Berlin believes that it is time for negotiations on the final settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict
Yesterday it became known about the telephone conversation of the presidents of Germany and Moldova Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Igor Dodon. According to the message on Dodon’s Facebook page, the heads of state discussed “the current political situation in Moldova and the new concept of the republic’s foreign policy”. However, the key topic of conversation, apparently, was Transdniestria. In this context, Steinmeier stated the importance of restoring relations between Chisinau and Moscow, “without which it will be impossible to achieve a political settlement of the Transdniestrian issue”. Besides, he noted the “international consensus on Moldova”, which should help on the Transdniestrian track as well.
As the informal leader of the European Union, Germany is traditionally, along with Romania, a key player in the region and is actively involved in the process of resolving the conflict in unrecognized Transdniestria. Personally Steinmeier has first-hand knowledge of the issue: in 2016, he headed the OSCE under the German Chairmanship and visited Chisinau and Tiraspol. Then Berlin and the OSCE managed to achieve ad hoc success, but failed to maintain it: soon, the dialogue between Moldova and Transdniestria again almost stopped, and resumed as appropriate only at the end of 2017.
Now the situation is different. The role of Germany in the negotiations on the fate of the region has increased even more after the OSCE Mission to Moldova was headed by German diplomat Claus Neukirch, for the first time in the history of the organization’s representation in Moldova. Moldova itself experienced a long-awaited reset of political power, which resulted in the elimination of the regime of Vlad Plahotniuc. He completely set Chisinau at loggerheads with Moscow and in fact was the main obstacle to the normalization of Russian-Moldovan relations, and, consequently, for the successful negotiations on Transdniestria.
Therefore, the recent contacts of the leadership of Moldova and Germany (Merkel – Sandu, Steinmeier – Dodon) with one of the focuses on Transdniestria can be interpreted as an eloquent Germany’s signal to Chisinau and Tiraspol, as well as international players. The “international consensus” mentioned by the President of Germany and Moldova’s loyalty to both the West and the East, according to Berlin, creates a favorable situation for reaching a final political agreement on the Transdniestrian issue. It is no coincidence that experts already witness the resumption of informal discussions between Russia and Germany on the future of the ‘TMR’.
Steinmeier’s words mark a new stage in the Transdniestrian settlement. In fact, Germany is taking an unambiguous step towards Moscow and offers the Kremlin to finally agree on the Transdniestrian problem, thus killing several birds with one stone.
In 2019, the approaching conclusion of the talks on Kosovo is becoming increasingly clear – Belgrade and Pristina are expected to finally come to mutual recognition, which will turn the page of the Kosovo conflict and open the way for Serbia to the EU and other Western structures. Apparently, Kosovo’s main ally – Washington – will be pushing Belgrade very hard to this scenario. The EU, on the one hand, will welcome the settlement in Kosovo and will contribute to this process in every way, but it is still ‘not their war’: the key role in the Kosovo problem belongs to NATO and the United States, but not to Brussels and especially not to Berlin. Germany and the EU need their own success story in the settlement of territorial conflicts, including Transdniestria and Donbas.
The Transdniestrian settlement remains an area of special interest of Germany in 2010: the leader of Germany Angela Merkel moved much closer to an agreement in principle on Transdniestria in the joint ‘Meseberg initiatives’ with the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. After that, the situation changed dramatically several times, but since 2018, rumors about a possible restart of the Russian-German dialogue on Transdniestria have been circulating in the expert community. For Angela Merkel, the resolution of the conflict in Moldova can be a significant geopolitical achievement in an obviously ending career.
In practical terms, the conflict around the left bank of the Dniester has long been considered perhaps the most promising case for resetting relations between Brussels and Moscow, badly damaged by the Ukrainian crisis. In itself, the Transdniestrian issue can become a prologue for fundamental changes in Donbas, which remains the main sore spot of the modern European space. The time to start is just right – the authorities have changed in Kyiv and Chisinau, and the new leaders of the two countries are striving to achieve tangible success.
In this sense, we can assume that the clear patronage of the new ruling coalition in Chisinau is a kind of initial contribution of the EU and Berlin, the first stake on the negotiating table with Moscow. The European side seeks to strengthen the stability of the new ruling coalition, generously sponsoring the Sandu government, so that in 2020 Chisinau would approach the Transdniestrian settlement in a state of internal political unity and relative stability. In addition, the EU is obviously ready to guarantee the restrained Moldova’s foreign policy, which will not allow to repeat the anti-Russian course of the previous ruling regime.
Now the question is what will be the response of the Kremlin, and what Moscow is ready to put at stake in negotiations on the future of Transdniestria.
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