WHILE leaders of both sides of the conflict over the breakaway Dniester region in eastern Moldova have welcomed a recent cease-fire involving the Russian Federation, they remain deadlocked over a permanent political solution to a war that threatens to split this tiny former Soviet republic.
Last week Moldovan President Mircea Snegur and the president of the separatist republic of the Trans-Dniester region, Igor Smirnov, both expressed optimism about Russia's role in the cease-fire agreement, signed by Moldova and Russia in Moscow July 22. They said they see it as a first step toward introducing a multinational peacekeeping force in the future.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin promised to pull the Russian 14th Army out of the disputed area, a longstanding demand by Moldova. Moldova has accused the officially neutral force of supporting the Russian and Ukrainian separatists with military hardware and even soldiers.
"All the principles in [this agreement] are directed toward stopping the war and maintaining the territorial integrity of our country," said President Snegur in the Moldovan capital of Kishinev on Friday.
The day before, Mr. Smirnov had argued the deal was "strictly a military agreement, not a political one. Its main goal is to end the bloodshed."
Smirnov places his hope in the agreement, he says, because "This is the first time that we have been recognized as a side in talks between Russia and Moldova and the first time there has been a guarantor."
"This means that if Moldova renews its aggression against us, then it will have to battle Russia," he said.
Both leaders issued orders last week to their military commanders to halt all military actions while special commissions from Russia, Moldova, and the Trans-Dniester regions met here to negotiate a mechanism for introducing peacekeepers.
On the political front, however, the mood seemed far less cooperative. Snegur and Smirnov are at an impasse on the central issue of the future status of the Trans-Dniester region.
The people there voted for secession from Moldova last December, fearing that rising nationalism among the Romanian majority might lead to reunification with neighboring Romania.
Moldova, however, which was part of Romania until Joseph Stalin annexed the region in 1940, has offered assurances that if the issue of reunification were raised in the future, the Trans-Dniestrians would be allowed to determine their own status. Draft laws guaranteeing such a right, as well as giving the region more local self-rule and special economic status are being discussed in the Moldovan Parliament.
But these offers have not satisfied the Trans-Dniestrian leaders, who demand equal political status in a Moldovan federation or outright independence.
In an interview last Friday, Snegur refuted any possibility of an independent republic in the Trans-Dniester. "I would never agree to allow any sort of political status to this region because their leaders are people who came to that area only a short time ago from Russia ... and they are the ones with political ambitions," the Moldovan president said. "But it should be up to the people, not this so-called government in Tiraspol, to decide their status."
Reflecting a popular view in Kishinev, Moldovan deputy chairman, Viktor Pushkash, said the secessionist movement in the Trans-Dniester was led by "communist reactionaries ... mostly directors of the former Soviet military defense complex, who deceived the population into believing that the Romanianization of the republic would lead to unification with Romania." As to the cease-fire agreement, Deputy Chairman Pushkash said, "Russia armed the rebels, now they must disarm them."
Snegur has encountered considerable pressure here from the Moldovan Popular Front, a radical group of Romanian nationalists, who staged a protest in from the the parliament building Friday against the recent cease-fire agreement.
Smirnov claimed the only way peace could be achieved would be through granting the Trans-Dniester region a separate political status. "This is not an inter-ethnic conflict," said Smirnov. "Unification with Romania is not the reason for this. The Trans-Dniestrian people are rebelling against the totalitarian regime in Moldova," he said.
Smirnov also said he opposed the withdrawal of the 14th Army until peace was achieved, regarding them as protection against the Moldovan Army and police.
"They are demanding precisely what we can't give them," Pushkash said last week.
"The Dniester region is not the Crimea. It is not a resort area, but a vital industrial area through which Moldova receives most of its natural gas and electrical power. We are too small a state to allow a republic within a republic like Ukraine did with the Crimea," he said. "I'm afraid if they don't accept our proposals then the Trans-Dniester region will not see an end to random shooting and will become another Lebanon," Pushkash warned.