EU Border To Pass Along the Dniester?

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In the coming years, the borders of the European Union may change a lot: not only because of Brexit, but due to new territories in Eastern Europe.

Borderline tension

At the end of January, the leader of the unrecognized Transdniestria Vadim Krasnoselsky signed a ‘decree’ on the status of the Moldovan village of Varnita – this settlement, controlled by the constitutional authorities in Moldova, is closely adjacent to Bendery on the right bank of the Dniester. Bendery is governed by the Left Bank administration, which considers Varnita “occupied territory”. Krasnoselsky by his ‘decree’ appointed a temporary ‘administration’ to Moldovan Varnita, its functions will be performed by the council of the neighboring village, also under the control of Transdniestria. The decree of the leader of the Left Bank caused a painful reaction in Chisinau and provoked an information war between Chisinau and Tiraspol. The indignation of the Moldovan authorities can be understood since Chisinau considers the territory of the unrecognized ‘TMR’ an integral part of the country. In 2019, this territorial dispute has a completely different dimension: the half-legitimate border between the territory of the unrecognized TMR and the rest of Moldova may soon become a full-fledged border – but with Romanian symbols on one side.

Frontier of the European Union

For a long time, the European Union and, above all, Romania, which historically controlled part of the disputed territories along the Dniester, have been showing a keen interest in the administrative distinction between Moldova and Transdniestria. Obviously, Bucharest thinks long-term, hoping that in the next few years the administrative line between Tiraspol and Chisinau can become the eastern borderline of the European Union. As can be seen, someone has already ramped it up. Before our very eyes ideological reasons are multiplying why Moldova should abandon Transdniestria for its accession to the European Union on the basis of unirea (unification) with Romania. This is not a novelty, but now it has a new life: the study, presented last week in Bucharest, only confirms what has been known for a long time. All more or less serious settlement plans for the Transdniestrian issue suggested the possibility of Transdniestria’s self-determination in case Moldova loses its sovereignty – although, of course, this scenario always seemed to be a bravado and unreal. However, the reality is harsh: the Republic of Moldova year after year demonstrates a progressive political failure, an inability not only to ‘digest’ Transdniestria, but even to bring order to its own domestic political mechanics. The inadequate methods of political struggle that outraged the European Union, the total disregard for the rule of law and pathological reluctance to build democracy make Brussels seriously think about the future of the entire region. It is not surprising that the Romanian sociological study on the preferences of Pridnestrovians was presented at the very moment when the post-election paralysis of the Moldovan elite became especially evident. The crisis of the Moldovan policy got so deep that the only adequate pro-European and pro-Romanian power in the country that is ACUM bloc has split into two parts and is even considering cooperation with the pro-Russian socialists of Putin’s friend Igor Dodon. In these circumstances, the external governance of Moldova seems to be not the worst option for Brussels and especially Bucharest. Bucharest today promotes a simple thesis – it’s time for Moldova to be in Romania and to give up on Transdniestria with the Russian troops and undying love for Moscow.  In these circumstances, the issue of the borders of Moldova and Transdniestria near Varnita is no longer idle and, on the contrary, becomes defining, since the European Union prioritizes border security and stability of the border area, which guides trade, economic, military and migration policy.

Calm borders

Considering the scenario of delimitation of Transdniestria and Moldova as potentially viable, Brussels and Bucharest seek to stabilize the region and bind it to the European Union, first of all, in terms of trade. Tiraspol has strengthened pro-Russian rhetoric in recent years and at every opportunity talks about independence, but demonstrates the ability to negotiate and pragmatics in trade and economic issues. Transdniestria enjoys preferences in the export of manufactured goods to the EU countries, which is 30% of the total exports of the region. The fact that Brussels does not create any difficulties for the expansion of mutual trade testifies to the unwillingness of the European Union to harm the current economic and future transit partner: after all, EU goods will go through Transdniestria to the Eastern markets in the future. In this sense, the territorial dispute over Varnita takes on a third dimension, which is of particular concern to Chisinau. The railway stations of Varnita and Bendery on the right bank together form a single transport system, a kind of hub for export-import operations on the railway. For Bucharest it is easier to give one suburb under the control of Tiraspol than to burden itself with territorial disputes. Especially as Romania anyway will get the railway of Moldova in a deplorable condition. If the EU border passes along the current delimitation line between Moldova and Transdniestria, it will be important for Brussels and Romania to prevent a surge in migration from Transdniestria to the right bank of the Dniester, to European Romania. Now there is a reverse trend: residents of the Republic of Moldova move to the settlements on the Left Bank with its more attractive tariffs for utilities. If Moldova suddenly becomes Romania, many will want to return, while others will want to become Europeans as soon as possible. I assume that Brussels will ultimately find it more expedient profitable to contribute to making Transdniestria a transparent border area, which has long been integrated into trade and economic relations with the EU, than to have another unstable region around the corner for an infinitely long time.