KYIV -- Diplomats are gathering in the Ukrainian city of Lviv for the next round of talks on Moldova's frozen conflict with its separatist Transdniester region.
The talks on February 19, under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), are being held in the so-called 5+2 format. It consists of Russia, Ukraine, the United States, the European Union, and the OSCE, as well as Moldova and Transdniester.
Ukraine, which holds the rotating OSCE chairmanship, has made progress on Transdniester a priority.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara made his first trip as OSCE chairman in office to Moldova in January.
Kozhara told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that he was confident that the will exists both in Moldova and in Transdniester to move forward toward a settlement.
"Ukraine is one of the guarantors and mediators in the discussions of the Transdniester conflict. I believe Ukraine has all the necessary opportunities to continue this mission. The border between Ukraine and Moldova is nearly 1,000 kilometers long. ," Kozhara said.
"During my visit to Moldova in January 2013, I saw that politicians in Chisinau and Tiraspol are interested in making progress and working toward settling the Transdniester conflict."
However, the focus of the talks in Lviv will be on social and economic issues rather than more sensitive political issues such as Transdniester's status. Furthermore, Transdniester leader Yevgeny Shevchuk set back hopes for consistent progress when he announced on February 12 that he would not attend the Lviv meeting.
Shevchuk said he was only prepared to discuss a political settlement and Transdniester's status after all social, economic, and humanitarian questions had been resolved. Moldova argues that Tiraspol has taken this position in order to secure agreements and conditions that will bolster its independence claims.
Jennifer Brush, the head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova who will be representing the pan-European rights body at the talks in Lviv, told RFE/RL's Moldova Service that she was disappointed with Shevchuk's announcement.
"I read the announcement very carefully, and I still am disappointed that Mr. Shevchuk, all the same, could not find his way to go to Lviv," Brush said. "Of course, all the members of the 5+2 [process] should believe that such a meeting would lead the two leaders to come to an agreement on freedom of movement."
Prospects for progress in Lviv risk being further hampered by a developing political crisis in Moldova. On February 13, Prime Minister Vlad Filat announced that his Liberal Democratic Party was withdrawing from the ruling Alliance for European Integration coalition.
Pro-Russian Transdniester declared independence from mainly Romanian-speaking Moldova in 1990 and fought a war with Moldova in 1992. Transdniester's independence has not been recognized by any state.
Russia maintains about 1,200 troops in the separatist region, despite Moldova's repeated request that they be withdrawn.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian and Moldovan services