Opinion: Russia and Germany Will Try to Create a ‘Success Story’ in Transdniestria

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According to the regular author of the RTA Sergei Ceban, it is important for Moscow and Berlin to offer a fundamentally new approach to the settlement of territorial conflicts. Read more in the special commentary of the expert for Regional Trends Analytics. As previously reported by the RTA, the OSCE Mission to Moldova will be headed by a German diplomat. Today it became known that it would be Claus Neukirch. Mr. Neukirch previously worked in the field mission of the organization in Chisinau, and I also would like to note that he coordinated the work of the OSCE observers in the Donbass, which means that he knows firsthand the problem of unsettled territorial conflicts. It is symbolic that after the relatively successful on the Transdniestrian track ex-head of the mission American Michael Scanlan – a staff member of the US State Department – the head of the OSCE office in Moldova will be the German. In my opinion, there is a demonstrative reverence of Washington to the European partners. Earlier, US diplomats always occupied the post of OSCE head in Moldova, but today the USA ‘without a fight’ offers this post to the FRG ‘kindly’ inviting to show itself. It’s no secret that Berlin has long and consistently been trying to strengthen its role in the Transdniestrian settlement process – in 2016 a group of pro-Moldovan public figures even accused Germany of putting pressure on Chisinau for success in the 5+2 negotiation format. All this resembles the typical method of an abusive employer who promotes an employee and then fires for not coping with new duties. That is, according to Washington’s plan, Berlin will have to achieve successes, at least comparable to the American ones in order to justify its claims to authority in the Transdniestrian settlement. In support of this logic, I emphasize that, according to our sources in Vienna, the term of Mr. Neukirch’s mandate is exactly one year. It is worth recalling that the period of Michael Scanlan was indeed marked by a whole set of meaningful agreements between Tiraspol and Chisinau: the opening of a bridge across the Dniester, apostilization of the Transdniestrian diplomas, the return of lands to Moldovan farmers. We should not forget about the ‘demob chord’ of Mr. Scanlan – an agreement on neutral car license plates, thanks to which the population of Transdniestria will be able to travel abroad by their cars. The bar is raised high, but Berlin is also very ambitious. So, according to experts, Transdniestria was also discussed along with other conflicts in Europe at the Meseberg meeting of Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. If the Russian Federation and the Federal Republic of Germany outlined common parameters for a unified approach to conflicts, be it Syria or the east of Ukraine, the rate of Berlin on the Transdniestrian track may be essentially higher. In this sense, I agree with the assessment of colleagues from the RTA that Russia and Germany will try to propose to the international relations a new model for resolving current and future conflicts related to ‘self-determination’ and other forms of sovereignty of certain territories. Moreover, I am convinced that such a joint project of a trans-regional scale is especially in demand for Berlin and Moscow, which have long been looking for ways of rapprochement after the Ukrainian crisis. Against the backdrop of the growing EU – US contradictions, in order to restart the relations between Russia and Germany (and in the broad sense, the European Union), it is important not to stagnate at the deadlock, which the EU movement in the wake of Washington’s sanctions policy led to. The loss of German business after such a long jump into the ‘abyss’ only for company’s sake with the US is extremely tangible and pushes the leading political forces of the FRG to find a way out of the situation, certainly that saves face. Therefore, the interests of Russia and Germany at this stage fairly coincide: they need an obvious and tangible result, an alternative to Washington’s policy. In my opinion, the European Union is not by chance so openly opposes the ‘delineation’ idea of Kosovo and Serbia. Independent Pristina is mostly a US project, but Transdniestria can become their own ‘success story’ for the EU and Russia. As one can see, the ‘delineation’ idea, which is under active consideration in the expert community, will be applied to the relations between Tiraspol and Chisinau, but not in the territorial sense – as in Serbia and Kosovo – but in terms of powers. If you look closely, all the last year successes of the negotiation process on the Transdniestrian settlement are connected by a single point – Tiraspol and Chisinau made a number of counter-compromises, while recognizing each other’s powers in certain spheres, delineating competences. Berlin and Moscow are very likely to try to go further and develop a set of principles based on which Moldova and Transdniestria will be able to differentiate powers – without affecting political issues at the same time. In this case, both sides of the conflict will have their advantages: Transdniestria can gradually ‘legalize itself’ in international law (this process has already started with an agreement on special license plates for Transdniestrian cars), and Chisinau will be able to talk about building effective ‘indirect’ control over Tiraspol. Guarantors and authors of this construction will be international mediators represented by Russia, the EU and the OSCE. Such a model can unlikely be considered a comprehensive and final political settlement, but it can certainly be applied in other conflict regions as an efficient mechanism for defusing tensions, improving living standards of the population and overall stabilizing of relationship between the conflicting parties. As I have already said, the goals of Berlin and Moscow are very ambitious – the question is whether the leaders of Europe and Russia have enough political will and motivation for their implementation. Besides, Washington will definitely speak its own word. But the prize is very real, which means that the game is worth the candle.