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   153 William H. Hill The Transdniestrian Settlement Process – Steps Forward, Steps Back: The OSCE Mission to Moldova in 2005/2006 1   The process of seeking a sustainable peaceful political settlement to the Transdniestrian problem underwent fundamental changes from mid-2005 into 2006. While political settlement negotiations resumed in an expanded format in autumn 2005, 2  relations between Chi ş in ă u and Tiraspol grew increasingly tense and hostile, especially after the introduction of a new customs and bor-der regime by Ukrainian and Moldovan authorities on 3 March 2006. The new regime on the Transdniestrian segment of the Moldova-Ukraine border  produced not only a hostile reaction from Tiraspol, but a marked increase in the polarization between the mediators and observers in the political settle-ment process. After the Transdniestrian referendum in favour of independ-ence and closer association with the Russian Federation held on 17 Septem- ber 2006, the outcome of the new initiatives and events of 2005-2006 still hangs in the balance. The Orange Revolution and the 2005 Moldovan Elections The installation of new governments in Kiev and Chi ş in ă u in January and April 2005 brought far-reaching changes in the Transdniestrian political set-tlement process throughout 2005. The so-called Yushchenko Plan, introduced  by the Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko at the GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) Summit in Chi ş in ă u on 22 April 2005 and  presented in more detail by Ukrainian negotiators in May at a meeting in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, changed the emphasis of the political settlement process to focus on the need for democratic reform of the Transdniestrian regime as a  prerequisite for negotiating a political settlement. On 10 June 2005, the Mol-dovan parliament overwhelmingly adopted a declaration welcoming the Yu-shchenko Plan, with two appeals appended, calling for free elections in the Transdniestrian region under international supervision as a condition for pro-gress towards a political settlement, and demanding completion of the with-drawal of Russian military forces from the Transdniestrian region and re- placement of the current Russian peacekeepers by an international peace-keeping force. 1 The opinions expressed in this article are exclusively the personal views of the author. 2 The srcinal five-sided negotiation process (Moldova, Transdniestria, and the three medi-ators Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) was expanded in autumn 2005 by the addition of the EU and the USA as observers (“five plus two”).   154On 22 July 2005, the Moldovan parliament adopted an organic Law on Basic Principles of the Special Legal Status of the Settlements on the Left Bank of the Dniestr (Transdniestria). The law mandated democratization of the Transdniestrian region and withdrawal of Russian military forces as agreed at the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit as prerequisites for further nego-tiations on a special status for the Transdniestrian region. The Moldovan legislation offered a formal status of autonomy for Transdniestria (an “autonomous territorial formation […] within the compo-sition of the Republic of Moldova”). The statute specified that the division of competencies between Moldovan central authorities and Transdniestrian au-thorities should be made on the basis of Moldovan legislation, thereby pre-cluding adoption of the federal and confederate provisions of previous pro- posals, in particular the controversial “Kozak Memorandum”. The Moldovan parliament’s adoption of the law on the basic principles of Transdniestria’s status was greeted with a barrage of criticism, in particu-lar from Tiraspol and Moscow. The most frequent objection was that the Moldovan action was unilateral, taken without either consultation or consent from its Transdniestrian negotiating partner. However, the Moldovan parlia-ment’s action was clearly consistent with the overall direction of the Yu-shchenko Plan. The Ukrainian initiative envisioned a three-stage process in attaining a political settlement of the Transdniestrian question, with the draft laws on status during the first stage to be worked out by the Moldovan par-liament. The Transdniestrian legislative body was not to be accepted as a le-gitimate negotiating partner until a later stage, after holding free, democratic elections in the region.  Nonetheless Tiraspol reacted to President Yushchenko’s GUAM Sum-mit proposals and the Ukrainian plan presented at Vinnitsa with outright hos-tility, while Moscow greeted the initiatives with minimal but clearly sceptical commentary. Transdniestrian negotiators sparred with their Ukrainian coun-terparts over various provisions of the Yushchenko initiative and Ukrainian  plan for two months following the meeting in Vinnitsa. In July 2005, after a meeting in Kiev with President Yushchenko, the Transdniestrian leader, Igor Smirnov, formally offered his support in writing for the Ukrainian settlement  plan. However, Smirnov’s letter to Yushchenko contained enough conditions, qualifications, and reservations to allow the Transdniestrian negotiating team to drag out or resist actual adoption and implementation of most of the provi-sions of the Ukrainian plan for a very long time.  Expansion of the Negotiating Format One key point of President Yushchenko’s GUAM Summit initiative was ex- pansion of the format of the Transdniestrian political settlement negotiations to include the European Union and the United States as formal participants.   155Since the early 1990s, the United States has closely followed the Transdni-estrian political settlement process through the office of a Special Negotiator for Conflicts in the Newly Independent States, located in the State Depart-ment. The US Special Negotiator has regularly visited Moldova, including the Transdniestrian region, and consulted closely with the parties and the me-diators in the political settlement negotiations. The US Special Negotiator’s  portfolio also includes the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. Since the turn of the century, the EU also has paid increasing attention to Moldova and the unresolved conflict in its Transdniestrian region. In Feb-ruary 2003, the EU joined with the US in placing visa sanctions on top offi-cials from Transdniestria to encourage Tiraspol to change its unconstructive attitude in the political settlement negotiations. The EU extended these visa sanctions in response to Transdniestrian closure of several Moldovan Latin script schools in Transdniestria in July 2004. As formal EU expansion into Romania and Bulgaria grew nearer, overall attention to Moldova grew sub-stantially. After adoption of the EU-Moldova Action Plan on 22 February 2005, the EU appointed Dutch diplomat Adriaan Jacobovits de Szeged as Special Representative for Moldova in March of that year. One of his tasks was to increase the EU contribution to the resolution of the Transdniestrian conflict. Both the government and civil society in Chi ş in ă u had for some time discussed the possibility of changing the Transdniestrian political settlement negotiating format, in particular by adding the EU and the US as formal par-ticipants. Neither Russia nor Ukraine were eager to relinquish their privileged  positions as mediators and self-proclaimed “guarantor countries”. However, following the Orange Revolution, Kiev changed its position, and in his GUAM Summit speech on 22 April 2005, President Yushchenko proposed formally including the European Union and the United States in the negotia-tion process. Brussels and Washington subsequently indicated their willing-ness to participate officially in the process. Moscow’s response to the Ukrainian initiative was essentially neutral and non-committal. With respect to enlarging the negotiating format, Russian representatives indicated to their co-mediators from Ukraine and the OSCE that they would be guided by and would accept Tiraspol’s response to the  proposal. In discussions with the OSCE Mission to Moldova during July 2005, Transdniestrian negotiators indicated they would be willing to accept EU and US participation in the political settlement negotiations, but only in the role of observers. The OSCE Mission then spent several weeks in consultations with all interested actors – Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, the EU, and the US – to develop an acceptable definition of what would actually be meant by ob-server status. The eventual agreement on observer status entitled EU and US negotiators to participate in all sessions and discussions, receive all docu-   156ments, make proposals, and comment on other proposals. However, EU and US negotiators would not sign documents, vote when decisions were taken, or serve as chairs for formal sessions. Since all decisions in the negotiations are taken by consensus, the lack of a formal vote for the EU and US was not considered a handicap. Transdniestrian negotiators also requested individual consultations with the EU and US representatives to ask about their general approach and views on the Transdniestrian question. Chi ş in ă u did not object, and in August-September, EU and US representatives visited Tiraspol separately. With the completion of this apparently necessary piece of political theatre, agreement on expansion of the negotiating format was formalized at consultations be-tween the political representatives (i.e. negotiators) of Chi ş in ă u and Tiraspol and the three mediators from Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE held in Odessa on 26-27 September 2005. The protocol signed at the end of the Odessa con-sultations agreed to formal resumption of political settlement negotiations in Chi ş in ă u at the end of October after a 15-month hiatus. The Political Background: One Problem Solved, Another Deepens The political settlement negotiations had broken off in July 2004 with the Moldovan walkout in protest at Transdniestrian closure of two Moldovan Latin script schools and threats against at least two others. The acute crisis over the Moldovan schools in Transdniestrian-controlled territory lasted al-most a full year. After brokering patchwork agreements that enabled the schools in question to open belatedly and operate during the 2004-2005 school year, the OSCE Mission, joined by colleagues from the Ukrainian and Russian embassies in Chi ş in ă u, mediated an agreement between Moldovan and Transdniestrian educational experts. This agreement, signed on 1 July 2005, provided for temporary registration of the Moldovan schools with local left bank authorities, which in turn enabled the schools to open and operate relatively normally for the 2005-2006 school year. Negotiations, brokered by the OSCE Mission, continued between educational experts from Chi ş in ă u and Tiraspol in search of a more durable agreement on the status and opera-tion of the Latin script schools. Resolution of the bitter, protracted school crisis was a necessary pre-condition for resumption of the political settlement negotiations. The success in achieving a temporary solution which allowed the Moldovan schools to reopen produced a result similar to squeezing a balloon – bitter tensions in relations between the right and left banks simply bulged out in other areas. The most serious problems between Chi ş in ă u and Tiraspol during most of 2005 revolved around the travails of Moldovan farmers who live on the Chi ş in ă u-controlled left bank around Dubossary but cultivate lands to the east of the main north-south highway, which are under the control of the Trans-
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