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Moldova: COE's Help Requested In Diplomatic Spat With Romania

Moldova says it has asked for the Council of Europe's help in what Chisinau says is a growing conflict with neighboring Romania. The appeal to the European body follows Romania's refusal to sign a wide-ranging bilateral treaty confirming Moldova's current borders. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin condemned Bucharest's refusal and rejected what he called the "Romanian thesis of two Romanian states." But Bucharest has dismissed the accusations outright, saying it has always supported Moldova's independence and statehood.

Prague, 14 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Moldova's Communist government has requested international assistance in what it says is a deterioration of its relations with neighboring Romania.

The Moldovan complaint comes after Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, during a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg last month, said he would not sign a Romanian-Moldovan treaty that, along with other provisions, was set to confirm Moldova's borders.

Nastase said Romania was the first state to recognize Moldovan independence, and that further treaties were not necessary. Moldova's Foreign Ministry says Bucharest's refusal poses "a threat to the existence of the Moldovan state," by destabilizing the internal situation, delaying a final settlement of the Transdniester conflict and casting a pall on Moldova's European integration.

Moldova's representative at the Council of Europe, Alexei Tulbure, yesterday said Chisinau has officially requested the Council's help in overcoming its political disagreements with Romania. Tulbure told RFE/RL, "Romania will answer at the Council of Europe, and [Bucharest] showed their willingness to answer Moldova's statement. Subsequently, the Council will decide the future fate of this discussion."

Tulbure's Romanian counterpart, Gheorghi Prisecaru, dismissed the remarks, calling the claims made by Chisinau "absurd."

The Moldovan complaint came as President Vladimir Voronin lashed out on 12 October at Bucharest, which he accused of advocating what he called "an unacceptable thesis about two Romanian states."

Voronin said in a televised interview with a Romanian TV station that Moldova was ready for cooperation with Romania, but without, as he put it, "interference in our internal affairs." Voronin did not elaborate on what he meant by "interference." Romanian officials dismissed Moldova's claims outright. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana yesterday said that, on the contrary, Romania has always supported Moldova's independence and European integration. "Romania has been and will remain deeply interested in Moldova's European integration. Romania is and will remain an advocate of Moldova's independence and statehood. Romania is interested in Moldova's European integration and I think that Romania proved with [deeds] that over the past several years it has been the main advocate of Moldova's European and Southeastern European integration. If Moldova is today a member of the Stability Pact [in Southeastern Europe] -- and we hope it will become a member of the Southeastern European cooperation process next year -- it is mainly because of Romania's diplomatic and political efforts."

Much of contemporary Moldova was part of Romania until World War II, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union, and more than 65 percent of its 4.5 million residents speak Romanian. Moldova became independent in 1991, after its eastern, mainly Russian-speaking, Transdniester region had already broken away, fearing reunification with Romania.

In the summer of 1992, the two sides fought a short but bloody war, which ended when Russian forces stationed in Transdniester intervened on the side of the separatists.

After a decade of inconclusive negotiations between Moldovans and Transdniestrians under trilateral mediation from Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE, a solution to the conflict has yet to be found.

Some 2,000 Russian troops and thousands of tons of military equipment are still located in the region.

Meanwhile, a controversial OSCE-sponsored plan to turn Moldova into a federation together with Transdniester has been advancing at a snail's pace. Nastase in Strasbourg also said that Romania was ready to take part in the mediation of the Transdniester conflict. Moldovan political analyst Igor Munteanu says the prospect of involving Romania and possibly the European Union in the negotiations has apparently displeased both the Moldovan Communist government and Russia, which wields a great deal of leverage in Moldova's affairs.

"Russia's patronage of the Moldovan leadership is also influencing the escalation of Moldo-Romanian relations, especially since the media reported on certain proposals to involve Romania, too, in the mediation process of the Transdniester dispute -- to expand the negotiations format to include the United States, the EU, and Romania as a neighboring country. This thing cannot strategically please Moscow, which acts indirectly through the Communist authorities," Munteanu said.

Munteanu says Voronin was infuriated by Bucharest's refusal to sign a bilateral treaty because he had believed a treaty with Romania would give more credibility to a federal Moldova that included Transdniester.

Moldova is Europe's poorest state, with an average income of about $1 per day. The Communists came to power in 2001 promising a return to at least a Soviet-era standard of living. But economic troubles and poverty have deepened, with Moldova becoming one of the main suppliers for traffickers of human beings and human organs. Often murky Russian business interests dominate the Moldovan economy. In Transdniester, arms and drugs trafficking have flourished under the control of criminal groups reportedly connected with the separatist leadership.

Romania has made some advances toward economic and political integration into NATO and the EU, despite a spate of problems which include endemic corruption and insufficient administrative and economic reform. Analyst Munteanu says Voronin and his Communist government are wary of the attraction that Romania, despite its relative poverty, is posing for even poorer Moldovans.

Munteanu says Chisinau is now attempting to blame its dire economic and political situation on its western neighbor. "Relations with the international financial organizations have been ruined completely. New international credits could not be expected before the end of next year at the earliest. Electoral promises made by the Communists have been unfulfilled. The federalization [with Transdniester] is going more slowly than expected. And all these failures have made Voronin determined to find new scapegoats, new enemies. And of course, the closest enemy is the external enemy -- first and foremost, Romania."

Analysts and politicians are skeptical about the consequences of Moldova's unusual step of complaining to the Council of Europe. Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana says, "I would place these statements in a larger context, influenced by domestic problems, by larger, geostrategic issues, and I am convinced that their echo will be minimal. Such statements have become part of a pattern, which is being applied when things become more complicated for the leaders in Chisinau from other points of view."

The press service of the Council of Europe declined to comment on the issue.

(RFE/RL's Romanian-Moldovan Service contributed to this report.)