Medvedev Brokers Transdnestr Talks

ria-novostiDmitry Medvedev greeting Vladimir Voronin of Moldova at his Barvikha residence outside Moscow on Wednesday.��
Moldova, its breakaway Transdnestr republic and Russia agreed after talks Wednesday that an international mission might replace Moscow's peacekeepers in the conflict zone once a peace deal is concluded.

President Dmitry Medvedev invited Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and separatist leader Igor Smirnov to his Barvikha residence outside Moscow to try to speed up a political solution for the 19-year-old conflict.

Russia, which has had peacekeepers in Transdnestr since they halted fighting between government troops and separatists in 1992, has previously balked at letting an international force into a region where it says it has privileged interests.

The presence of Russian peacekeepers is a central issue in the search for a peace deal, with Moldova saying it wants the troops removed because it suspects that they sympathize with the separatists.

The three leaders signed a joint declaration committing themselves to finding a solution to the conflict, but there was no indication of any breakthrough on Transdnestr's future status -- another crucial stumbling block.

"The sides ... noted the stabilizing role of the current peacekeeping operation in the region and agreed that it would be expedient to transform it into a new mission under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe after a solution [to the conflict] is found," the declaration said.

The dispute flared up in 1990, when predominantly Russian-speaking Transdnestr broke away on fears of Moldova's possible merger with Romania. Since then, it has been a source of instability on the European Union's border.

Diplomatic efforts in the so-called 5+2 mediation format -- also including the United States, the EU, the OSCE and Ukraine -- have yielded little success. "Our position and that of Moldova have not got any closer," Smirnov said at a news conference after the talks.

Voronin and Smirnov met last year after a seven-year break but failed to reach progress in solving the conflict. Wednesday's talks were the first time the two had held talks together with Medvedev.

Russia has renewed efforts to mediate a resolution of the conflict in an attempt to show that it still maintains influence in settling post-Soviet conflicts after last year's war with Georgia damaged its reputation as an honest broker.

Russia's activity has raised eyebrows among some Western partners, who suspect Moscow of trying to sideline them over Moldova. Wednesday's declaration said Western states would retain a role in the mediation.

However, one analyst said the declaration could, in fact, allow Russia to tighten its grip on Moldova.

"In this way, Russia is guaranteeing the preservation of its military presence in Moldova for an indefinite period, because no one knows when there will be a Transdnestr peace deal and what it will be," said Igor Botan, director of the Adept think tank in Moldova.