RTA expert Sergey Cheban suggests that the problem of warehouses in Cobasna is one of the most pressing contradictions between Washington and Brussels in determining the future of the entire region.
Sergey Cheban, RTA
For a long time it was believed that the EU and the US have a common policy on the Eastern borders of Europe, and its main goal is to limit the geopolitical influence of Russia on the European continent. Once it was so, but relations between Brussels and Washington have been constantly deteriorating after the crisis in Ukraine and the war in Donbas. The United States has not incurred any costs from the Ukrainian conflict and in fact ramped up the confrontation with Moscow. Although it almost resulted in a direct military clash in Syria, in general Washington broke oven.
Europe was not so lucky: Brussels lost many ties with Russia, including those that were painstakingly built during the presidency of liberal Dmitry Medvedev. Moscow’s retaliatory sanctions hit European business one way or another, and the further the ‘military’ 2014-2015 years went into history, the more trade war between Russia and the EU seemed an unfortunate misunderstanding, which, moreover, is very difficult to correct.
The migration crisis in Europe has only strengthened the position of eurosceptics within Europe. The flow of migrants from Africa and especially the Middle East, which has long been considered an ‘area of responsibility’ of the United States, backed the idea that was long in the air that ordinary Europeans are paying for Washington’s undertakings. General nervousness grew after Donald Trump came to power and then turned into an open debate on NATO funding and the Nord Stream-2.
Although it went under the radar, it is obvious that another fundamental dispute is between the US and the EU on the issue of further relations with Russia. Europe wants a reset and stabilization of the situation on its borders, primarily in Ukraine. The EU will be losing on further confrontation, while the US seeks to strengthen its influence in the region and weaken the strategic position of Moscow. Washington continues to act by inertia in the logic of the conflict, while Europe is trying to break with it at least temporarily.
Major contradictions between American ‘hawks’ and pragmatists from the Old World certainly unfold around the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. However, the situation of unrecognized Transnistria may become no less burning issue. This is directly indicated by the current controversy over the warehouses of Soviet weapons in Cobasna, a village on the Left Bank of the Dniester River near the border with Ukraine.
The Government in Moldova has been working in the status of ‘acting’ since February. The chief negotiator with the Transnistrian authorities, Deputy Prime Minister Cristina Lesnic, has reduced her activities on the Transnistrian track to a comfortable minimum since the end of last year: so she doesn’t have to be responsible for anything. The Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister seems to care about only one topic that is depots of expired ammunition in Cobasna. Lesnic talks about this topic at almost every meeting with international representatives and often mentions the problem of Cobasna in interviews.
‘Ritual dancing’ around the Soviet arms in Transnistria has intensified just in recent months. At first glance, it looks strange that in a situation of political uncertainty within Moldova its officials focus on such a literally ‘explosive’ issue. In fact, Washington in exchange for its conditional ‘mercy’ to the still ruling regime of Plahotniuc fuels an advantageous topic by the hands of Moldovan officials. Again, at almost no risk.
Europe seems to take a different position on the Cobasna issue: Brussels is unlikely to approve aggravation of the situation around the largest ammunition depot near its borders. The OSCE representative in the negotiations on Transnistria, former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, at a recent meeting in Chisinau had to react immediately, saying an impromptu thing that was pleasant for Moldovan officials – about considering the possibility of monitoring visits to warehouses in order to calm the situation and guide the topic towards routine formalities. Not having a mandate to address such issues, the diplomat could not but understand that in the current conditions to win consent from the Russian Defense Ministry for such a ‘monitoring’ is hardly realistic. But this move allows showing that the Slovak Chairmanship keeps busy, but there are obvious rules and procedures and they will need to be observed – and this process is not fast.
In addition, the aggravation of the situation in the region will inevitably have a negative impact on the search for common ground between Europe and Russia about the future of frozen conflicts in Donbas and Transnistria. There is no doubt that sooner or later global players will have to negotiate and build a stable system of regional balances.
In this sense, the proposal to organize inspections under the auspices of the OSCE is an obvious attempt to seize the initiative to prevent US intervention in the problem of ammunition depots. The minimum task for Brussels is to transfer to a formal dimension and delay discussions on this issue until there is clarity on the settlement of the conflict in Donbas, as well as until the start of normal work of the new governments in Moldova and Ukraine. No one is going to start a substantive conversation with Moscow on serious topics in the current situation of political uncertainty.
However, we should not forget that Washington traditionally in its own way prepares for such discussions, ‘charging’ its Moldovan clients with the right attitudes, who are especially happy to be at its orders in the environment of electoral risks and threats. Further development of the regional situation will make it clear what will prevail in the approaches of the West: American ambitions or European prudence.
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