will insist on the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force and the end of Russian mediation. Meanwhile, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 7 May that the Abkhaz leadership wants Western representatives to take over mediating a settlement of the conflict.

GERMAN CHANCELLOR STOPS OVER IN KAZAKSTAN

Helmut Kohl met with Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev during a brief stopover in Almaty on 10 May on his way back to Germany from a southeast Asian tour, ITAR-TASS reported. The two leaders discussed, among other issues, the question of ethnic Germans in Kazakstan. Kohl said Bonn is "not interested" in having ethnic Germans from Kazakstan return to Germany. He added that he would like to see German capital used to develop small and medium-sized businesses in Kazakstan, saying this would help the country's German population. Few other details of their talks were released. Kohl said more information will be forthcoming when Nazarbayev pays a visit to Germany in November.

KAZAKSTAN HAS HIGHEST TUBERCULOSIS RATE IN CIS

Official data released by the Kazak Health Ministry shows the country has the highest incidence of tuberculosis among the CIS countries, Interfax reported yesterday. Over the past three years, registered cases of the disease have risen by 38% to some 50,000 and the fatality rate has increased from 59.7 persons per 100 to 82.5 per 100. Much of the population is too poor to seek treatment, health officials say. The tuberculosis incidence among ethnic Kazaks is three times higher than among any other ethnic group in the country.

IRANIAN PRESIDENT IN TAJIKISTAN...

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani met with his Tajik counterpart, Imomali Rakhmonov, in Dushanbe on 9 May, the Russian press reported. The two leaders signed eight documents, including memoranda on cooperation between their ministries of economics, foreign affairs, industry, and transportation. Iran will help Tajikistan construct a new hydro-electric power station in Khatlon and finish a stretch of highway that will connect the southwestern city of Kulyab with Kalai-Khumb and from there provide access to the Karakoram highway.

...TOGETHER WITH AFGHAN PRESIDENT

One day later, Burhanuddin Rabbani arrived in Dushanbe to meet with his Iranian and Tajik counterparts, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Rafsanjani and Rakhmonov said they continue to recognize Rabbani and his government as the legitimate leadership in Afghanistan, despite the fact that the Taliban movement now control two-thirds of that country. The three presidents reaffirmed their view that peace in Afghanistan must be achieved through political means. All three will attend the meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization that begins in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, tomorrow. Rafsanjani arrived yesterday in Turkmenistan, where he met with President Saparmurat Niyazov to discuss bilateral trade. Meanwhile, Reuters reports he is due to return briefly to Iran today to inspect damage caused by an earthquake in northern Iran that measured 7.1 on the Richter scale.




UKRAINE, U.S. DISAGREE OVER SHORT-RANGE MISSILES

Volodymir Horbulin, the secretary of the Ukrainian Security Council, told reporters in Kyiv on 10 May that Ukraine cannot accept new U.S. demands that would restrict the production and use of tactical missiles in the country. The demands were made as a condition for Ukraine's joining a 25-state nuclear nonproliferation treaty called the Multilateral Missile Technology Control Regime. Horbulin argued that Ukraine, as a space technology country, cannot give up the right to produce and use missiles that are not linked to the agreement on medium- range missiles. He said the issue will be discussed during President Leonid Kuchma's visit to Washington next week.

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES UNION CHARTER WITH RUSSIA

Alyaksandr Lukashenka says a committee revising the union charter with Russia has resolved several complicated issues but still has to deal with two unspecified matters. Lukashenka spoke to journalists in Minsk yesterday. The previous day, he said on Russian TV that he was displeased with the latest version of the charter, adding that Russia is not prepared for union with Belarus. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Lukashenka are expected to sign the final charter agreement on 23 May. Meanwhile, at a Victory Day ceremony in Minsk on 9 May, Lukashenka said Belarus does not need anyone else's assessments or instructions.

ESTONIA CRACKS DOWN ON RUSSIAN-SPEAKING OFFICIALS WITH POOR KNOWLEDGE OF ESTONIAN

The Justice Ministry on 9 May called for criminal proceedings to be launched against two Russian-speaking judges from the northeastern towns of Narva and Kohtla-Jarve, BNS reported. The move came two days after the state prosecutor dismissed four Russian-speaking district attorneys in the northeast of the country for inadequate knowledge of Estonian and for possessing false Estonian- language proficiency certificates. Under Estonian law, state officials must have Estonian citizenship, for which the most important requirement is elementary Estonian. Also on 9 May, a second list of former KGB informers was published in the government's official journal, Riigi Teataja.. The secret police is required to reveal the names of those informers who failed to report their role by 1 April 1996.

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

Vytautas Landsbergis has been named as the presidential candidate of the ruling Homeland Union, BNS reported on 10 May. A former music professor who played a key role in Lithuania's drive for independence from the Soviet Union, Landsbergis was nominated by unanimous vote at a party conference in Vilnius. Last year, he helped the party remove the former communists from power in the December parliamentary elections. Incumbent President Algirdas Brazauskas, the former head of the communist party, has said he will not decide whether to run until the fall, when the presidential election campaign is due to begin. Meanwhile, Brazauskas today begins a four- day official visit to Japan, Interfax reported.

POLISH PRESIDENT UNDER FIRE OVER DRAFT CONSTITUTION

Former Prime Minister Jan Olszewski claims that Aleksander Kwasniewski is deceiving the nation over the constitutional referendum scheduled for later this month, PAP reported. Olszewski, who is the leader of the Reconstruction of Poland movement (ROP), told a news conference yesterday that a letter from Kwasniewski that is being sent to citizens along with the new draft constitution is "manipulative propaganda designed to mislead citizens." In that letter, the draft is called the "Constitution of the Republic of Poland." But, as Olszewski pointed out, it will become law only if approved in the 25 May referendum. Olszewski said Kwasniewski was misleading the public by failing to state that the document was only a draft. Meanwhile, Kwasniewski has expressed dismay at the Catholic bishops' statement that the draft constitution raises "serious moral objections."

POLISH PREMIER APPOINTS EU INTEGRATION ADVISORY COUNCIL

Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on 9 May appointed a council to advise the government during preparations for accession talks with the EU, Polish media reported. The 68-member council includes chiefs of all caucuses, heads of employers' groups, business executives, economists, academics, well-known journalists, and cultural experts.

CZECH PRESIDENT ON UPCOMING U.S. TRIP

Vaclav Havel said in his regular radio address yesterday that his working visit to the U.S., which begins tomorrow, takes place at a time when there is significant opposition to NATO expansion among U.S. senators and congressmen. Noting that NATO will decide at its Madrid summit in July about admitting new members, he said the issue is of key importance for the Czech Republic. Havel remarked that another reason for his trip is to receive the European Statesman Award, together with German President Roman Herzog. The award is being given to the two leaders in connection with the approval of the Czech-German declaration, which is regarded as a step toward reconciliation between the two states.

REFERENDUM CAMPAIGN BEGINS IN SLOVAKIA

A 10- day campaign leading up to the 23-24 May referendum on Slovakia's NATO membership and direct presidential elections began yesterday. Slovak TV and Radio began broadcasting campaign slots by various political parties the same day. Slovak President Michal Kovac, speaking on Slovak Radio on 10 May, urged citizens to vote in favor of NATO membership. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar said on Slovak Radio the previous day that the referendum question on direct presidential elections will be unnecessary if the Constitutional Court rules that the constitution cannot be changed through a plebiscite. He also noted that U.S. criticism of the pace of democratic reform in his country is based on a "misunderstanding."

UPDATE ON SCANDALS INVOLVING HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST DEPUTIES

Judit Csehak, deputy prime minister in Hungary's last communist government, has admitted that, as a member of the former Hungarian Socialist Worker's Party's politburo, she had access to state security reports, Hungarian dailies report today. Csehak, who spoke after the results of an investigation carried out by a screening panel were made public, said "there is no fact I should be ashamed of and which I could not make public." Those subject to the screening process may either resign or face public scrutiny in the courts, but Csehak has not resigned her position as deputy. In other news, Socialist deputy Gabor Kiss, who has been implicated in a recent intelligence office scandal (see RFE/RL Newsline, 18 April 1997), pledged to quit public life at the end of the current legislature, Vilaggazdasag reports. He said the scandal has put him in a "morally untenable" position.




FATE OF ALBANIAN ELECTION PACT UNCERTAIN

Leaders of Albania's Salvation Committees met in Vlora yesterday and praised the election agreement brokered by OSCE envoy Franz Vranitzky on 9 May. But they said that only a larger meeting scheduled for the end of this week can decide whether to disband the committees. Under the 9 May agreement, the committees must dissolve themselves by 14 May and the parliament must pass a new election law today enabling President Sali Berisha to sign a decree by 15 May that confirms elections will be held on 29 June. The opposition wants the law to increase the number of seats elected by proportional representation so that smaller parties will have chance to enter the parliament. Meanwhile in Tirana yesterday, some 10 assailants beat up Social Democratic leader Skender Gjinushi.

ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER IN WASHINGTON

Bashkim Fino arrived in the U.S. capital yesterday to discuss the situation in Albania with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. En route to Washington, Fino met in Rome with his Italian counterpart, Romano Prodi. The ministers of foreign affairs, defense, and justice also make up the Albanian delegation. Meanwhile in Tirana, Italian Defense Minister Beniamino Andreatta on Friday repeated his opposition to expanding the mandate of Operation Alba, which, he said, would lead to clashes with armed gangs.

BALKAN PYRAMID SCHEME UPDATE

The Albanian parliament on 9 May passed legislation regulating pyramid investment schemes, ATA reported. The collapse of five such scams in January led to anarchy across much of the country. Four other pyramid investment companies are still operating but have stopped paying interest. Meanwhile in neighboring Macedonia, some 5,000 people demonstrated in Bitola on 9 May to demand government reimbursement for money lost in the collapse of the local TAT pyramid scheme. The authorities have promised partial reimbursement and started legal proceedings against key figures in the scam.

CAN KOSOVO LIBERATION ARMY UNDERMINE SERBIAN CONTROL?

The clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) has the potential to disrupt Belgrade's grip on its mainly ethnic Albanian province, the New York Times wrote on 11 May, quoting U.S. intelligence officials. In his first-ever interview to Western journalists, the group's leader, who called himself "Alban," told the newspaper that the UCK is not a terrorist organization and is carrying out "attacks only against the representatives of the Serbian regime." Alban added that Serbian control of Kosovo will collapse in three years. In recent months, the UCK has increased the frequency and professionalism of its killings and is targeting primarily ethnic Albanians whom it considers to be collaborators.

CROATIAN PRESIDENT NAMES ETHNIC SERBS TO PARLIAMENT

Franjo Tudjman on 10 May appointed ethnic Serbian political leaders Vojislav Stanimirovic and Jovan Bamburaca to the upper house, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. He also named writer Ivan Aralica, former central banker Pero Jurkovic, and presidential advisor Slobodan Lang among the five appointments he makes to the 68-seat body. Also in Zagreb, a team of foreign and Croatian doctors said yesterday that Tudjman is in "excellent health" and that his medical treatment is nearly over. The Croatian president visited a U.S. military hospital last November, which touched off speculation at home and abroad that he has terminal cancer. Meanwhile, the Croatian authorities announced today that direct presidential elections will take place on 15 June.

CROATIAN OPPOSITION LEADER DENIES TREASON CHARGES

Pro-government dailies reported on 9 May that Stipe Mesic, an opposition politician and former confidant of Tudjman, has given extensive evidence to the Hague- based war crimes tribunal in which he betrayed both Tudjman and Croatia. The newspapers accused Mesic of telling the court that Tudjman and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic met frequently in the early 1990s to partition Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mesic told RFE/RL that he has never testified before the court but that he did speak to its representatives. He called the media campaign a "political lynching" that constitutes a threat against his life.

BOSNIAN SERB, CROAT LEADERS MEET

Leading Bosnian Serb and Croat politicians met in Banja Luka on Saturday, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from there. Bozo Rajic represented the Croatian Democratic Community, while Aleksa Buha spoke for the Serbian Democratic Party. Neither the meeting nor its contents have been officially confirmed. Muslim leaders and international representatives have repeatedly warned the Serbs and Croats not to make any private deals. Meanwhile in The Hague, EU Commissioner Hans van den Broek told Dutch TV on 10 May that Bosnian refugees should not be sent home until indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic is caught.

ROMANIAN PREMIER IN LUXEMBOURG, DEFENSE MINISTER IN NORWAY

Premier Victor Ciorbea met with his Belgian counterpart, Jean Claude Juncker, and bank officials during his visit to Luxembourg on 10 May. Minister for European Integration Alexandru Herlea, who accompanied Ciorbea, said in an interview with RFE/RL that Juncker fully endorsed Romania's bid for early NATO membership. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Victor Babiuc, who ended a two-day visit to Norway on 11 May, was unable to enroll Oslo's support for Romania's membership bid. He told Radio Bucharest that Norway has not yet "made up its mind" on which countries should be invited to join the enlarged NATO at the July Madrid summit.

ROMANIAN ECONOMIC NEWS

World Bank President James Wolfensohn on 11 May began a two-day visit to Romania, where he will meet with President Emil Constantinescu, Premier Victor Ciorbea, and members of the government, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. On arriving, he said his visit is intended to "demonstrate the [bank's] support" for the Ciorbea cabinet. He said the loans the bank will grant "have not yet been decided on" but will now be "discussed in detail." In other news, the National Statistics Commission said on 9 May that inflation dropped from nearly 31% in March to 6.9% in April. But the annual rate of inflation has already reached 88.7% and is expected to be higher than the 90% forecast by the government.

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT TO RESTORE CEMETERY FOR ROMANIA'S WWII SOLDIERS

A commemorative plaque has been put up at a site in Moldova where some 12,000 Romanian and Russian soldiers who fell during World War II are buried, BASA-press and Radio Bucharest reported on 9 May. The former cemetery was leveled by Soviet bulldozers in 1944 and a cattle farm was set up on the site. The ceremony was attended by the Romanian and Russian military attaches in Chisinau, Gen. Gheorghe Secu and Gen. Sergei Buturev. BASA-Press said Moldovan Premier Ion Ciubuc and Romanian ambassador Gheorghe Dinu will visit the site this week, when Ciubuc will be traveling by car to Romania for an official visit.

WORLD BANK APPROVES HUMANITARIAN LOAN FOR BULGARIA

The World Bank on 9 May approved a $40 million loan to Bulgaria for the immediate purchase of goods in short supply, such as medicine, wheat, and fuels. An RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported that the bank said the loan will support the first phase of the new government's program and is crucial for stopping and reversing the country's economic crisis. In other news, outgoing interim Premier Stefan Sofiyanski announced on 9 May that the country's telecommunications company and its cement industries are to be privatized. He said he hoped the telecommunications company will bring revenues of more than $ 1 billion.

BULGARIA TO SEEK CHEAPER RUSSIAN GAS

The director-general of the state monopoly Bulgargas says the company will try to get Russian gas at cheaper prices. Vasil Filipov told a press conference in Sofia yesterday that the prices charged by Russia's Gazprom company rose "an unrealistic 24%" last year and that Bulgargas will try to obtain gas at cheaper prices from foreign firms that have loaned money to Gazprom and are accepting repayment in the form of gas deliveries. He said "Gazprom creditors offer us favorable prices and we will swing to such suppliers."




A BREAKTHROUGH ON MOLDOVA?


by Paul Goble

A Russian-brokered agreement explicitly intended to preserve the territorial integrity of Moldova highlights Moscow's ability to exploit the internal divisions of former Soviet republics to bend them to its will. On 8 May, Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi and Igor Smirnov, the leader of the breakaway Transdniestr region, signed a memorandum in Moscow committing themselves to develop their "relations within the framework of a single state." Also signing the accord as guarantors were Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and Niels Helveg Petersen, the acting head of the OSCE.

Already hailed in Russia and the West as a "landmark" decision and a "breakthrough" document, this latest accord does not commit the two sides to anything more than further talks on the nature of their relations within a single country. It does not commit Russia to withdrawing any forces from the Transdniestr until the two sides come up with a workable agreement on their own. As a result, it does not put any new pressure on the Transdniestr leadership to move quickly toward a final agreement with Chisinau.

In sum, this is just the latest twist in the complex history of the Transdniestr region and its relations with Moldova and Moscow. In 1992, the Transdniestr region of Moldova, an area with a slim Slavic majority, unilaterally declared independence. That move provoked a brief civil war in which 700 people lost their lives and the deployment of Russian forces to keep the two sides apart. Ever since, Chisinau has sought to have Moscow withdraw its forces so that it can reestablish control over a region that some have characterized as the only place where the anti-Gorbachev August 1991 coup succeeded. Russia and Moldova subsequently reached an agreement that Russian troops would be withdrawn over a three-year period, but Moscow has not yet pulled them, arguing that the clock for their withdrawal has not started because the Duma has not ratified this accord.

There are several reasons for this delay. The local Slavic population continues to view the Russian forces as its savior against the Romanian-speaking majority of Moldova. Nationalists in Russia see them as the defenders of ethnic Russians abroad and, in fact, have made Aleksandr Lebed, the former commander of the Russian 14th Army in Transdniestr, their political hero. And Moscow regards them as a lever directly on Moldova and indirectly on Ukraine. Moreover, the Russian government remains uncertain of just where to relocate the 6,500 Russian troops currently stationed there and how to dispose of the enormous arms dumps in the region.

The latest accord does not change any of this. Indeed, Yeltsin admitted as much when he said that the latest agreement "does not mean all the problems have been resolved." Even more pointedly, he said that Russia "is ready to withdraw its peacekeeping contingent from Transdniestr as both sides resolve the conflict," thereby giving the Transdniestr authorities every reason to drag their feet. As in the past, Tiraspol is likely to pursue a strategy of simply making additional demands on Chisinau after every Moldovan concession.

Consequently, this accord is not going to be the "breakthrough" in the way that many commentators are suggesting. But it may be a breakthrough in another way. By involving the OSCE as a co-guarantor, Moscow in effect nullifies its earlier agreement with Chisinau to withdraw its forces from the Transdniestr region and does so with the blessing of an important international organization. That provides a more solid foundation for Russian forces there and perhaps in other places such as Abkhazia in Georgia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.

If that happens, what looks like a small step toward resolving the Transdniestr issue may prove a giant leap backward in securing the genuine independence of the former Soviet republics.


XS
SM
MD
LG