EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Russia has said it is ready to dismantle Cold War-era arms dumps in Moldova, raising the prospect of an end to the Transniestria conflict and boosting Moldova's chances of future EU accession.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov made the offer on the three ammunitions depots located in the disputed Moldovan region of Transniestria during talks with Moldova's foreign minister Iurie Leanca in Moscow on Tuesday (29 March).
"We see absolutely the same final aim: a special status for the Dniester area within the territorial integrity of the Moldovan Republic, a state with constitutional neutrality, which we regard as a substantial contribution to creating a new security architecture in the European continent," the Russian minister said, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.
"Of course the sides themselves should agree on this, above all, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, as is proper for negotiating parties," he added, on the need for rebel leaders in Transniestria to negotiate a deal with Chisinau.
Lavrov's statement follows a meeting with EU diplomats in the Russian capital two weeks back in which he said Russia wants to start formal Transniestria conflict-settlement talks in June in the so-called 5+2 format.
The 5+2 group - which includes the Transniestria rebels, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, the Vienna-based pro-democracy body the OSCE, the EU and the US - are to hammer out the details of the June talks at a meeting in Vienna on Monday.
"This is a real breakthrough," a senior EU diplomat told this website.
Transniestria broke away from Moldova in a brief civil war in the 1990s. The unrecognised Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic has in previous talks failed to agree on how much power and what kind of semi-autonomous status it is to have in a new federal-type structure.
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But an even bigger sticking-point has been what to do with the Russian military facilities and the 1,200-or-so Russian soldiers which guard them.
The EU has, for its part, torpedoed previous deals which envisaged letting the Russians stay indefinitely. It has also made clear that Moldova cannot enter the EU in its divided state following the negative experience of Cyprus. The Greek Cypriot side pulled away from UN efforts to make peace with the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus after the divided island joined the union.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk speaking at an event in Chisinau on Tuesday promised to help steer Moldova into the EU.
"We are convinced that this [Moldova's EU accession] is in the interests of Moldova, Poland and all of Europe," he said, according to the Polish Press Agency. "You have showed that even in difficult circumstances and in difficult times you can go forward with your head held high."
"We are counting on progress here [on Transniestria]," he added. "We will help you with that."
The Moldovan leader, Vlad Filat, noted that "EU support is an enormous motivating factor" in terms of political reforms and the fight against corruption. "We will continue to act consequentially in terms of EU integration. We are a European country, we have a right to benefit from European values."
Tusk also said that the Polish presidency in late 2011 will work to see that post-Soviet countries are not forgotten in the EU's scramble to cope with crises in north Africa and the Middle East.
Neither leader spoke of prospective dates for Moldova's EU entry.
Leaving aside the small country's technical conformity with accession criteria, Western fears of a fresh influx of poor migrants and more general EU enlargement fatigue stand in Chisinau's way.
The coming-to-power of Filat's pro-EU coalition government following a revolution in 2009 marks one of the EU's few foreign policy successes in the post-Soviet region however, amid backsliding on democratic standards in Belarus, Azerbaijan and Ukraine.