Kyiv and Chisinau will have to restart the dialogue in a completely new political environment.
Most recently, the confrontation has ended between the oligarchic regime of Vladimir Plahotniuc and the coalition of the Party of Socialists and the pro-European bloc ACUM, which was assembled at the very last moment, to which Ukraine reacted in the most specific way. Kyiv was the longest to determine what kind of power in Chisinau to be considered legitimate, to the last maneuvering between the governments of Maia Sandu and Pavel Filip. The representative of the Ukraine’s MFA Viktor Kryzhanovsky became the only high-ranking foreign official who agreed to meet with the leadership of the Democrats. Despite the fact that by the time most agencies and countries of the European Union clearly and unequivocally supported the PSRM-ACUM coalition. Such caution of Kyiv must have been caused, on the one hand, by ambiguity of the USA position at that time, and, on the other, by special partner relations of Ukraine and Moldova in recent years.
This cooperation was based on several pillars – oligarchic regimes in both countries, their anti-Russian and pro-American rhetoric, as well as domestic unsettled conflicts related to the presence of Russian troops in their own territories. Ideologically, Chisinau and Kyiv collaborated in complete harmony – with one but. Both the President and the Cabinet of Ministers headed by Volodymyr Groysman were involved in the negotiations from Ukraine. In turn, the leader of Moldova Igor Dodon, who refused to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine, did not participate in the dialogue with Kyiv. The entire agenda of cooperation was centered on the government of Pavel Filip, that is, on Vladimir Plahotniuc. No wonder the media actively circulated rumors about the escape of the Moldovan oligarch in transit through the territory of Ukraine and even his meetings with Ukrainian (and Romanian) officials.
In many ways, this became possible since the transfer of power in Ukraine can still not be considered complete. A considerable number of supporters of the old government found a comfortable hideout in the ministries and departments of Ukraine. According to forecasts, this situation will continue until the elections to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Only if his party wins the public servant Volodymyr Zelensky will be able, at last, to establish the system of the power free from political influence of Petro Poroshenko and his accomplices. Especially if the European Solidarity party of the former Ukrainian President continues to rapidly lose its already low popularity.
At this point, the issue of the nature of relations between Kyiv and Chisinau, their participants and responsible executives will be acutely raised. It is clear that Moldova will not be a priority for Ukraine – the current agenda now includes much more important issues of Euro-Atlantic integration and settlement in the Donbas. However, relations with the Republic of Moldova are still important because of the common border, and Kyiv is clearly interested in its stability in the environment of complicated relations with other neighbors.
In turn, Kyiv is definitely one of the key partners for Moldova. Moldovan goods transit through Ukraine, security cooperation is organized. Of course, it acts as a consistent assistant to Chisinau in the fight against unrecognized Transdniestria. Given the joint pro-European choice of the two countries, the preservation and restart of cooperation looks inevitable.
The mystery remains then, what will be the role of the President of Moldova, Igor Dodon, whether he will change his position on Crimea or will remain ‘pro-Russian bogeyman’ for the Ukrainian elite. We can predict the most cautious attitude of Volodymyr Zelensky to his pro-Russian counterpart in Chisinau, from which the leader of Ukraine will try to distance himself. However, it is unlikely to be ‘complete estrangement’, as in case with Petro Poroshenko. Yet both presidents now share the glory of the ‘liberators’ of their countries from the oligarchs – this to some extent unites them and gives them the opportunity for closer contacts.
In addition, Dodon, given the composition of the current ruling coalition in Moldova, will be forced to maneuver and make overtures to Western partners of Moldova, including on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. This is noticeable in the change of his approaches to the Association Agreement between Moldova and the EU and European integration in general, as well as in regular meetings with the US Ambassador to Moldova.
In general, the development of cooperation between Ukraine and Moldova is likely to remain the responsibility of governments. At the same time, the contacts between the two countries, previously focused on trade, economic, transport, military and environmental issues, are unlikely to undergo significant changes. A special focus will be the supply of Russian gas through Ukraine to Moldova. It is obvious that the governments of Ukraine and Moldova will have to investigate numerous corruption schemes developed by the old criminal regimes. This field for cooperation can provide ‘interesting’ finds, even such as the return of some of the money previously withdrawn from the economies of Ukraine and Moldova.
We can expect coordination between Moldova and Ukraine on the Transdniestrian settlement. At the same time, Kyiv, at least at the first stage, will certainly bet on the work in the 5+2 format and not on bilateral agreements with Chisinau, as it was in the last few years. This will allow Ukraine to get a clearer idea of the Transdniestrian problem and avoid critical assessments of its actions both from Tiraspol and from partners in the international 5+2 format. Kyiv is likely to refrain from any activities in Transdniestria, which will not receive unequivocal support from the US and the EU, as the steps of the new leadership of Ukraine in this matter will be closely linked to the general position of Kyiv on crisis spots, primarily on the Donbas.
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