In early June, there were several instances of Moldovan policemen being kidnapped by separatist militia while on joint patrols, set up under the April ceasefire agreement, with the very same militia. It seemed to me to be no coincidence that less than 24 hours after the Moldovan parliament had approved a report, on 18 June, from a mixed commission containing Russian and Ukrainian deputies from the Dnestr republic on the principles for a settlement of the conflict, the police station in Bender came under attack from the separatists.
It was in order to repel this attack that Moldova's President, Mircea Snegur, authorised the use of Moldovan special forces to defend the building. This action prompted the intervention of the units of the Russian 14th Army stationed in the town to subject the Moldovan positions to a heavy artillery bombardment, one which appeared to cause many of the civilian casualties in the town.
In the war of words that has been unleashed by both sides, certain facts need restating.
1. The town of Bender is not in the breakaway republic of Dnestr, and, therefore, the separatists can have little justification for attacking and continuing their occupation of two-thirds of it.
2. The largest single ethnic group in the so-called Dnestr republic are Moldovans.
3. Igor Smirnov, the Russian self-styled president of the Dnestr republic, settled in Moldova less than four years ago and came out in favour of the attempted putsch in Moscow last August.
4. During the past six months, it has become evident that the Russian 14th Army has, to be charitable, been lax in its own military security in allowing the separatists 'to acquire' more than 1,200 heavy machine guns and 100 lorries from military repair units.
There are two conditions that need to be met before one can hope for a demobilisation of forces. The first is the phased withdrawal of the Russian 14th Army. It is a foreign army on the territory of an internationally recognised sovereign state, and the kinship of its largely Russian officers with the Russian-speaking separatists invariably draws them into actions in support of the latter.
Second, the Moldovan government must give the Russian- and Ukrainian-dominated communities in the Dnestr republic a large measure of autonomy, including the right to administer their own financial affairs and a guarantee that Russian and Ukrainian can be used as official languages. Limited autonomy for the area would have the added merit of allowing the Moldovans in the Dnestr region to decide on their own future: continued rule from Chisinau, or limited autonomy.
The major obstacle to peace on these terms is Igor Smirnov. With encouragement from Russian nationalists in the Moscow Parliament, and the support of the Russian military, he will resist the consequent erosion of his own bogus position.
Senior Lecturer in
School of Slavonic and East European Studies
London, WC1Reuse content