Elimination of Russian armament from the Transnistrian region: who, what and until when?

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Author: Denis Cenușă

The sudden opening of Moscow, through the voice of the Russian minister of defense Sergei Shoigu, regarding the perspective of destroying the armament stored in the Transnistrian region, caused a shock in Chisinau. External partners were equally surprised by this proposal, previously discussed. Last time, the state of the Russian armament appeared on the Moldovan-Russian agenda about 16 years ago, before being blocked by the collapse of the “Kozak Plan” for the federalization of Moldova in 2003. Information about Russia’s intention to resume the destruction of the armament, released in public without a coordination on official channels generated a mixed reaction among the Moldovan authorities. The government’s curiosity for details and the demand for the involvement of international profile organizations (OSCE) contrasted with the positive and appreciating stance of the president Igor Dodon.

It is worth noting that the Russian side’s offer to destroy the armament in the separatist region was spontaneously disclosed, on August 24th, during the first visit of a Russian defense minister to Chisinau (Presedinte.md, 24 august 2019). Choosing this moment to launch such an offer is not the result of improvisation, but it is a calculated use of the new political conjuncture. Thus, Igor Dodon’s speech on the so-called positive contribution of the Russian factor to the stability of Moldova is boosted.

At the same time, there is a favorable climate for praises launched by Igor Dodon at international forums regarding the Russian peacekeeping troops in the Transnistrian region. The participation of the Moldovan president in the session of the UN National Assembly in September 2019 has already raised suspicions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which called for the messages to be aligned (TV8, 13 September 2019). There is a risk that Igor Dodon might try to compromise the UN resolution of June 2018 on the unconditional withdrawal of Russian military forces, illegally stationed on the territory of Moldova (UN, 22 June 2019).

Several aspects indicate the absence of a structured approach to the practical way in which armament destruction can be started and subsequently completed.

First of all, there is a lack of clarity regarding the initiator and executor of this idea (Who?). The systemic responsibility for the operations of weapons destruction rests with the Russian Ministry of Defense and is carried out under the federal program on “industrial disposal of military weapons and equipment“, adopted by the Russian government for the period 2011-2020, with a budget of 34 billions of ruble. It is unclear what role will play Dmitri Kozak and the Russian Foreign Ministry, which coordinates the process of negotiations on the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, and also how a consensus will be built between Chisinau and Tiraspol. 

On the one hand, Moscow stems from the fact that president Igor Dodon and the leader of Tiraspol, Vadim Krasnoselsky, are in favor of destroying weapons (MID.ru, September 11, 2019). Russia, however, limits this to cooperation between the Moldovan-Russian military authorities, without conferring any additional role, even of technical nature, toother actors in the “5 + 2” negotiation format.

At the same time, Tiraspol qualifies the subject as an inalienable part of its internal affairs, and the destruction of armament as something achievable on the basis of inter-state agreements” with Russia (Regnum, August 30, 2019). On the other hand, the Moldovan diplomacy considers it is essential to engage the OSCE mission in the surveillance of weapons destruction (MAEIE, September 5, 2019). However, the main speaker of Moscow in Moldova, president Dodon abstained from any minimal embracingof OSCE’sproposal to provide assistance for the inventory of weapons stocks (President.md, September 10, 2019).

In 2002, the OSCE funded the delivery of the American equipment “Danovan” for the disposal of ammunition on the left bank of the Dniester (OSCE, April 15, 2019), and from 2006 assists the constitutional authorities in reducing the explosion risks at the military deposits (OSCE, July 25, 2019). Earlier, the president of the country hinted that the Russian offer would be discussed in the “5 + 2” format, whose resumption is planned in the fall of 2019.

The second dimension where clarifications are needed is related to the volumes and characteristics of the armament that will theoretically be destroyed (“How much and what?“). Initially, President Dodon mentioned, in a generalized form, that Russia proposes to initiate the “process of liquidation of the ammunition” stored in the Transnistrian region (President.md, August 24, 2019).

More complete information about Russia’s intention was released by Tiraspol official sources (August 26), with which the Russian Minister of Defense would discuss how to organize the process of ” destruction of the weapons with expired validity”. Finally, the Russian foreign minister Serghei Lavrov made it clear that the proposal refers tonly to “already expired or close to expire” weapons (MID.ru, September 11, 2019).

The state of ammunition is unstable, as over 50% of the stocks stored at the warehouses near Cobasna would have been (semi-)expired. In fact, updated information about the total volume of ammunition does not exist. The leader of the separatist region acknowledged that Shoigu had requested an inventory of ammunition (Regnum, August 30, 2019).

According to Lavrov, in 2003, until the failure of the “Kozak Memorandum”, “over half” from the military stocks of 20 thousand tons was evacuated from the Transnistrian region. He also mentions that in 2019 half of the same 20 thousand tonneshas the validity expired (MID.ru, September 11, 2019). Based on these incoherent data, at least five thousand tons of weapons require urgent destroying interventions and subsequent removalfrom the uncontrolled territory of Moldova.

Finally, the third side of the problem consists in the terms of initiation and duration of the weapon destruction (When and how long?). In 2013, the former leader of the Transnistrian region, Evgheni Shevciuc, assured that the Russian side is implementingtargeted regulations that would provide the necessary security to the ammunition stocks. However, after six years since then, the Russian authorities insist on the need to destroy expired weapons for security reasons.

The calendar proposed by Moscow involves 1.5 years of technical preparations (budgeting of expenditures, public procurement, deployment of military personnel, etc.). At such a slow pace, only at the end of 2020, minimal technical conditions can be created for weapons destruction. The suggested time framework benefits theMoldovan pro-Russian forces in the future electoral cycles (the 2020 presidential elections).

Moreover, that creates premises for the renewal of certain segments of military infrastructure, through a legalized form of introduction of military equipment into the uncontrolled territory of Moldova.

As a result, Russia manages to keep its peacekeeping mission intact and to justify further delaying of the evacuation of the weapons, as well as of its military forces from the Transnistrian region.

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