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13th Apr 2024

EU neighbours seek help in post-Georgia climate

The presidents of Romania and Moldova on Wednesday (20 August) urged greater EU involvement in resolving Moldova's frozen conflict, as Russia's attack on Georgia continues to send ripples of anxiety through other post-communist states.

"As regards Transniestria, we reached the conclusion that the involvement of the European Union is fundamental and essential in finding a solution," Romania's Traian Basescu said after meeting Moldova's Vladimir Voronin in Chisinau, newswires report.

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  • Russian president Medvedev at an arms factory in Izhevsk, earlier this year (Photo: kremlin.ru)

"The conflict in South Ossetia occurred because of the neglect of settlement of problems of this kind," Mr Voronin said, adding he will ask for more EU help on peacemaking efforts in his own separatist conundrum.

The steel and vodka-producing region of Transniestria broke away from Moldova in the 1990s, with its Russian-backed rebels calling for independence and protected by 1,300 Russian "peacekeeping" troops in a 16-year long ceasefire.

The conflict has no ethnic dimension as in Georgia, but also threatens instability on Europe's fringe. "It would be very easy for Russia to organise a provocation and then the Russian might stands ready to react," a senior European diplomat said.

The EU runs a customs mission on the Transniestria-Ukraine border, gives financial aid to Moldova and is an observer in the so-called 5+2 conflict resolution group, which met in April for the first time after a two-year long break.

But the EU has in the past been divided on sending peacekeepers and prospects for the 5+2 group look bleak, after Transniestria on 12 August refused to meet with Moldova until president Voronin denounces Georgia's "aggression" against separatists in its South Ossetia region last week.

Ukrainian fears

Ukraine president Viktor Yushchenko at a meeting in Kiev with two visiting US senators also called for security guarantees, amid worries that Moscow is orchestrating secessionist movements among ethnic Russians in Crimea, which houses Russia's Black Sea fleet.

"I am certain that such a [South Ossetia-type] scenario is not possible," Ukraine security chief, Valentin Nalivaichenko, told the Zerkalo Nedeli newspaper this week, with Crimea separatism a taboo subject for Ukraine politicians who fear stoking tensions via public remarks.

"Our aim is to receive international guarantees of Ukraine's territorial integrity, which is only possible in the framework of collective security," Mr Yushchenko said on Wednesday, referring to Ukraine's bid to get a NATO membership action plan at the alliance's next summit in December.

The EU and Ukraine are currently negotiating the wording of the political chapter of a new bilateral treaty, to be signed at a summit in France on 9 September. But most EU states are reluctant for the text to mention any EU accession "perspective," or to give a security pledge.

"We have to do everything to prevent a domino effect. If Russia destabilises Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan [also home to Russian-backed rebels] will be next," German conservative MEP Elmar Brok said at a European Parliament meeting on Wednesday.

"I don't know what Russia's strategy is toward Ukraine. But we must get ready."

Georgia plea

The extraordinary session of the parliament's foreign affairs committee also saw Georgian foreign minister Eka Tkeshelashvili urge the EU to send a large ceasefire monitoring squad and to consider diplomatic sanctions against Russia.

Moscow has promised to pull troops from Georgia by Friday, but on Thursday soldiers still roamed deep inside Georgian territory, with commanders saying they will stay indefinitely in a "buffer zone" around South Ossetia.

The head of Russia's upper house on Wednesday declared the senate would be happy to recognise South Ossetia and another rebel-held territory - Abkhazia - as independent states. Russian general Anatoly Nogovitsin also vowed to destroy Georgian military assets before withdrawing his troops.

"We won't leave them a single rifle or bullet, so that they can't start any more wars," he told Interfax.

The European Commission estimates the conflict has caused 124,000 refugees. Georgia says 215 Georgians were killed and Russia is saying 133 people died in South Ossetia, amid concern for lack of access for aid workers to the Russian-controlled region.

"Georgian houses are being burned and ethnic-Georgians are being either killed or expelled. Ossetian separatists are coming out and clearly stating that refugees will never be allowed back," Ms Tkeshelashvili told MEPs.

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