Transdniestria In a Special Status. Chisinau and Kyiv Looking For Keys To a Settlement On the Dniester?

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The Transdniestrian issue again became the focus of media attention, and this time not for long. Last week, the prime ministers of Ukraine and Moldova spoke about reintegration of the Republic of Moldova on the margins of the GUAM summit in Chisinau. However, Pavel Filip and Volodymyr Groysman did not offer anything concrete and only said that the issue was discussed. However, empty declarations this time may be hiding quite specific goals.
“We discussed the possibility of solving the Transdniestrian problem by assigning a special legal status to the region while preserving integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova”, - Filip said at the final press conference.
The Moldovan prime minister’s statement was made in unison with the general tone of the meeting, where the GUAM leaders agreed to join efforts to resolve the frozen conflicts, declared “a common problem for all”. At the summit Moscow was routinely identified the key responsible for all the troubles.
“We are convinced that it will be easier to find peaceful solutions to territorial conflicts if there are no foreign troops and weapons in the country,” the Moldovan prime minister said.
As you know, the so-called “special status” for Transdniestria within Moldova is the established official position of the world community in the broad sense, not only of Moldova and other GUAM members. This approach seems as outdated as the obstacles to resolving this long-standing conflict. At least, they speak about these things a lot and equally to no avail at all levels of local and international politics for almost thirty years in a row. It is clear that the words of Pavel Filip are a similar phenomenon and hardly mark development of a concrete plan for Transdniestria, which, for example, Viktor Yushchenko suggested at one time. Moreover, in Moldova itself there is still no consensus on what specifically to mean by “special legal status” that is proposed to Transdniestria. The President of the Republic of Moldova, Igor Dodon, for example, even though he declares the need to develop a common vision for solving the Transdniestrian problem, evades the specifics, proposing to hold a referendum on this issue. On the other hand, the law adopted in 2005, which still operates in Moldova, already gives Tiraspol the status of reduced autonomy, and by its existence only intensifies contradictions between the two banks. Thus, the law only consolidated the status quo, which in the end turned out to be more convenient to the Moldovan authorities, however, distanced the solution of the conflict for an unknown period. Since then, the Transdniestrian issue and in particular deployment of Russian troops on the territory of the breakaway “Transdniestrian Moldavian Republic” has become for the Moldovan authorities a universal way to increase their own importance. If it were not for Transdniestria, Moldova could not have looked like a poor sufferer for so long in the eyes of international partners, which means that it would receive less foreign support, primarily financial. It is no coincidence that a well-developed concept of reintegration of the country appeared in Chisinau. Even Moldovan politicians openly admitted this: in November 2015, former Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet noted that if Transdniestria had suddenly agreed to discuss terms of returning to Chisinau’s jurisdiction with Moldova, the Moldovan authorities would have nothing to offer. It would be a point-blank question, causing a political stupor. Times change, international participants seem to have begun to suspect something and have been urging Chisinau for several years to develop their own model for resolving the conflict. No less aggressively, they recommend that the Moldovan authorities grant full powers to the Gagauz autonomy, the rights of which are enshrined in law, but are not respected by Chisinau. Brussels rightly believe that Tiraspol takes the example of Gagauzia as direct evidence of Chisinau’s unwillingness and inability to respect the political rights of its fellow citizens in certain communities. Moldova listened to the European remarks, but implemented then in a peculiar way: “Gagauz draft laws” stumbled upon the “fear of separatism” and were modified so that the Gagauz rejected them. The Moldovan government reported on preparation of a plan for return of Transdniestria last year, and even some theses from this “vision” appeared in the media. They predictably included withdrawal of Russian troops and transformation of a peacekeeping operation into a civilian; raising the status of the US and the EU in the negotiation process from observers to full-fledged mediators; granting of autonomy to Transdniestria by the example of Gagauzia. Experts believe that Chisinau is seriously afraid to put forward viable ideas on the Transdniestrian issue, deliberately declaring impossible things. As I remember, the nationalistic public organizations of the RM once responded strongly and in a united manner against any compromises with Transdniestria and called them the surrender of Moldova’s positions. Accusations of betraying national interests, even if they come from a small but active part of society, are absolutely not needed before the elections. In fact, Chisinau sits pretty balancing between public criticism and discontent of international partners. While the development partners are giving Moldova a large-scale, multi-year financial assistance within the framework of the Confidence Building Measures project between the banks of the Dniester, you can easily absorb money and occasionally declare something about “special status”. The well-known “coordinator” of the ruling coalition and at the same time the main Moldovan “driver” knows well that, despite the rebuke from Brussels, this caravan goes in the right direction. In this context, the recent statement by Pavel Filip about Transdniestria should kill two birds with one stone: show Brussels that the Republic of Moldova follows its recommendations and is trying to negotiate with Transdniestria and convince the local public that there will be no concessions to Tiraspol. It is not clear how Chisinau intends to discuss political issues with Transdniestria, not having real projects for this. In addition, such a project is unlikely to appear before the elections – the Transdniestrian problem is potentially dangerous in terms of elections, and the current government has already faced the massive criticism related to Transdniestria. In addition, the Moldovan leadership obviously has concerns about a possible increase in the political influence of Transdniestria if the region becomes an integral part of Moldova with specific levers of administrative and legal influence. This is evidenced by the criticism of the federalization idea from almost all major Moldovan politicians. Even the country’s president, Igor Dodon, who had previously proposed such a project, today prefers to talk about a kind of “special status”. Thus, the high-profile topic of the “status” of Transdniestria is still only a rhetoric of the ruling elite of Chisinau and Kyiv.