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Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova

Among the specially designated units, the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova (also known as the Group of Russian Forces in the Dnestr Region) is part of the ground forces, but operationally the group is directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. This command arrangement probably derives more from political than military concerns.

In the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, ethnic minority Russians proclaimed the autonomous Dnestr Moldavian Republic, or Transnistria, in September 1990. The struggle between the government of the Republic of Moldova and the "Dniester Republic" formed by the Russian minority living on the left bank of the Dniester River, began in the autumn of 1991 with the republic's declaration of independence from Moldova. Russia's 14th Army, which was the primary formation in the Odessa Military District, was the principal arm for Russian intervention.

In the Soviet period the 14th Army was a low-readiness reserve structure, barely the size of a full-strength division. At the beginning of the conflict, the 14th Army possessed only about one-third of its combat potential, which relied on the 59th Guards Kramatorsk Motorized Rifle Division based at Tiraspol. However, after Lt. Gen. Alexander Lebed arrived, an antiaircraft-missile and helicopter regiments were shifted from Ukraine, and a battalion of airborne troops arrived from Belgorod. Replacement of personnel (due to the expiration of their contracts) was completed in the second half of 1992 with a separate reconnaissance battalion and a motorized rifle regiment of the 27th Guard Motorized Rifle Division (GMRD) of the Volga Military District.

The separatist forces in the Transdniester region of Moldova had strong ties to the 14th Army, and during a period of active fighting in 1992, elements of the 14th Army took an active role in support of the separatists. While General Lebed was commander of the 14th Army he restored order to the force, he routinely took a public position of sympathy for the separatist regime in the region. By late 1992, forces of the Russian 14th Army had enabled these Russians to consolidate control over most of the Dnestr region.

Russia's actions chilled its relations with the now-independent Moldova, whose legislature had not ratified the 1991 CIS agreement. The pressure of a Russian trade blockade contributed to the victory of anticommunist candidates in Moldova's February 1994 legislative elections. In April 1994, the new legislature ratified Moldova's membership in the CIS, bringing the last of the non-Baltic Soviet republics into the organization. In October 1994, Russia and Moldova agreed on the withdrawal of the 14th Army, pending settlement of the political status of Transnistria. The agreement was jeopardized immediately, however, when Russia unexpectedly declared that the State Duma had to ratify the agreement. Some members of Russia's Duma flatly refused to consider withdrawing the 14th Army. Under these circumstances, there was little hope for the agreement to be implemented.

The Moldovan prime minister, Andrei Sangheli, and the Russian prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, signed a withdrawal treaty, effective three years from ratification, on October 21, 1994, and the following April the 14th Army was finally downgraded to the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova.

In mid-1995 General Lebed' resigned in protest over the still-scheduled downgrading of the 14th Army. At that time about 4,000 to 6,000 Russian troops were present in the Trans-Dniester area of Moldova. In June 1995 Major General Valeriy Gennadyevich Yevnevich was appointed by a Russian presidential decree as the new head of the operational group in command of the Russian forces in the Dniester region.

Russian forces remained on Moldovan territory east of the Nistru (Dnister) River. The country remains divided, with mostly Slavic separatists controlling the Transnistrian region along the Ukrainian border. This separatist regime has entered into negotiations with the national Government on the possibility of a special status for the region. Progress in resolving the ongoing conflict has been blocked by the separatists' continuing demands for " statehood" and recognition of the country as a confederation of two equal states.

The Moldovan Government and Western countries consider the foreign military presence, including the huge amount of ammunition stockpiled in the Transnistrian region, as a real threat to the stability and security of the entire region, as well as a serious obstacle in the process of Transnistrian conflict settlement. According to Russian data, the quantity of the ammunitions in the stocks of the Operational Group of Russian Forces located in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova amounted to 42,000 tons.

Russia and Moldova have held joint peacekeeping exercises, beginning in July 1999. The first one involved 54 Moldovan and 80 Russian servicemen, while the August 2000 Blue Shield 2000 exercise was a one-week peacekeeping exercise held at the national army's training center in Bulboaka. In this second exercise, Russia was represented by 34 servicemen from the Kantemir division of the Moscow military district.

In October 2002 General Anatoly Kvashnin, Chief of the Russian General Staff, made a decision to liquidate the operational group of Russian forces in Transnistria by the end of 2002. It was planned to leave only 500 of more than 2,000 servicemen there for the peacekeeping service. Withdrawal of Russian forces from Transnistria is an international obligation of Russia. In November 1999, President Boris Yeltsin signed the agreement on adaptation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty during the OSCE summit in Istanbul. According to this document, Russia undertook an obligation to withdraw its forces from Transnistria by the end of 2002.

In a surprise move, Modovan President Vladimir Voronin decided not to sign a Russian-brokered settlement with Transnistria in November 2003. The appearance of the Russian proposal--seen by many as pro-Transnistrian--was enough to set off a brief wave of opposition protests, reminiscent of 2002 protests against the government's proposals to change language and history education in schools. The potential for continued protest over these contentious issues remains. Russia has not removed the weapons and munitions of the Organized Group of Russian Forces stationed in Transnistria, thus failing to comply with the timetable set forth in the 1999 Istanbul Accords. In 2003 Russia failed to meet its second one-year extension from the original withdrawal date of December 31, 2001.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigori Karasin stated Jan 20, 2010 that Russia would continue its peace-keeping mission in Transnistria as long as it takes to arrive at a lasting solution to the separation crisis in that eastern Moldovan region. This came a day after discussing the matter with acting Moldovan President Mihai Gimpu at a meeting with him in Chisinau. Gimpu assured him of Moldovan neutrality and looked forward to resumed Transnistria normalization talks involving negotiators from his country, Transnistria, Russia, Ukraine and Europe's OSCE security organization and also observers from the United States and the European Union. These talks had been in suspension since 2006.

As of early 2010 Russia had 1,500 troops on Transnistrian territory. Most patrol peace jointly with Moldovan and Transnistrian soldiers and Ukrainian military observers. The rest stand guard around Soviet-era ammunition dumps.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:19:58 ZULU