For obvious reasons, the question was a tough and delicate for one of the speakers, Vasil Sikharulidze , Georgia’s new ambassador to the United States . It was indeed, by no means, a good idea for him to start his term in Washington by giving foreign policy and international security advice to the president of the host country. So, Ambassador Sikharulidze let others to speak their mind.
Responding to that question was somehow easier for Vladimir Socor, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, and for Svante E. Cornell, research director at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins. During their presentations they laid out some recommendations for the U.S. administration to support Georgia and Moldova in their difficult journey to freedom. Here are just some of them: (1) The need for internationalization of peacekeeping operations in Georgia’s conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as well as Moldova’s separatist territorial enclave east of the Nistru River (currently, peacekeeping troops are entirely or overwhelmingly Russian); (2) Both the United Stated and the European Union should make clear to Russia that any de-facto annexation of Abkhazia and S. Ossetia by Russia is unacceptable and it shall not be tolerated; (3) The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty will be ratified neither by the West nor by the Eastern European countries unless Russia honors its previous 1999 OSCE summit commitments to withdraw its troops unconditionally, from both Georgia and Moldova, in keeping with the requirements of international law, and with the countless requests repeatedly voiced by the two former Soviet republics; (4) Making sure Russia gets a clear and unambiguous message that it can be part of the G-8 and of the World Trade Organization only if it complies with the rules honored and shared by these clubs.
Evidence indicates indeed that, in recent months, the Russian Federation has taken a harder line in its dealings with the former Soviet Republics of Georgia , Ukraine , Azerbaijan , and Moldova “ because of their choice to build democratic states and entertain stronger ties with the West.
The energy crisis triggered by the cut of Russia’s exports of natural gas supplies to Ukraine and Moldova in the dead of winter, this year, has been but one of the economic leverages recently put to work by Russia that got the attention in the international press. People of Ukraine or Moldova were left without gas in one of the most severe winters in the last decades (in Moldova , gas supplies over the price dispute was halted from January 1 to 16); gas deliveries to Central and Western Europe have also been at risk. Some observers are inclined to believe that Russia is to blame for the blowing up of the gas pipelines and high voltage electricity line to Georgia on January 22. Georgians were starving and freezing in the dark until January 29, when an emergency supply from Iran was negotiated.
Another hostile action, as Mr. Socor, one of the best known Western experts on frozen conflicts in the ex-USSR, put it, was the recent ban on wine imports from Moldova and Georgia which Russia started to implement on 27 March. This is a hard blow dealt to the wineries of Moldova and Georgia since these countries have been exporting to Russia up to 85 percent of their total wine exports. Moldova’s wine industry contributes a quarter to the countr’s gross domestic product which means that the impact is going to be heavily painful for Moldova’s economy. The same is true of its ripple effects on Russian consumers too: in 2005, from all wine imports to Russia, Moldovan wines accounted for some 56 percent of all wines imports and Georgian wines -- for about 9 percent. In many Russian cities shelves were left empty after Moscow issued an order to pull out all wine originating from Moldova and Georgia . Russia’s official accusations that wines from these countries contain pesticides and higher than normal traces of metal are pure fabrications, experts in Russia and in Moldova and Georgia say, and those unfounded accusations have been used by Kremlin to justify its punitive policies. Moldova and Georgia are members of WTO and Russia , a candidate to membership in the organization, builds a bad case for itself while concomitantly showing its eagerness to join WTO.
On the other hand, Russia continues to openly support separatist unrecognized statelets created by the Russia’s policies in the so-called Near Abroad in the early 1990s specifically in Moldova and Georgia . Almost all political and military leaders of puppet enclaves are Russian-born and/or current citizens of Russia , many of them are on active duties in the successor security bodies of the former KGB. Analysts have no doubts that Russia’s main objective is to preserve the status quo of these de-facto self proclaimed independent entities “ Abkhazia, S. Ossetia, and Transnistria “ which continuously sap the economic resources of Georgia and Moldova and prevent them to create a free civil society and viable economic development. Besides, Russia encourages smuggling over its own borders and the three unrecognized statlets (Transnistria, Abkhazia, and S. Ossetia) a process that translates into important revenue sources for the illegal enclaves budgets. It also benefits the self-styled presidents and ministers of these unrecognized entities, as well as some political officials in Moscow . Through their support to these processes, institutions and leaders in charge in Moscow prove one more time that Russia can not be trusted any longer as a guarantor and/or mediator in the frozen conflicts in Georgia and Moldova.
The speakers at the Russia and the Frozen Conflicts conference held April 13 at the Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS emphasized the need for the United States and the European Union to take the lead in stepping up urgent action in order to bring such frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union to an end. There are some positive signs that the West is moving into the right direction. In October last year, the United States and the European Union joined the Russian-dominated five-sided format (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, plus Moldova and Transnistria) and in December, the European Union launched an unprecedented monitoring mission on the Ukraine-Moldova border to stop smuggling and trafficking over the Transnistrian sector of that border. It is no coincidence that because of such positive changes in action, Russia has started to engage more aggressively in retortion, feeling that it loses ground.
Clarity in purpose and leadership are apparently needed in order to make a neat break and get out of the usual Russia-U.S. bilateral framework, in which the frozen conflicts in Georgia and Moldova have been considered so far as low priority items as compared to other issues on the agenda, such as cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program, or war against terrorism, which “ in those specific respects “ have failed to entirely meet the White House’s expectations, the speakers at the conference pointed out.
One might think that President George W. Bush would need to go no further than to look to the example of the unforgettable pronouncement made by his predecessor Ronald Reagan when, on June 12 1987, speaking in West Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate, he addressed the Kremlin’s former leader in these historic words: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! Such a historic appeal followed by action, have lastingly made the American people proud for their country and of their leader, while giving Ronald Reagan the fame of being the most admired and cherished American president by the peoples of Eastern Europe .
Many think that what would make the current U.S. president equally great in the eyes of many Americans and, particularly, in the eyes of the people in Moldova and Georgia would arguably be a departure from the recent past in America’s policies toward Russia and the voicing of a clear, plain-spoken demand: Mr. Putin, let these former Soviet republics go free!
Vlad Spanu is the president of the Moldova Foundation, a non-government organization in the Washington , DC area (http://foundation.moldova.org). The Moldova Foundation co-sponsored the Johns Hopkins University’s event Russia and the Frozen Conflicts.