Medvedev And Yanukovich Planning ‘Secret Protocol’ On Transdniestria?

Although aides to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich are denying it, many commentators and politicians in Ukraine, Moldova and Romania are convinced that he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have secretly agreed to a course of action that would have Transdniestria attached to Ukraine and Moldova brought under tight Russian control.

When they met last week, Medvedev and Yanukovich issued a joint declaration about the resolution of the Transdniestria dispute. It contained only general expressions of good will, but a week ago, an official in the Ukrainian president’s protocol service leaked information about the talks of the two presidents that suggested they had agreed on rather more.

Indeed, what some have compared to “the secret protocols” of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the supposed accord calls for a referendum in Transdniestria by the end of the year on its becoming an autonomous republic within Ukraine and pressure on Chisinau to elect a president and form a government more to Moscow’s liking.

In the current issue of “Versiya,” Georgy Filin discusses this case, not only detailing the statements of the various sides but also suggesting some of the consequences for Moldova, Ukraine, and their neighbors if reports about a secret agreement between Medvedev and Yanukovich are even partially true (versia.ru/articles/2010/may/24/pridnestrovje).

The leak of information about the supposed accord, Filin says, were “well paid for by functionaries of the Block of Yulia Timoshenko,” and the associates of this anti-Yanukovich party immediately handed copies of the document to Oleh Bilorus, a member of that party who heads the Foreign Relations Committee of the Verkhovna Rada.

Immediately copies were handed over to Chisinau officials where, in Filin’s words, they had “the effect of a bomb going off.” Sergey Mokan, the head of the Moldovan “People’s Action” Movement, said the Medvedev-Yanukovich accord “represents an ultimatum to Moldova and is the beginning of a new military-political expansion in the post-Soviet space.”

“Kyiv and Moscow have decided to act according to the principle of ‘divide and rule.’” Mokan’s comment was expanded upon by Moldovan Prime Minister Vladimir Filat, who said what Medvedev and Yanukovich had agreed to was like “the swallowing up” businessmen talk about when they takeover companies. And neither asked the Moldovans what they “think.”

“What in fact have Russia and Ukraine prepared for Moldova and Transdniestria?” Filin asks rhetorically. The first thing that has to be said, he points out, is that “the protocols which have fallen into the hands of Ukrainian journalists were prepared by the Ukrainian side” rather than being a joint statement or agreement.

They are thus, the “Versiya” journalist says, “exclusively ‘the Ukrainian vision’ of the resolution of the Transdniestria question and at the same time of the Moldovan one.” That “vision” calls for a referendum in November or December in Transdniestria concerning that breakaway territory’s inclusion into Ukraine as an autonomous republic.

Why, Filin asks, did the accord not call for uniting Transdniestria to the Russian Federation, as many in Transdniestria have proposed? The answer to that question, he continues, is “very simple.” Uniting Transdniestria to Ukraine makes greater sense economically, and doing so will allow Russia to “begin in Moldova a program of ‘an orange counterrevolution.’”

That will allow the Russian powers that be to orchestrate the election by the Moldovan parliament of a pro-Moscow president sometime next year. “Of course,” Filin continues, “one cannot talk about any Anschluss of Moldova by Russia.” In this case, “the technology is different,” one that counts on Moldovan wine producers wanting to sell their output in Russia.

According to Ukrainian parliamentarian Bilorus, “the new leadership of Ukraine has taken a new position concerning Transdniestria, one that in essence is the copy of Russia’s position.” Two years ago, he continued, Moscow offered Kyiv the same deal: ‘You gather in Transdniestria and give us Moldova,” an exchange then-President Viktor Yushchenko rejected.

Romania’s President Traian Basescu has reacted just as harshly as the Moldovans. “If Kyiv has pretensions concerning the return of Transdniestria to Ukraine, then officials there should not forget about the return to Chisinau of Southern Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, territories which the former Ukrainian SSR received after the Second World War.”

And Basescu suggested that “Moscow and now Kyiv are trying to create on the territory which at the end of World War II should have been returned to Romania a pseudo-federation of three political-legal pseudo-subjects. But we will do everything to oppose the Russian-Ukrainian plan for the amputation of Bessarabia.”

Although Filin does not mention it, the possibility that Moldova could become part of Romania if Transdniestria were to become an autonomy within Ukraine is not the only way in which such a Russian-Ukrainian plan would send shockwaves through the international system far beyond Transdniestria.

If Transdniestria were transferred, that would trigger a provision in the 1994 accord between Chisinau and the Gagauz, an Orthodox Christian Turkic-speaking community in southern Moldova. That agreement allows the Gagauz to withdraw from Moldova if the status of Transdniestria were ever to change.

Perhaps because of these reactions or perhaps because the supposed agreement between Medvedev and Yanukovich never took place, Yanukovich’s office has been at pains to deny that there is or was any such accord. Anna German, a representative of the Ukrainian Presidential Administration made a public declaration to that effect.

“Transdniestria will remain independent and not become part of Ukraine,” she said. Suggestions to the contrary are “provocations” by Yuliya Timoshenko in order to cast doubt on “the political and diplomatic successes of Viktor Yanukovich in order to destabilize the situation in the country.”

But Filin concludes, her words are less than fully convincing, all the more because the Verkhovna Rada has already discussed the procedure that would have to be followed for places like Transdniestria to join Ukraine. Indeed, he says, the Ukrainian deputies have come up with a slogan: ‘Transdniestria – the First Stage of a New Pereyaslavska Rada’ – neither more nor less!”

Paul Goble

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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