Chisinau and Tiraspol Preparing for a Political Settlement? What Franco Frattini Wanted to Tell About

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Christian Russu, Andrei Voznesensky The ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, the Special Representative of the OSCE CiO for Transdniestria, Franco Frattini, saw a “strong desire” on the banks of the Dniester to start a dialogue on the political status of the region. This week his interview was published in the Ukrainian newspaper Evropeiskaya Pravda, devoted to the situation in the negotiation process on Transdniestria among other things. Frattini, who supervises the Transdniestrian settlement in 2018 spoke about the consultations held with Chisinau and Tiraspol regarding the political settlement. The Italian diplomat is confident that today “there is a strong desire” of both Chisinau and Tiraspol to finally open the so-called “third negotiating basket” on the political status of the territory of Transdniestria. So, the RTA experts reflect on whether the words of the diplomat preempt the coming breakthrough in the negotiation process. Christian Russu: The OSCE representative has made quite loud statements indeed. In general, the mere fact of holding informal consultations with the parties to the conflict is not surprising, since this is the normal work of the mediator. But there is something new that, after these meetings, high OSCE officials talk about strong desire of Chisinau and especially of Tiraspol to ‘uncork’ the box with secrets that is a model of a political settlement. At least, nothing of the kind has recently been spoken in public on either side of the Dniester. Rather, it is enough to recall the recent meeting of Moldovan President Igor Dodon with the “PMR” leader Vadim Krasnoselsky, following which the Transdniestrian leader spoke about the unreadiness to discuss political issues. In a sense, Frattini’s words seem to be a sensation, but in reality they are not. By and large, the OSCE Special Representative did not say anything fundamentally new, because his resounding words – and Frattini is not only a diplomat, but also a politician – hide the usual OSCE rhetoric. “Transdniestria as a region with a special status within the framework of a unified Moldova”, “the conflict is ripe for settlement”, “solving socio-economic problems for the transition to political ones” – all these phrases have been copied from one press releases and OSCE statements and pasted into others for many years. It seems to me that Frattini’s positive tone is much more remarkable when assessing the current progress in the negotiation process, which he describes as “considerable success”. Such demonstrative optimism is by no means accidental, and I tend to regard it as part of the general outline of the processes around Transdniestria. The EU is gradually “laying hands on” the Transdniestrian settlement. It is important for Brussels and especially Berlin, playing to the OSCE’s Italian Chairmanship, to show the high effectiveness of its efforts in Transdniestria. In this sense, the announcement of the almost political status talks is just an attempt to somewhat “push” their successes, showing that the OSCE mediators not only skillfully perform their role, but are even ready to take the process to a qualitatively new level. It is symptomatic that Frattini immediately made an important caveat that to open the “third basket”, “all agreements in the socio-economic and human dimension must be fulfilled.” This, by the way, is quite possible, judging by the experience of solving problems in relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol in the last year. Another thing is that there are so many ‘non-political’ problems in fact that to unravel this tangle at full speed is unlikely. In the end, there is absolutely no realistic settlement plan, which enjoys at least minimal support from both sides. Chisinau and Tiraspol hold antagonistic positions: “a region with a special status” and “internationally recognized independence” – without showing any desire for compromise. Let’s face it, not the most convenient ground to start a political dialogue. I am convinced that both Berlin and Rome understand this landscape well. Therefore, now we are talking not about developing a formula for the final resolution of the conflict as such, but rather about creating a model that guides the settlement process onto a constructive, stable and predictable track. Moreover, I am confident that this model will be developed with a view not only to the here and now: if it proves its effectiveness, it will also be widely tested in other conflicts, primarily in Ukraine. It is curious that Frattini himself denied such a possibility, noting that “the situations are completely different” in Moldova and Ukraine. Of course, one can agree that conflicts in these countries differ both in the genesis, in the historical background, and in the current pattern. However, it is also hard not to draw certain parallels, especially given that the configuration of international mediators in both cases is mostly the same. Therefore, if in the coming year we really see progress not only in socio-economic, but also political issues of the Moldovan-Transdniestrian settlement, we can confidently forecast the use of ‘Transdniestrian developments’ in the east of Ukraine in the future. Andrei Voznesensky: Indeed, the former Foreign Minister of Italy is also a politician, so the context is important in this interview. On September 13-15 Frattini visited the Yalta European Strategy Forum organized by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation in Kyiv and spoke there as a speaker. At the same time, expert and media circles of Ukraine view any events on the Transdniestrian track through the prism of the conflict in Donbas, therefore, Kyiv is a little afraid of a possible political settlement of the Transdniestrian problem, since it is very likely that a similar model will be offered for Donbas. Not surprisingly, the journalist in the above-mentioned high-profile interview with Frattini was not particularly interested in the intricacies of the Transdniestrian negotiation process. For example, the models and mechanisms for resolving problems between Chisinau and Tiraspol found in the current year in the socio-economic dimension, although sooner or later Kyiv will have to do this in Donbas, regardless of whether Transdniestria’s precedent is used or not. After the appointment of Dmitry Kozak as Special Representative of the President of Russia for Moldova, the phobias of Kyiv about the future federalization of Moldova, and Ukraine later, have only increased. Therefore, first and foremost it was important for the interviewer to find out what the model of political settlement of the conflict on the Dniester will be in the end. And most importantly, to make sure that Transdniestria will be deprived of the opportunity to somehow influence the foreign policy vector of Moldova. It is easy to see that Franco Frattini deliberately avoided specifics, assuring that everything will be fine. Refusing to draw parallels between the settlement on the Dniester and Donbas, he nevertheless said that “In any case, it will be a region with a special status within Moldova.” Frattini has hardly managed to reassure journalists, especially since he hinted at a political settlement on the Dniester, to which there is a “strong desire” both in Chisinau and in Tiraspol. It is difficult to judge what exactly Frattini was guided by when he spoke of possible deadlines, but his words probably caused even more concern in Kyiv. Prior to that, only the President of Moldova Igor Dodon spoke about the year 2019 as a window of opportunities for Transdniestrian settlement, which Ukraine views as a conductor of Moscow’s interests. Neither the Transdniestrian administration nor the Moldovan government has made such optimistic statements. Perhaps the Italian diplomat meant that with the interest and desire of the parties to the conflict to find a compromise, everything is possible in the very near future, and wanted to send this very idea as the main message to the readers. Obviously, European capitals are eager to achieve their own success on the Transdniestrian track: Frattini clearly linked progress in the political settlement in Transdniestria with the full implementation of the agreements reached in Rome through the mediation of the OSCE Italian Chairmanship. This is a big question how achievable the results are in the current year that Frattini is talking about. If there are not empty words, but concrete developments behind the optimistic and vigorous statements of experienced politician and diplomat Franco Frattini, then there are chances for that. However, judging by the scant official reports of diplomats and politicians, there is no reason to speak of any positive dynamics. So, this means that the European capitals are indeed only looking for a way to get as close as possible to the political aspects of the Transdniestrian settlement.