CHISINAU -- The new OSCE envoy for the Transdniester conflict says that Russia and Ukraine have equally important roles in resolving the decades-old dispute between Moldova and its eastern breakaway region.
Separatists in pro-Russian Transdniester, a sliver of territory on Moldova’s border with Ukraine, declared independence from Moldova in 1990 amid concerns that Chisinau would seek reunification with Romania.
Moldovan government forces and separatists in Transdniester fought a brief war in 1992 in which some 1,000 people were killed.
The conflict has been frozen since Russian troops stationed in Transdniester during the Soviet era intervened on the side of the separatists.
Transdniester's independence is not recognized by any internationally recognized country, but Moscow has been unofficially backing the separatists’ self-declared government.
A 1992 cease-fire agreement established the presence of a contingent of Russian peacekeepers in Transdniester along with Moldovan and Transdniestrian counterparts.
Separately some 1,400 Russian troops remain in Transdniester guarding Soviet-era arms depots, although Russia pledged to withdraw them at an OSCE summit in 1999.
"Russia's role is as important as that of Ukraine, the other co-mediator in the 5+2 negotiations process, and that of the two international observers, the United States and the European Union," Franco Frattini, the OSCE's special representative for the Transdniester settlement process, told RFE/RL on March 9.
Frattini did not respond directly to an RFE/RL question about why Russia hasn’t fulfilled the withdrawal promises it has made to the OSCE.
Instead, Frattini said it was important to clarify the definition of "the Russian army” under the cease-fire agreement.
Frattini said: "There is a clear difference between the trilateral Moldo-Russian-Transdnestrian peacekeeping forces and the Operational Group of Russian Troops (GOTR)” who guard the depots in Transdniester.
"The peacekeeping contingent is deployed in the Security Zone under the 1992 cease-fire agreement," Frattini said. "The GOTR is deployed outside the Security Zone and is not part of the joint peacekeeping mission. The OSCE statement from 1992 refers specifically to the GOTR."
Frattini also reiterated that the OSCE is prepared to offer its support for the removal and destruction of Russian munitions in Transdniester -- a process which was halted in 2004.
Asked about how his publicly acknowledged friendship with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov could influence a settlement in Transdniester, Frattini said he has “a vast network of contacts and I regard it as an advantage” that will help advance the settlement process.
“Yes, I do have good relations with Mr. Lavrov, similar to those with politicians and officials from the United States and Europe,” he said.
Frattini also voiced confidence that during Italy's 2018 presidency of the OSCE, he will build on the groundwork laid out last year, when five agreements from a "list of eight" priorities were signed by representatives of Moldova and Transdniester after negotiations in Vienna under the auspices of the OSCE.
"I see my task, in tandem with the OSCE Mission to Moldova and our international partners in the '5+2' process, to have all eight agreements implemented this year," Frattini said.
Frattini, a former Italian foreign minister, served as the EU commissioner for justice, freedom, and security from 2004 to 2008.