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William H. Hill: The Moscow Memorandum After Twenty Years

William H. Hill: The Moscow Memorandum After Twenty Years

William H. Hill, The author, a retired U.S. diplomat, served two terms as Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova between 1999 and 2006. The opinions and judgements expressed here are entirely his personal opinions.

On May 8, 1997, Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi and Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov signed an agreement which many observers, including the mediators in the Transdniestrian political settlement negotiations, thought would lead to a resolution of the conflict which had split the Republic of Moldovan since it gained its independence in August 1991. Formally titled the "Memorandum on the Bases for Normalization of Relations between the Republic of Moldova and Transdniestria,” this document was the culmination of over two years of intensive work by mediators from the OSCE, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation, and in particular the personal involvement of Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeniy Primakov. The Moscow Memorandum seemingly ended a period in the political settlement negotiations in which Chisinau and Tiraspol argued over whether they would be part of the same country, and ostensibly ushered in a new phase in the negotiation process in which the two sides were to reach agreement on the specific conditions under which they would live as parts of that country.

Of course, events did not work out that way. Twenty years later, the right and left banks seem much farther from a resolution of their conflict than they were in the late 1990s. This does not mean that one side or the other failed to observe or implement the agreement that was reached in the Moscow Memorandum, although over the years both Chisinau and Tiraspol have frequently and vituperatively accused the other of failing to carry out this and many other agreements reached in the negotiation process. In essence, the Moscow Memorandum was never a complete or final settlement of the conflict between Moldova and its Transdniestrian region. Instead, this document constituted only agreement on the first important issue in a series of questions which all needed to be resolved in order to achieve a lasting political settlement.

The heart of the agreement between the two sides in the Moscow Memorandum was the concept of the "common state” (obshchee gosudarstvo), a construct which apparently originated with Primakov and which he applied to his conflict resolution efforts not only in Moldova but also in Georgia with its two separatist entities, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The key sentence of the Memorandum reads as follows: "The Parties shall build their relations in the framework of a common state within the borders of theMoldavian SSR as of January of the year 1990.” The Memorandum contains no further explanation or guidance as to what is meant by the phrase "common state,” which left the concept open to interpretation by the leaders and negotiators from both Chisinau and Tiraspol. Not surprisingly, their interpretations differed widely. The one thing that seemed relatively indisputable from this sentence was that Moldova and Transdniestria were part of the same country.

In this sense, the Moscow Memorandum was a tremendous victory for Chisinau. In September 1990 separatist leaders in Transdniestria declared their region to be a separate constituent republic of the Soviet Union. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in late 1991 they proclaimed their region to be an independent country, an assertion which was not recognized by a single country anywhere in the world. However, in 1992 Tiraspol authorities successfully resisted attempts by the Moldovan government in Chisinau to assert its authority and physical control over the Transdniestrian region. Many in Chisinau claim this was only because of covert and overt support from Moscow. Whatever the case may be, since mid-1992 Transdniestria enjoyed de facto independence, and sought both to maintain this status and to gain recognition from the international community.

From the very beginnings of the conflict authorities in Chisinau maintained that the Transdniestrian region was an integral part of the Republic of Moldova, and enjoyed the same rights, obligations, and status as all other regions of the country. In large part because of their experience during the Soviet period, many representatives of the Romanian/Moldovan speaking majority on the right bank insisted that the newly independent Moldovan republic should be a unitary state, to ensure the linguistic and other rights of the country’s titular nationality.

Following its initial consultations and mediation efforts in 1992-1993, the OSCE reached the conclusion, embodied in Report Number 13 of the OSCE Mission to Moldova from November 1993, that Transdniestria should remain a part of the Republic of Moldova, but should enjoy a special political status which would guarantee the rights of the population of the region. This position was accepted by all of the OSCE’s participating states, including fellow mediators Russia and Ukraine. This common position of the mediators was not particularly popular nor easily accepted in either Chisinau or Tiraspol. Indeed, the first years of the political settlement negotiations were devoted precisely to the task of convincing representatives of both banks to accept this general proposition as the general basis for a settlement.

However, there was much more to resolving the conflict than simply consenting to live in the same country. The Moscow Memorandum also contains an explicit commitment from the signatories to undertake negotiation of another document which would more precisely define the nature of the "common state” and the specific relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol: "[This] Document, defining these relations, the status of Transdniestria, shall be based on the principlesofmutually agreed decisions, including the division and delegation of competencies, and mutually assuredguarantees.The Parties will proceed to the elaboration of this document immediately after the signing of this Memorandum.”

In fact, the next six years of the political settlement negotiations were essentially devoted to efforts to fashion and reach agreement on such a document, which would define the precise status of the Transdniestrian region within the Republic of Moldova and the division of powers between Chisinau and Tiraspol. These negotiations did not go quickly or smoothly, since many representatives of Chisinau and Tiraspol maintained their aspirations respectively to a unitary state or complete independence and international recognition. Many leaders in Chisinau reviled the Memorandum, the idea of the common state, and sought to convince foreign interlocutors that the idea and the Memorandum were mean to somehow to continue Moscow’s domination over Moldova. Political and business elites in Transdniestria sought to take advantage of the rights to foreign economic and political contacts afforded by the Memorandum without following through on the obligation to negotiate on status within a united Moldova.

Despite numerous difficulties and disagreements, the mediators managed to maintain a relatively common position and common front, which resulted in the achievement of a number of confidence building and cooperative agreements in specific areas between the sides. As political turmoil mounted on the right bank at the turn of the century, the negotiations sputtered, and then halted several times. Once the Party of Communists and Vladimir Voronin won a decisive victory in the February 2001 elections, the negotiations began again in earnest. A spate of agreements was reached between Chisinau and Tiraspol in the spring and summer of 2001, but the process stopped again in September in a dispute over ultimate authority and control over Transdniestria’s foreign trade.

The political settlement process was once again renewed in Kiev in July 2002, and Chisinau, Tiraspol, and the three mediators spent the next eighteen months in attempts to reach agreement on Transdniestria’s status and a division of powers between the two sides. At least three separate documents were produced, all attempting to resolve the conflict by establishing some sort of federation in Moldova. The "Kiev Document,” presented as the talks resumed in 2002, brought great optimism and for a brief period a settlement seemed near at hand. By autumn 2002 these hopes had faded.

However, in early 2003 President Voronin proposed to Tiraspol to write a new, federal constitution for a united Moldova. Smirnov accepted, a Joint Constitutional Commission was formed, and some agreed articles of a proposed constitution were actually drafted. Both the mediators, led by the OSCE, and the Russian Federation, in a separate bilateral effort conducted by the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Dmitri Kozak, produced documents proposing a federal status for the Transdniestrian region and a division of powers between Chisinau and Tiraspol. The Mediators’ Document was formally presented in January 2004, although it had been finished some two months earlier. The Kozak Memorandum, proposing an asymmetric federation of Moldova, Transdniestria, and Gagauzia, was actually briefly accepted by both Voronin and Smirnov, although the Moldovan President changed his mind shortly before President Putin was to travel to Chisinau to witness the signing.

Following the drama and acrimony of the failure of the Kozak Memorandum, the negotiation process fell apart in summer 2004. When the negotiations finally resumed in autumn 2005, Moldova’s geopolitical orientation had shifted, color revolutions had shaken Georgia and Ukraine, Tiraspol had retreated to a more confrontational stance vis a visChisinau, and the U.S. and EU had joined the process as observers. Most important, both sides had abandoned their commitment to "constructing relations within the framework of a common state.” Moldova’s organic law of summer 2005 unilaterally established many of the conditions of Transdniestria’s prospective status and competencies without negotiation or agreement with Tiraspol. The Transdniestrian referendum of autumn 2006 reestablished Tiraspol’s overt dedication to independence and international recognition. The sides were not all the way back to square one, but they were close.

When the "five plus two” negotiations resumed after a five-year hiatus in 2011, Chisinau and Tiraspol were discussing practical agreements for managing specific administrative and technical issues between them, such as education, environment, law enforcement, communications, and the like. Since 2011 there have been no discussions in the negotiating process on status. Indeed, status has not really been addressed in the talks since 2004.

In retrospect, the Moscow Memorandum ushered in a roughly seven-year period in the Transdniestrian settlement process in which the talks actually dealt with the fundamental issues which might resolve the conflict – Transdniestria’s status and competencies within a united Moldova. The Moscow Memorandum did not resolve these issues – it was, rather, simply an agreement to negotiate seriously about them. However much it may have been misrepresented or reviled, the "common state” in essence signified agreement that Moldova and Transdniestria are parts of one country, irrespective of what that country ultimately might look like.

Agreement between Chisinau and Tiraspol on this basic point was lost during 2005-2006, and it has never really been restored. Individual participants in the five plus two negotiations may assert that their position on the terms of a settlement has not changed, but overall that talks are back to a position similar to that of the mid-1990s, before the Moscow Memorandum was agreed. Despite periodic efforts by Chisinau and various mediators and observers, discussion of status in the five plus two has proved elusive, and the talks have remained on the practical and technical level.

The statement adopted at the recent Hamburg OSCE Ministerial Council meeting may represent some change in this situation. The OSCE participating states, including mediators Russia and Ukraine, and the observers (the U.S. and the EU), expressed: "…their strong resolve to attain a comprehensive, peaceful and sustainablesettlement of the Transdniestrian conflict based on the sovereignty and territorial integrity ofthe Republic of Moldova within its internationallyrecognized borders with a special statusfor Transdniestria that fully guarantees the human, political, economic andsocial rights of itspopulation.”

The Hamburg statement represents agreement among all participants in the five plus two except Tiraspol on the basic approach which led to agreement in the Moscow Memorandum that the two sides are part of one state. Given the geopolitical changes that have taken place in Europe over the past twenty years, the Hamburg document appears a significant achievement. It is as yet unclear whether agreement at Hamburg to reiterate these basic principles and this approach will result in further agreements or progress. However, just as the Moscow Memorandum was a necessary precondition for discussion of status between Chisinau and Tiraspol, consensus on the principles reflected at Hamburg is a necessary, and therefore welcome step toward any serious discussion of the key issues that remain essential to ultimate resolution of the Transdniestrian question.


Статья опубликована в Вестнике Тираспольской школы политических исследований "Опыт и перспективы" (№ 4, май 2017). Скачать Вестник по адресу.


Заявления | 17 июня 2017 | 97



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