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Moldova: Transdniester Leader Shows Interest In Kyiv's Settlement Plan

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko met in Ukraine on 14 July with Igor Smirnov, the leader of Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester. According to the Ukrainian president's official website, Smirnov agreed to cooperate with Kyiv in implementing the plan that Yushchenko proposed in April aimed at settling the Transdniester conflict, which has been simmering between Chisinau and Tiraspol since a war between the two sides in 1992.

Prague, 15 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Yushchenko plan sets its main objective as the peaceful and democratic reintegration of Moldova within the borders of the Moldovan Soviet republic as of 1 January 1990.

The entire territory would fall under the constitutional system of the Republic of Moldova, but the separatist region of Transdniester would be granted "special status."

Chisinau seems unlikely to embrace such a plan wholeheartedly. Moldovan parliamentary deputy speaker Iurie Rosca suggested as much when he commented on the Transdniester conflict settlement for RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service earlier this week.

"The Moldovan authorities do not want to negotiate with the criminals from Tiraspol because they represent the 'tools' of the Russian Federation in the region," Rosca said. "Therefore, it's not rational for us to negotiate with the 'tools' but with the ones who 'handle' the tools -- meaning, with the administration of the Russian Federation. The Republic of Moldova wants to discuss this with its partners from Moscow even if this dialogue is a difficult one. To continue unfruitful discussions with Smirnov's separatists is also counterproductive and ridiculous for us. And I hope that that's something that will be understood more clearly also in other capitals of the world, not only in Moscow."

The plan's 18-month time frame proposes the Moldovan parliament pass by August a law defining Transdniester's status as an autonomous entity within Moldova. It also calls for early and democratic elections to the Transdniestrian legislature under international monitoring by November 2005, and for the clear division of authority between the central and autonomous government bodies.

The plan gives Tiraspol the right to participate in any foreign-policy decisions by Chisinau that affect Transdniester's interests. The plan also stipulates that Transdniester has the right to secede if Moldova joins another state or ceases to be a subject of international law. This last provision appears to address the fear of Transdniestrians that Moldova may reunite with Romania at some time in the future.

The Moldovan parliament last month endorsed almost unanimously the Yushchenko plan. But it added one important condition -- that Russia withdraw its military contingent from Transdniester by 2006. Russia currently has some 500 servicemen in the so-called security zone along the Dniester River separating Transdniester from the rest of Moldova.

Chisinau's apparent eagerness to resolve the Transdniester issue without Tiraspol, on the other hand, may not work with Moscow, which wants the separatist region to be treated as an equal partner in the negotiations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this week said a Transdniester settlement is possible only if both sides participate in the negotiations. He slammed Chisinau for its reluctance to speak with Tiraspol.
Tiraspol was initially hostile to the Yushchenko plan, reportedly fearing that its hidden purpose was to replace Russian troops in the region with NATO forces. But Smirnov's apparent consent to the plan yesterday means a significant step forward.

"The impression is that the Moldovan authorities are trying to do everything possible and impossible not only to block the Transdniester settlement -- they boycott every attempt to resume the negotiation process -- but also to damage Russian-Moldovan relations even more," Lavrov said.

Tiraspol was initially hostile to the Yushchenko plan, reportedly fearing that its hidden purpose was to replace Russian troops in the region with NATO forces. But Smirnov's apparent consent to the plan yesterday means a significant step forward.

Yushchenko and Smirnov also agreed yesterday to invite representatives of the EU and the United States to take part in negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, which has so far been brokered by Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Both politicians also decided to set up a working group to formulate criteria for democratizing Transdniester and ensure a transparent electoral process there.

However, the Yushchenko-Smirnov agreement may be not enough to ensure that Chisinau and Tiraspol start talking about practical steps to implement the plan. A Moldovan delegation to a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE in Washington on 1-5 July staged a walkout in protest against an adopted resolution on the Transdniester conflict settlement. The delegation reportedly demanded that the Tiraspol administration be referred to in the resolution as "separatist" and "criminal."

Ukraine's prominent role in brokering a deal between Chisinau and Tiraspol is obviously a consequence of Kyiv's vigorous pro-European policies that followed the 2004 Orange Revolution and the installation of Yushchenko as president.

But Kyiv is also keenly interested in the fate of some 200,000 Ukrainians who live in Transdniester. Yushchenko's website reported that he and Smirnov, apart from political issues, also discussed the supply of Ukrainian textbooks to Ukrainian-language schools in Transdniester and quotas for students from Transdniester at Ukrainian universities.

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

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