When asked about the prospects of settling the Transnistrian issue, Prime Minister Filat states each time that he is ready to fly to the moon if this is what it takes to achieve Moldova’s reintegration. Does Mr. Filat want to repeat the adventures of Baron Munchhausen? Certainly not, the Prime Minister is an experienced, pragmatic and rational politician and not at all an adventurer. Speaking metaphorically, he wants to assure us that in order to solve this conflict he is decided to do everything in his power.
As a matter of fact, without “flying to the Moon”, Prime Minister Filat has convinced us that he can achieve progresses even in the current context when the parties are still having completely different positions on the future of the Transnistrian region. Facts speak for themselves. Despite his personal antipathy towards Igor Smirnov, the most odious figure in the Transnistrian region, he started a dialogue with him. Also, he has established friendship relations with Yevgeny Shevchuk, the new leader in Tiraspol. Thus, he has managed to resume the dialogue between Chisinau and Tiraspol, facilitate the restart of the “5+2” format of negotiations, release Ernest Vardanean, Ilie Cazac and Alexandru Ursu from Tiraspol prisons, resume the railway passenger and cargo traffic through the Transnistrian region, restart the activity of the working groups and the list of successes could continue.
However, for Moscow and Tiraspol, the determination of Prime Minister Filat to “fly to the Moon” to solve the Transnistrian conflict means, first of all, flexibility and bigger openness to compromises and/or concessions. From this point of view, we could say that, nolens volens, the level of the Russian and Transnistrian expectations has been substantially increased. Thus, analyzing the developments that took place in the last three months, we could conclude that neither Moscow, nor Tiraspol believe that Mr. Filat is ready to fly so far. Therefore, both want a convincing answer to the question – will the Prime Minister fly or not to the Moon? In other words, what are the limits of the compromises and concessions he would be ready to make?
Recently, Moscow and Tiraspol have increased their pressures on Chisinau. Their goal is to determine Moldovan authorities to make a series of concessions with a long-term impact on the future of the Republic of Moldova and the Transnistrian region, which once accepted or rejected, will define the outer limits of the “Moon flight” announced by the Prime Minister Filat. For instance, Moscow asked Chisinau to withdraw from the European Energy Community's Third Energy Package, if Moldova wants cheap gas, as well as to accept the opening of a Russian Federation consulate in Tiraspol. For its part, Tiraspol has asked Chisinau to recognize the independence of the Transnistrian bank system; recognize the Transnistrian car registration plates, which bear the signs of an nonexistent state entity; to allow the Russian and Ukrainian citizens residing permanently in the Transnistrian region to travel on the territory of the Republic of Moldova without having a permanent registration permit on Moldova’s territory as required by the internal legislation, bilateral agreements and international practice; it conditions the opening of the Gura Bacului Bridge over Nistru River upon the recognition by Chisinau of the Transnistrian cars registration plates and the access of the Transnistrian carriers to the international cargo transport, which without any doubt, would lead to the recognition of the authorizations issued by the Tiraspol administration.
At the same time, while Chisinau promotes the small steps policy of confidence building between the two banks of the Nistru River, Moscow is strengthening its control over the security structures in the Transnistrian region, appointing Yevgeny Petrushin, an FSB colonel, as first deputy of the KGB head in Tiraspol. In this capacity, colonel Petrushin has the Transnistrian KGB elite troops under his subordination. Concomitantly, Moscow intends to beef up its military presence in the region, equipping the Russian military contingent in the Transnistrian region with modern military equipment which is not appropriate for peacekeeping forces, bringing in the region not only new military trucks, but also infantry weapons for assault operations such as grenade launchers and sniper rifles. Also, Russian and Transnistrian troops have organized joint “peacekeeping” drills, which included attacks on land and forcing water barriers. The logical question is whom they want to attack: Romania, Ukraine, or maybe Turkey?
Concurrently, Tiraspol has increased its criticism towards Chisinau, accusing the Moldovan authorities of showing a lack of cooperation, openness, willingness to make compromises, etc. Yevgeny Shevcihuk and Nina Shtanski accuse Chisinau that it doesn’t respond appropriately and sufficiently enough to the compromises and concessions made by Tiraspol. But, what are those compromises? Has something changed radically in the conflict’s discourse and approach? Could we consider a concession the abolishment of 100% tax on “imports” from the right bank of the Nistru River, which was imposed in a masochist manner by the ex-Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov and recently imposed once again by Mr. Shevchuk? Could we consider a concession the release from Transnistrian prisons of Moldovan citizens – Ernest Vardanean, Ilie Cazac and Alexandru Ursu that were illegally detained by Tiraspol in a flagrant breach of their fundamental human rights? Is the resumption of passenger and cargo railway traffic through the Transnistrian region a concession to Chisinau? Or maybe the resumption of the dialogue is a concession made in favor of Chisinau? Have the Transnistrian troops been withdrawn from the Security Zone as it is stipulated in the Agreement on the peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Transnistrian region signed between Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation on 21 July 1992? Have the Transnistrian border posts, which were set up in contradiction to the Agreement of 21 July 1992, been removed? Does Tiraspol’s virtual/facebook openness represent a real opening of the region?
Tiraspol allegations are undoubtedly hypocritical because they ignore an essential thing: that the compromises expected by Mr. Shevchuk and Mrs. Shtanski from Chisinau in the bank, economic, transport sectors have political implications. Therefore, they cannot be made without answering the key question – where we are heading to? The blind acceptance by Chisinau of the compromises and concessions asked by Moscow and Tiraspol, without making tangible progresses in the negotiations on the political settlement of the conflict means playing the “Russian roulette” with a revolver offered friendly by Dmitry Rogozin. Is Prime Minister Filat ready to accept such a game? It is hard to believe. Moreover, it is unlikely that in the current context Mr. Filat will “fly to the Moon”, in other words, it is unlikely that he will make, at any price, compromises or/and concessions in favor of Moscow and Tiraspol. In fact, Chisinau’s refusal to withdraw from the Third Energy Package speaks for itself.
A “flight to the Moon” announced unilaterally, decisively and unconditionally risks to encourage even more the claims of Moscow and Tiraspol and to increase Chisinau’s vulnerability during the negotiations, forcing our negotiators into a constant defensive position. As a result, in the best case, negotiations will stall. To avoid such a development, the “Moon flight” should be made jointly, that means equal openness and willingness of both parties for compromises and/or concessions, including in the political and security field. Or, as long as Mr. Shevciuk prefers to fly only till Moscow and Mrs. Stansky prefers a speedy motorcycle ride with Dmitry Rogozin, the “Moon flight” could be a risky enterprise. Of course, those who don't risk never get to drink champagne. However, in the current situation, it would be better to have our feet firmly on the ground, rather than rushing into a space without limits and horizons.
Victor Chirila, Executive Director, Foreign Policy Association, for Info-Prim Neo
Chisinau, 13 November 2012