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Russia Restates Commitment To Transdniester Solution

Transdniester's Igor Smirnov meets Russia's Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi
SOCHI, Russia -- Russia will keep pushing for a deal between ex-Soviet Moldova and its breakaway Transdniester region, the Kremlin has said, in a drive to shore up its reputation after last month's war with Georgia.

Like Georgia's long-festering dispute over two rebel pro-Russian regions, Moldova's is a frozen conflict left over from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Georgian war raised fears in the West and among some former Soviet republics that Moscow might also intervene in other separatist conflicts involving Russian-speakers.

But the Kremlin has set out to allay such concerns by stepping up a mediation drive over Transdniester. On September 3, President Dmitry Medvedev met separatist leader Igor Smirnov at his summer Black Sea residence of Bocharov Ruchei.

"It was agreed that the process of negotiations will continue with the participation of the three sides for the time being at a working level, but also possibly at a higher level," Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told reporters.

Smirnov, whose region heavily depends on political and economic support from Russia, made clear after the talks he was ready for a compromise.

"We need to talk," he told English-language television channel Russia Today. "We will try to find ways to bring our positions closer together."

His remarks contrasted sharply with pre-war statements by leaders in Georgia's separatist regions who had vowed to accept nothing less than full independence and refused to discuss any other options with Tbilisi.

Russia crushed Georgian forces in last month's war after Tbilisi had tried to recapture the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Its invasion, and subsequent recognition of the rebel areas as independent states, have drawn Western condemnation.

Russia argues its actions were a response to Georgian aggression and the threat of "genocide" in South Ossetia.

Analysts say Russia is now keen to appear as a successful broker of a compromise in a "frozen conflict" to prove it respects the territorial integrity of ex-Soviet states, unless provoked into a different kind of behavior.

Transdniester broke away from Moldova in the early 1990s and Russia sent troops to end the conflict. Some have stayed in the region as a peacekeeping force, reserving the role of key mediator for Moscow.

At a meeting with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on August 25, Medvedev said he saw "good prospects" for reaching a deal with the separatists.

In 2003, Moldova rejected a compromise drafted by Russia, under which Transdniester would re-integrate into the country but enjoy broad autonomy and guarantees that it could leave the agreement if Moldova decided to merge with neighboring Romania, with which it has close ethnic ties.

Smirnov told Russia Today that Moscow had agreed to be a guarantor of any new deal between Moldova and the separatists.