KIEV, Ukraine, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Ukraine says it will work diligently to resolve "frozen conflicts" as the new 2013 chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Newly appointed Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara said Tuesday in a New Year's Day message as his country assumed the rotating OSCE chairmanship his agenda will include a strong focus on facilitating settlements for disputes such as the Transdniestrian conflict.
"We must re-energize negotiations within the existing formats and prevent any escalation in tensions," he said. "The resolution of protracted conflicts must remain the highest priority for the OSCE and all participating states."
Kozhara -- named Ukraine's top diplomatic envoy by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych Dec. 24 -- said momentum shown in the last year toward a settlement for the Moldovan breakaway territory on the southwestern border of Ukraine confirms that progress is possible in resolving Europe's roster of protracted international disputes.
That also applies to the South Caucasus, which is wracked by three frozen conflicts in Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia, where Ukraine has said it "intends to become instrumental in the Geneva International Discussions" covering that region as the incoming chair of the OSCE, which includes 57 countries from Europe, Central Asia and North America.
The 20-year-old Transdniestrian conflict erupted when Russian-speaking residents living east of the Dniester River fought to establish a Transnistria republic independent of the newly established, Romanian-speaking state of Moldova, which came into existence following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
More than 1,000 people were killed during the 1992 conflict, during which the Transnistria separatists enjoyed the tacit backing of the Russian 14th Army.
Since then, the conflict has remained in a frozen limbo, with Russian, Moldovan and Transnistrian peacekeepers patrolling the enclave's heavily armed perimeters.
Russian maintains 1,100 troops within the territory, claiming its residents need its protection from Moldova's pro-NATO government.
The OSCE agenda of reintegrating Transnistria back into Moldova with special protection for the Russian-speaking population made significant progress in 2012 under the "5+2" negotiating process with the help of officially neutral Ukraine acting as a "guarantor."
Under the two previous OSCE chairmanships of Lithuania and Ireland, the OSCE has brought Moldovans and Transnistrians -- along with Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States -- together for face-to-face talks for the first time in years.
OSCE foreign ministers meeting last month in Dublin issued a statement praising the 5+2 progress, reaffirming their support for the resolution of the Transdniestrian conflict "based on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova with a special status for Transnistria that fully guarantees the human, political, economic and social rights of its population."
Ukraine's interest in bringing Transnistrian territory under Moldovan sovereignty stems from its desire to shut down smuggling routes that cost Kiev dearly in lost customs revenue and in ending the Russian military presence on its southwest frontier, Matthew Rojansky of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said in April.
Settling the decades-old conflict would make Moldova more attractive as a candidate for EU membership, and by extension potentially strengthen Ukraine's own bid, Rojansky wrote in the U.S. diplomatic journal World Politics Review.