Potential Hot Spots: July 12, 2003


: As if there wasn't enough to do right now, the Netherlands floated a proposal to help settle the decade-old dispute between the ex-Soviet state of Moldova and its breakaway Dneister region (the Transdniester). They suggested sending in European Union peacekeepers, which diplomats quickly pointed out would likely number no more than a few hundred troops. Transdniester separatists want to turn Moldova into a loose confederation of two sovereign and independent states, while Moldovan leaders will only grant the breakaway region autonomous status.

This proposal to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could put the 15-nation bloc on course for its second crisis management operation outside Europe (after the Congo), since the Dutch paper specifies that the OSCE peacekeeping operation could be subcontracted "to an international organization such as the European Union".

Not surprisingly, new-kid-on-the-EU-block Hungary is supportive of the Netherlands' proposal. Moldova was part of Romania until World War II, and about 65 percent of its 4.5 million people speak Romanian. As far back as 1999, Moldova's Communist president, Vladimir Voronin was suggesting that international customs officers from countries such as Germany, Austria, and Portugal be deployed along the border, together with Ukrainian, Transdniestrian, and Moldovan officials. 

Some detractors think that it could be a delicate operation in a country where Russia still has 2,500 soldiers stationed, some of which are performing peacekeepers' duties in the Dniester Region (a self-proclaimed republic on Moldova's territory). The Russians have a vested interest in the area, since there remain 50,000 weapons and 40,000 tons of ammunition stockpiled for the former 14th Soviet Army (now known as the Transdniester Operative Group of Russian Troops or OGRT). Under growing international pressure, Russia pledged to withdraw its troops and military equipment by the end of 2002. 

A 1999 OSCE agreement provided for a Russian pullout by the end of 2002 and yet the Russians keep offering to stay on in Transdniestria if the Moldovan authorities made the request. Ultimately, the Moldovans would be happy to wave goodbye but the Tiraspol authorities are also exercising their voices, most recently by halted Russian shipments scheduled to leave on June 16, 2003 in an attempt to draw attention to their exacerbated problems. 

Currently, the Tiraspol leadership are forbidden entry to the EU [European Union] and the United States. The Russian gas supplier Gazprom also threatened to reduce (or even stop) supplies to the Dniester Region by 1 August, due to large outstanding debts. If that happens, Dneister's local industries won't be able to produce or export electricity, textiles or cognac and wine. So Dneister is holding the OGRT shipments hostage for a $100 million debt forgiveness pledge. The Moldovans claim that their measures to bring trade to the Dniester region and stop illegal activities are being misrepresented by the Dniester administration as "economic blockade". 

The border between Ukraine and Transdniester is also suspected to be an active smugglers' paradise in arms, cigarette, oil, and alcohol. The Moldovans claim that the illegal operations bring the Transdneister separatist leadership profits an annual estimated profit of $1 billion and the Ukraine had repeatedly refused offers that Moldovan customs officers be deployed on its side of the border. 

There are also unconfirmed reports in May 2003 from Russian, Serbian and US sources that organized criminals in the service of international terrorism have moved into the nuclear materials trade, using the traditional Balkan smuggling route. Serbian and Russian sources reported increased activity in the area by Islamic terrorists, believing that a permanent terrorist cell is already functioning in Bosnia and that others are now being set up in Moldova.

Transdniester is a narrow strip of land situated along the Dniester River between Moldova and Ukraine. The enclave of Russian-speakers broke away from the ethnically-Hungarian Moldova in 1990. At the time, many in Transdniester feared Moldova would seek reunification with neighboring Romania. In 1992, Moldova and Transdniester fought a short war that ended with a Russia-mediated settlement enforced by Russian troops stationed in the region. - Adam Geibel

Moldova map online at:


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