Moldova’s Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu on the foreign policy of the new government
Russia and Moldova started to defrost relations. The new Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu held talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister SergeyLavrov on September 11. Mr. Popescu told Kommersant special correspondent Vladimir Soloviev what relations Chisinau wants with Moscow, whether it is possible to arrange the transit of Russian ammunition through Ukraine, and why Moldova is against the settlement of the conflict with Transnistria through federalization of the country.
– Moldova’s Foreign Minister has not set foot in Moscow for a long time. I’m not talking about how long Russia’s Foreign Minister has not visited Chisinau. Will everything change now? Maybe it has already changed?
“Nothing changes over night.” Some problems in Moldovan-Russian relations have been accumulating for almost three decades, and some, for example, in terms of trade, have been accumulating since 2006, when the first restrictions on Moldovan exports began (on the part of Russia. – “Kommersant”).
There are problems, but there are opportunities.
One of the goals of my visit was to analyze issues in which we can make progress, focus on a positive agenda in order to normalize relations.
No one ever resolves all issues in one visit. Our main goal in the coming months is to solve some of the problems and move towards the solution of others.
– It is clear that during the first observing visit no papers are signed. But maybe you agreed to move on any specific subjects? If so, on what subjects?
– We have a dialogue on many subjects. There is a dialogue between the ministries of foreign affairs. Moldova’s President and Minister of Economy were in Moscow a few days ago. The issues of supplying our republic with gas were discussed. These are parallel platforms, there is progress on some of them. This is not so much an observing visit as the opening of new mechanisms for improving and normalizing our relations.There was a lot of misunderstanding. We need to evaluate now what can be done to normalize relations.
The dialogue on gas is underway and there is progress here. But Moldova’s energy security is very dependent on the dialogue between Russia and Ukraine. Relations between Russia and Ukraine are very complicated, not only in the gas sector. This is a very uncomfortable situation for us, and we want to solve these problems. But we need to work on plan B. Together with Romania, we are building a new gas pipeline to ensure our energy security, regardless of what happens in third countries. It is inconvenient for us to depend on Russian-Ukrainian relations.
Trade is another issue. Russia and Moldova participate in the CIS free trade zone on paper, but in reality this free trade does not exist.
– Where are the barriers?
– Russia imposed restrictions on 19 commodity items in 2014. For five of them, access to the Russian market is slightly more open, but this is not a structural solution. We have no such problems with Kazakhstan, Belarus, and other CIS countries. We want to solve these problems on a bilateral basis, since this is an abnormal situation when there is a free trade zone on paper, but it really does not work in practice.
Last year, only 8% of Moldovan exports concentrated in Russia. In comparison, 68% of our exports went to EU countries.
Such figures do not correspond to the potential of trade and economic cooperation between Russia and Moldova. These 8% are not enough for us, and for Russia.
– You discussed with the Russian Foreign Minister the disposal of ammunition stored in the Transnistrian region. Sergey Lavrov said that it takes a year to prepare for this. But, perhaps, something will need to be taken away, which means transit through the territory of Ukraine. You were in Kiev on 9th September. Are they ready to allow passing trains with Russian ammunition?
– The position of Moldova has always been that we are for the ammunition disposal and for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transnistrian region. We welcome Russia’s readiness to dispose of and move out the ammunition. We heard Russia’s readiness to work towards this. When I was in Kyiv, we still did not have details on the calendar and on specific procedures. Now they have appeared, we discussed them. Nothing has been documented yet.
– “Will you still have to export ammunition through Ukraine?”
– No one needs that depots with this old ammunition. Neither the villagers living near the arsenals, nor Moldova, nor Ukraine, nor Russia. All of us need to sit down and together with the OSCE to analyze what can be taken out and what should be disposed of, and to settle this problem.
– That is, the issue of the transit of military cargo through Ukraine may arise at some point.
– This is so necessary for everyone that I am sure: if the issue arises about transit through Ukraine, we will find an opportunity to make it so that this is not a problem.
– The Transnistrian conflict seems to be eternal. The issue began to play with new colors in connection with the events in the east of Ukraine. What is Chisinau’s approach to settlement now? What should be the special status of the Transnistrian region as part of a united Moldova?
– The problem is old and complex for all participants in the settlement process. The issue is complicated for Moldovan society too. At this stage in Moldova there are consensus parameters about what kind of solution to the conflict Moldovan society definitely does not want.
– It does not want federalization of the country?
– It does not want federalization, does not want to return to the principles of the “Kozak memorandum” (a settlement plan frustrated in 2003, on which Dmitry Kozak, the then deputy head of the presidential administration worked together with Chisinau and Tiraspol. – “Kommersant”).
This is what we know about the desires and preferences of society.
At the same time, it is not enough clear to Moldovan society what the parameters of a global conflict resolution can be.
Therefore, with the assistance of mediators, we focus on solving the problems of citizens from both banks of the Dniester.
More than half of the Transnistrian region’s inhabitants have Moldovan passports with which they can travel to the European Union without visas. Companies located in the Transnistrian region, registered in Moldovan government agencies, can export products to the EU. Today, about 70% of what they export is concentrated in the EU. That is, social stability in Transnistria, jobs depend on exports to the EU in the regime of a free trade zone.
– It is curious to know about the federalization. Moldovan citizens who have left the country do not see problems in living in a federation called the U.S.A., they willingly go to live and work in the Russian Federation. However, they do not want the federation at home. What is the matter?
– There is a fear that federalization will paralyze the functionality of the state, that it will be difficult to pursue a consistent foreign policy, internal reforms. Of course, Moldovans see that the Federal Republic of Germany is functional, that the United States is functional. However, we have other institutions, another political culture. It works well somewhere, but it is not necessarily that it work well here.
– In Kyiv, you discussed the possibility of mutual trips of Moldovan and Ukrainian citizens on internal passports. Such a border-crossing regime once existed between Moldova and Russia. Is there an idea to raise this issue in relations with Moscow and to return to this simplified procedure for traveling with internal passports?
– It is in our interests that our citizens travel with the least problems in the EU, Russia, and Ukraine. We did not discuss this issue at these negotiations, but in principle, why not?
– So, are you ready to discuss such an idea with the Russian side?
– Yes, we are. I will give you another example – roaming. We are discussing tariff removal with the EU. There is such a dialogue with Ukraine too. We also want to start such a dialogue with Russia. We are ready to discuss with all partners the issues concerning the interests of our citizens.
—In June, a situation arose in Chisinau, called the Moldovan case. Partly owing to it, you became the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Then the interests of the big players coincided at one point – at the point of opposition to the regime of the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, who at some point became so odious that no one could tolerate him anymore. Is this consensus of Russia, the EU, the USA still being maintained or the country is again being drawn over from side to side?
– However, there was the trigger for the geopolitical consensus in Moldovan society. The situation was so annoying for citizens that the parties representing their interests decided to put aside various geopolitical preferences in order to agree and create a new ruling majority in the parliament (the pro-Russian socialists and pro-Western parties “Action and Solidarity” and “Dignity and Truth Platform” created the alliance on 8th June – “Kommersant”). This was the first step towards what you call a geopolitical consensus. This internal consensus and the consensus of external players reverse the situation in Moldova.
– This is a rare case when Russia and the West, within all the current problems in relations, converged at one point without contradictions.
– This is a wonderful precedent. It pleases me and creates a more comfortable situation for reforming the country.
– In the Moldovan parliament there are pro-Russian socialists, and there are pro-Western parties. There is pro-Russian president Igor Dodon, and there is pro-Western Prime Minister Maya Sandu. The president has powers in the field of foreign policy and at the same time he looks towards Moscow. You, like Maya Sandu, are looking towards the West. How often do positions differ and how do you find compromises?
– In Moldova, in fact, there are very few anti-moods, few anti-Western and few anti-Russian ones. The consensus message is that we need to have a good relationship with everyone. This gives a positive impetus to our foreign policy.
The new authorities agreed among themselves that Moldova will respect the agreements with the outside world that have already been reached. What does it mean? It means that Chisinau will continue to implement the Association Agreement with the EU, continue partnership with NATO on the basis of the principle of neutrality, participate in the CIS free trade zone, and in the context of the Transnistrian settlement will continue to insist on the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country.
Today, everyone agrees that it is necessary to expand cooperation with both Russia and the EU. We are in such conditions. This creates a unifying platform both in foreign and domestic policy.
– Moldova today is considered as an observer in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). President Dodon attained this status. When Chisinau became an observer, the former government controlled by Plahotniuc stated that it meant nothing. So is Moldova the observer in the EAEU or not?
– Domestic political procedures on the status of our relations with the EAEU have not been completed.
– What is left to do?
– From our point of view, before discussing this issue, it is necessary to remove the problems regarding the functioning of the CIS free trade zone.
There is no consensus within the Moldovan society regarding relations with the EAEU.
In this sense, no new movements are expected from us. This subject is not part of the agreements (between socialists and pro-Western parties. – “Kommersant”) that underlie the creation of a parliamentary majority. Do not expect any dynamics in relations between Moldova and the EAEU.
In general, this is an abstract discussion. A practical discussion is about how trade between Moldova and Russia will develop. We have no problems with Belarus, no problems with Kazakhstan, Armenia and other EAEU members. We look forward to addressing these issues bilaterally. We hope to solve them.
– Did Sergey Lavrov make it clear to you that this can be solved?
– Next week, the Moldovan-Russian intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation will meet in Chisinau to discuss these issues.
– The Russian position on former USSR countries is well known: they should not be members of NATO. It would be better for them not to join the EU, since there are not so many countries in the European Union that are not members of the North Atlantic Alliance. The current Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, when he was president, spoke of the post-Soviet space as an area of Russia’s privileged interests. With this approach, is there a field for reaching agreements with Moscow and developing relations?
– We have our foreign policy.
All of Europe, including Russia is the area of our privileged interests. Russia is Europe, Ukraine is Europe, Georgia is Europe, and Serbia is Europe. This is an area of our privileged interests.
Our country is small, our trade share with the Asia-Pacific region is not so large, so is with Latin America. Therefore, our interests extend to all of Europe, including Russia. This is what I proceed from. We sit down and discuss: where we can promote cooperation. If somewhere we can’t do this, we don’t promote it. We always try to understand our partners’ thoughts, but at the same time we know our country’s needs and we promote it.
– It is a pragmatic approach.
– Show me the countries that do not do it? Most countries do it.
– It’s not difficult for me to show a country that didn’t do this: it was Moldova just six months ago, when the country was controlled by Vlad Plahotniuc.
– The former authorities had catastrophically bad relations with the EU, Russia, and the U.S.A.
– I’m talking about this.
– Therefore, they are no longer in power.
– Despite these bad relations, Vlad Plahotniuc is now in the U.S.A.
– I am not sure.
– President Dodon regularly raises the issue of Moldavian neutrality. He considers this neutral status a panacea for pulling the country by big players and believes that the big players must guarantee the neutrality of Moldova. What is your position?
– Moldova has been a neutral state since 1994. Moldovan society supports this neutrality. But before talking about any other steps, you need to solve the problem. In conditions when the military of another state is standing on our territory, our complete neutrality is only our desire, but not reality. Our neutrality will be neutrality when there are no foreign troops on our territory.
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