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Chisinau and Tiraspol: “In small steps” towards federalization of Moldova

The Moldovan president’s recent landmark visit to Russia after an interval of nine years has not only resumed the economic relations of the countries, but also become a geopolitically important factor on the border with the European Union.

Summing up the preliminary results of the two presidents’ meeting that took place on January 17, one can state that Putin-Dodon dialogue spotlighted the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, inherently, the only unresolved sovereignty issue in the post-Soviet area.

It appears that in the current situation, the opinion of Transnistria, a sovereign and independent state in compliance with the Constitution, as a direct party to the conflict that suffered from Moldova’s aggression in 1992, will not be taken into account. A question arises as to whether there is such “opinion”?

Tiraspol has in no way responded either to President Vladimir Putin’s statement that Russia will be contributing to “development of a concession-based solution” as part of Moldova’s territorial integrity and will come out as guarantor of the agreements achieved or to the fact of discussing Transnistria’s fate without participation of its representatives.

In this light, any references to the results of the Independence referendum of Transnistrian Moldovan Republic dating back to September 17 2006 – Transnistrian politicians like referring to it to gain voters’ support – look like populist slogans. The Russian Federation have always supported Transnistria. Russia’s presence in the region is not just the peacekeeping contingent that has been in the region for over 25 years, but also management of the Transnistrian policy from the Kremlin. The key appointments are arranged in Moscow, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin is a special representative of the Russian president for Transnistria, and Russia supplies gas to the republic without compensation, builds social facilities and pays pensions.

On the other hand, Moscow has always insisted that Transnistria is part of Moldova. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has repeatedly confirmed that stand.

The louder Moldova’s politicians called for European integration and NATO membership, the more actively mediators promoted the negotiation process.

In such case, Transnistria is turning into a restraining element for Moldova’s non-aligned status ensuring its buffer state on the border of Western Europe and radically-oriented Ukraine. Together with the industrially developed Transnistria, Chisinau will inherit the largest depots of Russian arms in Eastern Europe defended by Russian military, and inherently, a Russian military base in the center of the country. Having such “resources,” Moldova should not dream about NATO for long.

At the talks with his Moldovan counterpart Igor Dodon on the situation in the region, Vladimir Putin mentioned The Kozak Memorandum. He said that in 2003, the “sides were close to the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict as never before,” adding that he anticipates a return to that issue.

Under that plan, Moldova was to become an “asymmetric federation,” and the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic and Gagauzia (an autonomous union in the south of the Moldovan Republic) would receive a special status and an opportunity to kill bills undesirable for the autonomies. Moldova would pledge to observe neutrality and demobilize the army as well as authorized Russia to deploy its troops in the territory of Transnistria for a period of 20 years as guarantors of the conflict settlement.

First president of Transnistria Igor Smirnov signed the Memorandum actually ratifying the loss of the sovereignty and statehood of the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic. At the last moment, on the night of November 25, 2003, President of Moldova Vladimir Voronin refused to sign the agreement he had initialed personally not to give Transnistria what he called one-sided advantages.

Replacing Igor Smirnov on the post of the president, Yevgeny Shevchuk declared “small steps tactics” to bring the two countries closer as a foreign policy priority after the protracted “cold war” between Chisinau and Tiraspol.

Moscow approved and supported that initiative and the mediators contributed to its promotion as part of the resumed talks of the parties.

At the meeting with his Moldovan counterpart Andrei Galbur in April 2016, Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov stressed the need to “restore the viable negotiation mechanism basing on small but specific steps and determine the status of Transnistria as part of the single Moldovan state.”

In that period, both Transnistria and Moldova were actually ready for rapprochement and implementation of common federative plans. However, instable state of the Moldovan society, the political crisis of the ruling alliance and pressure by Western partners of Moldova failed the development of a consensus related to the unification issue.

The current rhetoric of the new president of Moldova Igor Dodon related to the Transnistria coincides with the stand of Sergey Gubarev, Russia’s representative in the negotiation process, made public in May 2016. According to the Russian diplomat, the settlement process not the conflict is “frozen” in Transnistria. There is no willingness to agree. Another mediator, OSCE Ambassador Cord Meier Klodt shared his views saying they do not see the conflict as such. Dodon says the same.

Now, the Moldovan leader initiates return “small steps”. The work of the Joint Control Commission in charge of the peacekeeping operation was resumed and the two countries’ leaders have met. The new president of the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic” Vadim Krasnoselsky called the dialogue of the two presidents held for the first time in the last eight years on January 4 before Dodon’s arrival in Moscow as “a positive tendency of settling the existing problems.” “So far, interests of the citizens residing on both banks of the Dniester, not the political status of Transnistria is in question,” they in Tiraspol say.

Hence, the first “small steps” have been done and are gathering pace. Actually, that tactics is justified.

Mikhail Tulyev for EADaily

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