SOCHI, Russia (Reuters)–Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned ex-Soviet Moldova on Monday against repeating Georgia’s mistake of trying to use force to seize back control of a breakaway region.
"This is a serious warning, a warning to all," Medvedev said. "And I believe we should handle other existing conflicts in this context."
Medvedev’s statement comes against the backdrop of growing threats from Azerbaijan to use military force to "reclaim" the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which declared independence from Baku in 1991 following brutal massacres of Armenia’s throughout Azerbiajan.
Although the tense status quo in Karabakh has by and large held, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev continues to threaten the use of his country’s petrodollar-funded military to take the territory by force.
A day after Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili deployed Georgian forces to "reclaim" South Ossetia, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement, describing Georgia’s military offensive as a positive precedent for countries seeking to use military force to restore "territorial integrity." The statement, published in Today.Az, referred to the frozen conflict between Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which declared its independence from Baku in 1991 following mass pogroms of Armenia’s throughout Azerbaijan.
"After the Georgian leadership lost their marbles, as they say, all the problems got worse and a military conflict erupted," Medvedev told Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin.
As the two leaders spoke in Medvedev’s Black Sea residence in Sochi, Russian lawmakers were voting non-binding resolutions urging the Kremlin to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
That would be a nightmare scenario for Moldova, which fears Russia could recognize Transdniestria, a pro-Moscow region in Moldova.
Medvedev, keen to limit diplomatic damage caused by the Russian operation in Georgia, made clear Moldova had no reason to worry for now.
"We have agreed … to meet and discuss the Transdniestria settlement," he told Voronin. "I think there is a good reason to do this today. I see good prospects of reaching a settlement."
Medvedev’s spokeswoman Natalya Timakova later told reporters the two leaders had agreed to hold a fresh round of talks on Transdniestria soon.
"Russia is ready to continue its efforts towards finally solving the Transdniestrian crisis," she told reporters.
Russia’sent peacekeepers to Moldova in the early 1990s to end a conflict between Chisinau and its breakaway Transdniestria region and is trying to mediate a deal between the two sides.
Transdniestria, one of a number of "frozen conflicts" on the territory of the former Soviet Union, mirrored the standoff between Georgia and its rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia until they erupted in war earlier this month.
Russia’sent troops to Georgia to crush Tbilisi’s military push into South Ossetia and Moscow says Georgia has now lost the chance of ever re-integrating the breakaway provinces.
Russia is currently trying to forge a deal between Chisinau and Transdniestrian separatists which would keep the rebel region as part of Moldova but give it broad autonomy.
The Russian-brokered deal would also allow Transdniestria to leave Moldova should the former Soviet state decide to join their ethnic kin in EU member Romania.
Several years ago, Moldova rejected a similar deal under a strong pressure from NATO. But now Voronin appears to treat the Russian mediation more favorably.
The Moldovan leader told Medvedev he had indeed learned the lesson: "Thank God, during all these years…we had enough brains and reserve not to allow a similar deterioration of situation."
"Frozen conflicts are a real volcano which can blow up anytime," Voronin added. "That is why taking into account what had happened elsewhere it would be useful if we exercised again such wisdom not to allow such things to repeat in our country."