A conference on confidence-building measures between Moldova and Transdniestria, which has become almost traditional, was held in Bavaria this week. The event is known to be informal, allowing the experts of the parties to discuss any issues that for some reason cannot be included in the agenda of official meetings.
Despite the two-year break in the conference, Germany did not abandon the project for a number of reasons. Probably, the German side considers it as a promising platform that can act as an auxiliary tool in the Transdniestrian settlement process. In addition, the Bavarian meetings allow Berlin to keep a finger on the pulse, as well as increase the credibility of German diplomacy, especially in case of long pauses in negotiations.
At the current conference, expert discussions focused on three areas: education, economy and freedom of movement. In general, these issues mainly constitute the agenda of the negotiation process in recent years. However, based on the press releases of the parties, the discussions touched upon other topics that had not previously come to the attention of the negotiators. Apparently, the Moldovan side, having exhausted the already familiar socio-economic agenda, decided to raise issues related to the final political settlement in one way or another. Probably, the Chisinau’s inability to launch status negotiations at the level of the 5+2 format triggered this step.
The overall results of the conference show that the parties could not make much progress both on the current issues of the Berlin + package and in new areas. Based on preliminary assessments, there is a rollback from the previously reached agreements on some topics. Looking at the results of the Bavarian event, or rather at their absence, some experts see the first alarm signal hinting at another cooling of relations between Moldova and Transdniestria. Moreover, the current Moldovan negotiator Vasile Sova, famous for his uncompromising and principled stand, already has experience of freezing the dialogue with the left bank in 2005-2006.
On the sidelines of the Bavarian conference, representatives of Chisinau and Tiraspol also returned to the notorious 5+2 meeting in Bratislava, which officially remains on pause until the final Protocol is signed. However, they could not find any compromise solution on this fundamental issue. According to Moldovan media, the Transdniestrian side refused to include in the document the provision on “harmonization of taxes”, which was not discussed at the Bratislava meeting. Such a maneuver once again confirms the assumption that the Moldovan negotiators will continue to actively shift the negotiations with Tiraspol from domestic problems to a political settlement.
So far, international players have not given their assessments of the informal conference in Germany. Meanwhile, foreign diplomats are likely to see clearer that the Moldovan-Transdniestrian relations are moving towards another deep crisis. This, according to experience, will require much greater participation in the negotiation process of mediators and observers, who will again have to again clean up ‘rubble’ in the Transdniestrian settlement.
However, the situation in the negotiations is increasingly influenced by the internal political situation in Moldova. The unexpected escalation in the ruling coalition over the competition for the office of the Prosecutor General for the first time led to a real risk that the alliance of the pro-European bloc ACUM and the Party of Socialists will collapse. The current crisis, which has all the prospects to become a long-term one way or another, turns the negotiation process with Transdniestria into a minor ‘theatre of operations’, drawing the resources and attention of both international partners and Chisinau itself. Under these conditions, it can be predicted that the Transdniestrian settlement, left without external care, will continue to degrade increasing the threat of a complete freeze of Moldovan-Transdniestrian relations.
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