Condriţa Will Show. How the Keys to the Political Future of Igor Dodon Appeared in Tiraspol

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Sergei Isaenko Tomorrow, on September 6, the next meeting of the leaders of the Republic of Moldova and Transdniestria will take place in the village of Condriţa – there is the residence of the President of Moldova. Igor Dodon and Vadim Krasnoselsky will communicate without journalists, press-secretary of the Moldovan president Mikhail Lebedinsky promised to “inform about the results”. He also wrote on Facebook about the topic of the meeting: “confidence- and security-building measures in the Security Zone across the river Dniester”. It is noteworthy that Igor Dodon himself described the agenda of communication with the Transdniestrian leader a few days earlier in an interview with Izvestia, speaking of the intention to discuss socio-economic issues: This is the package that we discussed at our meeting in January 2017. It consists of eight points – five-six of them already have real progress and solutions have been found. We will discuss how to move forward. The secret of rapid ‘adjustment’ of the position of the Moldovan presidency for the forthcoming meeting is simple: on August 31, the leader of Transdniestria Krasnoselsky, communicating with journalists, put the peacekeeping operation in the first place among the issues of the upcoming discussion with Igor Dodon. The President of Moldova, apparently, hurried to harmonize with such an interpretation, although through his spokesman. There are several reasons for this. Pridnestrovian Trap From the first days of his presidency – as, indeed, before that – Igor Dodon made his ‘brand’ topics reconciliation with Transdniestria (a soft scenario of reintegration) and rapprochement with Russia. Although the leader of Moldovan socialists succeeds in creating appearance of success on the second track, largely due to the personal attitude of Vladimir Putin, as well as increased support in the federal media of Russia, then in dialogue with the neighboring Tiraspol Igor Dodon succeeded only in holding the meetings themselves. The President of the Republic of Moldova, like many before him, fell into a political trap called ‘the Transdniestrian issue’, underestimating complexity of the conflict and the special public opinion on the left bank of the Dniester. Calls for a ‘national reconciliation’ to the Transdniestrian population were not understood in Tiraspol by either the local leadership or the residents of the PMR themselves, who know the value of the promises of Moldovan politicians. Igor Dodon ignores a number of important features peculiar to the public consciousness of Transdniestrian residents over the period of the 28-year-old existence separate from Moldova. Therefore, Transdniestria took hard the inability of the Moldovan president to significantly influence the course of the dialogue between Chisinau and Tiraspol, since the breakthroughs of 2017-2018 were actually achieved in the negotiations between the Transdniestrian leadership and the government of the Republic of Moldova. Igor Dodon was left with only these successes to approve and hint at his involvement. However, when on September 1 the first office that issues neutral license plates to local car owners was opened in Tiraspol, the president of Moldova said nothing this time. Apparently, Igor Dodon is learning to draw the right conclusions and realizing that on September 10 the first license plate is to be given by the Special Representative of the OSCE CiO Franco Frattini, he does not want to put himself in an embarrassing situation. The population, perhaps, would have accepted another ‘involvement’ in the success, but the Italian diplomat would have been amazed at the role of the head of the Moldovan state in the negotiations with Transdniestria. In this sense, the shifted focus of the forthcoming meeting in Condriţa to the peacekeeping operation on the Dniester turned out to be very timely for Igor Dodon: what shall the Moldovan commander-in-chief talk about if not about war and peace? Supply and Demand Sources close to the president of Moldova report on the forthcoming visit of Igor Dodon to Moscow. In Moldova, the election campaign actually started in the run-up to the parliamentary elections of 2019, and therefore the next meeting of the leader of the socialists with the Russian partners was expected. Probably, Igor Dodon in Moscow will try to get image support from the team of Vladimir Putin and the Russian president himself and resources for running his party’s electoral campaign. Dialogue with partners in the Kremlin, however, will not be easy. Unequivocal criticism of the Moldovan president began to appear even more often in the pro-governmental mass media of Russia – the leader of the socialists is being blamed for his ‘toothless’ position and lack of sincerity in confronting the ruling pro-European government. Experts predict strong demand from the Moldovan president in Moscow – it is important for the Kremlin to understand what the Party of Socialists of Moldova and its leader really is capable of and what really seeks, and most importantly, how this relates to Russia’s interests in the region. Meanwhile, the set of opportunities that Igor Dodon has to offer to Moscow is very small: the Russian government has already taken up the lost by him Transdniestrian direction, appointing a political heavyweight in the person of Dmitry Kozak as the Special Representative for Moldova. The president of Moldova also did not invent the concept of any fundamentally new relations with Russia and positions himself as a pro-Moldovan statesman. There remains only one sensitive card for Moscow, which Igor Dodon could play – a peacekeeping operation on the Dniester. As you know, Russia is extremely sensitive about any threats to its peacekeeping contingent in Transdniestria, since security on the Dniester is a matter of longstanding pride of the Russian leadership. Igor Dodon may offer Moscow guarantees that the Socialist Party will protect the peacekeeping operation in the coming years – of course, in exchange for political support. However, the president’s attempt to look like Russia’s defender in Moldova is instrumental too: Moldova is increasingly drifting towards NATO, and to mask the irreversibility of this process, the Moldovan leader needs to somehow self-actualize on the topic of military security. The army of Moldova of 2018 is in fact not controlled by its commander-in-chief. If necessary, the Moldovan government simply for a time deprives the president of the authority and disposes of the armed forces at his own discretion. In addition, by 2021 the army of Moldova should become fully contracted, while its material and technical base is planned to be replaced by at least 60%. The budget of Moldova, with the current expenditure on the armed forces, cannot provide such a reform. The Minister of Defense Eugen Sturza told Europa Libera indirectly about where the funds will be found, noting that “the budgets of joint projects with NATO are tens of millions of euros”. To talk about this openly is not the done thing, but in fact only the North Atlantic Alliance – or its individual members, for example – Romania can become a sponsor of the rearmament and reform of the Moldovan army. Therefore, now, in 2018 before the elections to the parliament, Igor Dodon still has an opportunity to offer himself as a defender of the Russian peacekeeping contingent on the Dniester. The separation of ‘areas of responsibility’ between NATO and Russia in the region may take place a few years later without Moldovan politicians at all. The First Bell of September In general, the Moldovan president found himself in a difficult situation before the meeting with the leader of Transdniestria. According to local Transdniestrian media, on September 1, the new Russian ambassador to Moldova, Oleg Vasnetsov, visited the unrecognized republic on his first working visit. In Tiraspol he had an official familiarization with the head of Transdniestria Vadim Krasnoselsky. At first glance, the ordinary familiarization visit of the new Russian ambassador to Tiraspol is of little interest. Nevertheless, such a trip is remarkable from the point of view of diplomatic practice, and there you can see even some of Moscow’s political positions and intentions. First of all, the context that was chosen by the Russian side to organize the first visit of Vasnetsov to Transdniestria attracts attention – before the so-called ‘Independence Day of the PMR’, which is traditionally celebrated on the territory of the unrecognized republic on September 2. In this sense, besides meeting local authorities, the Russian diplomat was very likely to take part in ceremonial events on the anniversary of the establishment of the ‘Transdniestrian Republic’ – officially not recognized by Moscow. Undoubtedly, such a bold move on the part of the Russian ambassador was coordinated with the leadership of the Russian Foreign Ministry: hence, the Kremlin signaled to Chisinau that they are ready to consider Tiraspol as an independent territory, and above all they can interpret the boundaries of this independence quite widely. It is noteworthy that such a gesture of Moscow happened quite accidentally on the eve of the meeting of the Transdniestrian leader Krasnoselsky with the loyal to Moscow president Igor Dodon – the upcoming dialogue between the leaders of Transdniestria and Moldova was evidently known in advance in the Russian Foreign Ministry. According to the RTA editorial board, before the final settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict, which is expected to take place in the coming years, Moscow unequivocally notifies the Moldovan authorities that it considers the recognition of Transdniestria’s independence among possible scenarios as a potential option in the event of ‘special circumstances’ in the negotiation process or geopolitical situation. On the eve of another, at first glance, not a decisive meeting between the leaders of Moldova and Transdniestria, an interesting picture emerges: too much in the political future of Igor Dodon began to depend on the ‘Transdniestrian track’ before the 2019 elections. The peacekeeping operation, international negotiations on the Transdniestrian issue, a transparent hint in the form of the Russian ambassador’s participation in the ceremonial events in the ‘PMR’ – all these signals are specifically for Igor Dodon. Whether Igor Dodon will succeed in finding a specific problem in his relations with Tiraspol after the fourth meeting in two years with his Transdniestrian counterpart and solve it in practice will largely determine the prospects of this politician for Moscow. Condriţa will show.