Kyiv Softens Its Position on Transdniestria?

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Last week, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine lifted sanctions against the Moldova Steel Works in Transdniestria. What is the reason for this unprecedented case?

Dorin Mocanu, RTA:

Last week it became known that on March 20 the Ukrainian security council (NSDC) lifted sanctions against the Moldova Steel Works – the largest enterprise in the region. As known, the plant is one of the main contributors to the economy of separatist Transdniestria, which has been a subject of a quite tough policy of the Ukrainian government in recent years. In this sense, experts took the exclusion of the MMZ from the sanctions list very ambiguously against the background of regular statements from Kyiv about the hostile pro-Russian region and that Russian troops there are a potential “second front”. It was like this: on May 14, 2018, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko imposed sanctions against JSC Moldova Steel Works. Poroshenko’s Decree introduced blocking of assets for three years, bans on trade operations and withdrawal of capital from Ukraine, fulfillment of economic and financial obligations and public procurement. According to Ukrainian media, the association of metallurgical enterprises Ukrmetallurgprom demanded to ban the export of ferrous scrap from Ukraine to Transdniestria, where, according to the President of Ukrmetallurgprom Oleksandr Kalenkov, leaves up to 20% of Ukrainian scrap. Despite the fact that the company is de jure Moldovan and exports on behalf of the Republic of Moldova, Moldovan officials apparently decided not to interfere in this case and not to damage the high level of relations with Ukraine by excessive concern for the separatists. During the year, Chisinau did not make official statements on the MMZ to shed light on its position on this issue. As a result, in fact, there was something that no one expected: Kyiv has heard Tiraspol and lifted the sanctions against the Ribnita plant, while just in the beginning of March the President of Ukrmetallurgprom Oleksandr Kalenkov said: “Transdniestria is a Russian enclave in Moldova, the company is called Moldova Steel Works, but it has nothing to do with Moldova. And they have the opportunity to buy Ukrainian scrap metal at inflated prices, because they receive electricity and gas almost free of charge. Gazprom allows them to earn money free of charge. They wash out scrap metal from here, from Ukraine and make products. This enclave exists with this money. It is almost one large industrial enterprise and here in Ukraine they throw out their products, dump and force out our workplaces”. The decision on the MMZ seems to be a clear indicator of some turning point in the relations between Kyiv and Tiraspol, reconsidered and adjusted Ukrainian foreign policy on the Moldovan track. It is no coincidence that this happened after the Moldovan elections. The vote showed that the pro-Russian forces of Igor Dodon, irritating Kyiv with its vague position on the Crimea, will be somehow integrated into the future power configuration. This means that Kyiv will have to revise the format of interaction with a little ‘Russified’ Chisinau. It is difficult to imagine what Tiraspol said to Kyiv and what specifically agreed. The only thing that can be taken into account is the January interview of the leader of Transdniestria Krasnoselsky to the Ukrainian news agency Evropeiska Pravda, when he somewhat unexpectedly gave “...personal guarantees that there will be no aggressive actions against Ukraine from Transdniestria. Including – from the Russian troops in Transdniestria”. Nothing special, but since 2014 no politician in Transdniestria has allowed such unambiguous declarations. In such circumstances, the question of the prospects of the Moldovan-Ukrainian relations, single positions and the future of interstate projects, for example, joint control on the Transdniestrian section of the border, are not idle curiosity. Given the growing introversion of Ukrainian politics, as well as the upcoming elections, a certain softening of Kyiv’s position in relation to the current Transdniestrian administration may be expected, and the utmost ‘rationalization’ of relations with the new government of Moldova up to complete cooling, if the format of the new government will openly harm the interests of Ukraine. If the prediction is correct, we can expect more ‘surprises’ from Ukraine in the discourse around Transdniestria in the near future, for which the situation with the metallurgical plant has become only a prologue.