MOLDOVAN President Mircea Snegur has urged the parliament to declare war on Russia, saying the Russian Army's support of Slavic separatists in the eastern part of the former Soviet republic can no longer be tolerated.
Clashes have flared for months between Moldovan forces and mostly ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, who are battling to break away from Moldova and establish a so-called "Dniestr republic" on the left bank of the Dniestr River. About 100 people have died in the fighting, according to Moldovan authorities.
Over the last few weeks the situation has been aggravated, Moldovan leaders say, by the open support for the separatists provided by the former Soviet 14th Army, which is stationed in the Dniestr region. Russia has claimed control of the 14th Army. The Army insists it is maintaining a neutral stance in the conflict.
"The Moldovan parliament has to choose between two decisions - either stop military activities in the Dniestr region, which I believe should not be done, or declare a state of war on Russia," the Itar-Tass news agency quoted President Snegur telling parliament May 25. The Moldovan legislature continued to debate Snegur's call to arms May 26.
Meanwhile, more than 60 tanks, 100 armored personnel carriers, cannons, and mortars have been deployed by both sides in the battle area, Moldovan Deputy Interior Minister Viktor Katan said May 25. On May 24, Snegur nudged Moldova closer to all-out war by ordering the mobilization of reservists. The call-up followed an appeal, broadcast May 23 by Dniestr leaders, requesting that veterans with tank-driving experience report immediately for service in the separatist forces.
The Russian and Ukrainian minorities in eastern Moldova say they are fighting to protect their rights, claiming Moldova plans to unite with neighboring Romania. Moldovans and Romanians speak the same language and have close cultural ties. But the Moldovan leadership has denied plans for unification with Romania.
Recent attempts to negotiate an end to the conflict have been unsuccessful. The foreign ministers of Moldova, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine agreed last month on a cease-fire plan that would have deployed peacekeeping observers in the Dniestr region. But the plan was never fully implemented.
The four foreign ministers met again in Lisbon May 24 and worked out a new truce, which calls for armored units of Russia's 14th Army to return to barracks. At the same time, however, Snegur appealed to the United Nations asking for international help to defend Moldova against "Russian aggression."
The Moldovan president last week dispatched a telegram to his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, charging some 14th Army units had been deployed in the Dniestr region to reinforce separatist fighters. He also hinted the Romanian Army could be drawn into the conflict on the Moldovan side if the Russian Army persisted in helping the secessionists.
Russian government and military officials deny their forces are siding with the Dniestr fighters. But the Army does admit some weapons and ammunition have fallen into the hands of the separatists. Mr. Yeltsin said May 26 further meetings involving Russian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan officials would take place.
Mr. Katan dismissed the Russian Army's claims of neutrality. He accused Russian nationalists, such as Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, Yeltsin presidential aide Sergei Stankevich, and Gen. Albert Makashov, a candidate in last year's Russian presidential elections, of stirring up hostility and seeking to roll back Moldova's efforts to assert its independence.
"There has been constant conflict since they have become involved," Katan said.
In an interview published in the Sovietskaya Rossiya newspaper May 26, General Makashov called on Moscow to defend ethnic Russians in the Dniestr region. "If we are defeated here, we'll be defeated everywhere in the borderlands adjacent to great Russia," Makashov said.