For almost three years, the Moldovan authorities implement the policy of small steps towards Tiraspol. In this way, they would like to bring closer the population on both banks of the Dniester, raise the attractiveness of Moldova for its citizens in the eastern districts, solve certain socio-economic problems, raise the level of confidence between Chisinau and Tiraspol, thus creating the conditions needed for negotiating the final political settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.
The events and developments over the past year prove that the chosen tactic is the correct one. Progresses made in this regard are relevant. After a six years hiatus, negotiations in the "5 + 2" format have been re-launched, the principles, procedures and the agenda for the resumed negotiations have been agreed, the work of the joint work groups restarted, the rail traffic re-launched, the100% tax on imports of goods from the right bank of the Dniester cancelled, the Tiraspol administration officials participate as observers in negotiations on creating the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the EU. In addition, the official and unofficial meetings between Prime Minister Vlad Filat and Tiraspol leader Evgeny Shevchuk became an ordinary thing, helping to create a favorable environment for the official negotiations. These results are, certainly, for the benefit of citizens on both sides of the Dniester River.
However, there are some trends that force us to ask ourselves whether the current tactic is viable in the medium and longer term, or if this can bring us eventually to the end of the negotiation process – the reintegration of the Transnistrian region within the Republic of Moldova. In particular, we would like to draw attention to the following challenges that have to be tackled by the small steps policy promoted by Chisinau:
1. Russia's lack of interest for changing the status quo in the region
Russia is undoubtedly one of the key players in the Transnistrian conflict settlement process, only with its support, pressure and "blessing" the resumption of the "5 + 2" negotiations format was possible. Yet, it is not an unconditional resumption. For instance, Moscow was able to dictate the removal of two key issues from the agenda of negotiations: the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria and the transformation of its peacekeepers mission in a mission of civilian observers under international mandate. In addition, it continues to insist on the recognition of legal equality between Transnistria and Chisinau. Despite the fact that at the "5 + 2" meetings in Vienna, from April 17 to 18 and from July 12 to 13, 2012, all parties have agreed to apply the principle of legal equality only at the table of negotiations, Russia is not at all satisfied with that result and will not waver to use it as a springboard for developing and further asserting the concept of full legal equality (ravnopravie) between Chisinau and Tiraspol. The above mentioned goal is to be achieved, including by promoting the policy of small steps focused mainly on "normalization of bilateral relations between Tiraspol and Chisinau", the development of a viable economy and driving the region out of the current isolation. Achieving these objectives, Moscow hopes to confer necessary credibility to Tiraspol’s statehood claims.
2. Tiraspol aims at strengthening "Transnistria’s statehood"
Small steps policy was adopted by the new Tiraspol administration inclusively, but its final stakes do not coincide with those of Chisinau. In the vision of Evgeny Shevchuk and his followers, small steps policy has to help the region to overcome the economic crisis, to resolve the socio-economic problems, to break the international isolation, develop “interstates” relations with the Republic of Moldova and, thus, strengthen the “fundamentals of Transnistria’s statehood”. Moreover, the Transnistrian leader hopes that by achieving the region’s socio-economic stabilization and solving the structural problems in the field of economy, the guarantor states (Russia and Ukraine) and participants at the “5+2” negotiations (OSCE, EU and USA) will rethink the need to change the settlement form, taking also into account the option of recognizing the Transnistria’s independence.
3. In the absence of a unique strategic purpose, small steps policy might turn into a gradual federalization of the Republic of Moldova
Chisinau and Tiraspol still have diametrically opposed positions on the finality of the negotiation process, as well as of the small steps’ policy that they are following. In these circumstances, in order to avoid blocking the dialogue, both the central authorities from Chisinau and Tiraspol administration have opted to focus on tackling gradually the socio-economic problems, thus, hoping to create the necessary preconditions for discussing the existing political and legal issues. Yet, resolving socio-economic problems involves volens-nolens, negotiation and signing of a new set of agreements providing for the division and/or taking legal responsibilities/obligations, as is the case with the Protocol Decision on the "principles of the full resumption of railway traffic via Transnistria" signed by Prime Minister Vlad Filat and Tiraspol leader Evgeny Shevchuk on March 30, 2012. Such a development would result naturally in the division step-by-step of the tasks, responsibilities and legal obligations in various areas between Chisinau and Tiraspol, but this time with the endorsement of the "5 + 2" format. Consequently, on medium and long term, this new network of sector agreements may create de facto and de jure a new political and legal reality between the two banks of the Dniester River. In the absence of a unique strategic objective embraced by Chisinau and Tiraspol, such developments are fraught with the great risk that small steps policy of promoting confidence building could turn into a gradual federalization of the Republic of Moldova. It seems that Chisinau is aware if this potential hazard, rightly insisting that the negotiations on political and security issue should take place concurrently with solving common social and economic problems.
4. Small steps policy could come into contradiction with the law adopted by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova number 173 of July 22, 2005 on the main provisions of the special legal status of the localities from the left bank of the Dniester River (Transnistria)
The Republic of Moldova Parliamentary Law number 173 of July22, 2005 marks Chisinau’s red lines in the negotiations with Tiraspol and stipulates that "the negotiation process with Transnistria is taking place in order to achieve the goals of democratization and demilitarization of Transnistria", and the negotiations on the special legal status of Transnistria would be held "after achieving the conditions regarding demilitarization, stipulated in the decision of the Parliament number 117-XVI of June 10, 2005, in particular those relating to the fulfillment by Russian Federation of the obligations assumed at the Istanbul OSCE Summit in 1999 concerning the complete, urgent and transparent withdrawal of troops from the Republic of Moldova’s territory, and after the set up in Transnistria of a democratically elected power system". According to this Law, Chisinau should not engage in negotiations with Tiraspol as long as Russia has not withdrawn the last soldier from the territory of the Republic of Moldova. Meantime, in 2007 Moscow unilaterally suspended the implementation of the adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe signed during the Istanbul Summit in November 1999, which expressly states the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova. The subsequent talks between Russia and NATO Member States with regard to the revival of the respective Treaty didn’t have any success so far. Meanwhile, several NATO countries, including the USA have announced the partial suspension of the obligations in accordance with this Treaty, creating further uncertainty around it. In these circumstances, the initiation of negotiations on the legal status of the Transnistrian region without the full accomplishment of demilitarization required by the Parliament’s Law will deprive our negotiators of a solid legal and political basis and will weaken their status during the negotiations. In order to avoid such a situation it would be required an update by the Parliament of the Law number 173 of July 22, 2005, thus providing our negotiators with the needed flexibility, solid legal ground and unwavering political support, restating at the same time, Chisinau’s "red lines" set out by that Law.
5. Asserting the idea that the country’s reintegration is “priceless”
According to Public Opinion Barometers (BPO), only 1% of the Moldovans considers Transnistrian settlement a first rank priority. However, the rejection of the Kozak Memorandum in 2003 is an eloquent proof that the majority of society will not accept the resolution of the Transnistrian problem at all costs. At stake is not just the material well-being of Moldovan citizens that will have to contribute to the payment of the Transnistrian region debts, but also at stake are the basic values on which the future reintegrated state will be built on. Will it be a democratic State? Will it be a State where human rights are a priority? Will it be a tolerant or a chauvinistic State? Will it be a state with European or Euro-Asian aspirations? Will it be a sovereign State, or still a State with the foreign troops on its territory? Will it be a State where all that is Moldovan, Russian, Ukrainian, Gagauz and Bulgarian is considered to be patriotic and everything Romanian will be declared unpatriotic and anti-statehood? Will it be a state where Smirnov and Antiufeev will enjoy immunity? These are just some of the questions that we should answer to before accepting one or other settlement formula. The answers to these and other questions, regardless of their content, stress the real price that we, Moldovans, are ready or not ready to pay for the reintegration of the country. Ignoring or reducing this price is dangerous because it can generate a new “Kozak Memorandum”, and this time it could be fatal for the Republic of Moldova.
- In the light of the challenges described above, we consider appropriate to formulate the following recommendations:
- The negotiations on political and security issues in the "5 + 2" format should go in line with solving the socio-economic problems;
- Provisional delimitation of responsibilities/tasks/duties on the basis of sector agreements, pending the approval of the Law of the Republic of Moldova on special legal status of Transnistria (In accordance with article 11 of the Republic of Moldova’s Parliamentary Law number 173 of July 22, 2005, delimitation of responsibilities between the central public authorities of the Republic of Moldova and the Transnistrian authorities will be made on the basis of the Law of the Republic of Moldova on special legal status of Transnistria, and in accordance with the Republic of Moldova’s legislation);
- Updating the Parliament Law No. 173 of July 22, 2005, so that it would provide our negotiators with the needed flexibility, solid legal ground and unwavering political support, by restating, at the same time, Chisinau’s "red lines" set out by that Law;
- The initiation by the civil society of a wide-ranging discussion, with the participation of international experts, on the formulation of fundamental principles of the country’s reintegration process.
Victor Chirila, Executive Director, Foreign Policy Association of Moldova, for Info-Prim Neo