More than a dozen years after the Soviet Union’s demise, Moscow continues to wrestle with the need to abandon some of the outposts of its formerly far-flung empire.
Russia pledged in November 1999 that it would completely withdraw its armed forces from Moldova by the end of 2002 and would work out a schedule in 2000 for closing down its military bases in Georgia. Russia has so far failed to do either, and the two small former Soviet republics are increasingly anxious about the Kremlin’s intentions.
The 55-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes Russia, Moldova, and Georgia as well as the United States, announced last December that it looked “forward to early full implementation” of the Russian commitments. At that time, Moscow pledged to finish withdrawing from Moldova within the coming year.
European and Russian officials have acknowledged in the past several weeks that Russia will not meet that goal.
Russia has withdrawn 46 trainloads of weapons and ammunition from Moldova to date, but there is about an equal amount awaiting shipment back to Russia, according to OSCE estimates. OSCE spokesman Claus Neukirch projected Nov. 7 that it would take Russia five uninterrupted months to remove just the remaining ammunition. Yet, Russia’s withdrawal from Moldova has been fitful. Over a four-month period beginning this June, Russia managed only to ship out one trainload of arms.
Even when Russia finishes removing the approximately 26,000 tons of stockpiled ammunition, however, Russian troops and military hardware would remain on Moldovan territory. For example, Moscow has yet to withdraw an estimated 36 armored combat vehicles that it painted with red crosses and declared as ambulances.
The Kremlin faults armed separatists in the Transdniestria region of Moldova for slowing its withdrawal. The separatists have refused to allow equipment for destroying excess ammunition to be transferred into the region and have blocked trains loaded with weapons from departing. As compensation for Russia’s withdrawal, the separatists are demanding that a $100 million gas debt they owe Moscow be forgiven. This issue remains unsettled.
Russia has also failed to come to terms with Georgia over the length of time Russian forces will stay in that country. Georgia is demanding that Russia vacate the Georgian bases it occupies within three years, while Moscow wants to be able to withdraw over an 11-year period. The Kremlin contends that speeding up the withdrawal would require an additional $200 million.
The status of Russia’s withdrawal from both Moldova and Georgia is expected to be discussed at a Dec. 1-2 OSCE foreign ministers meeting in Maastricht, Netherlands.
Russia’s lagging withdrawal efforts are delaying entry into force of an adapted version of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, which limits the amount of heavy weaponry that can be deployed by its 30 states-parties. (See ACT, November 1999.) Led by the United States, the 19 members of NATO have repeatedly linked their ratification of the updated treaty with Russia fulfilling the commitments it made to OSCE member states at a 1999 ministerial meeting in Istanbul.