Why Is Putin Planning a Trip to Moldova?

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Sergey CHEBAN The visit of the Russian President may become the base point for restarting the Transdniestrian settlement process The Moldovan media, citing the Kremlin’s official website, report that the list of  numerous official visits planned by Russian President Vladimir Putin for this year mentions a possible trip to the Republic of Moldova at the invitation of the Moldovan head of state. Despite the deep electoral context in which Moldova has been for the second year in a row, it is obvious that such a visit by the Russian leader cannot be held solely for the pre-election support of Igor Dodon. On the contrary, to arrange such a trip a much more appropriate occasion is required, which, due to Vladimir Putin's status, implies a corresponding international effect. Despite even the generally peripheral nature of the processes related to Moldova. Of course, the first thing to be associated with such an occasion able to attract international attention to the country is the Transdniestrian settlement. As you know, the negotiation process is not going through the best period these days. On the other hand, this situation is likely to be beneficial for the Kremlin at the current stage in order to demonstrate its real possibilities in the given area to other participants. According to the conspiracy hypothesis existing in the expert community for a long time, everything that happened between Chisinau and Tiraspol last year is Moscow's well-implemented scenario. Keeping both sides under equal control, Russia decided to display in public all the helplessness of Western diplomacy, which failed to convince Moldova and Transdniestria to sign even an ordinary protocol of a regular 5+2 meeting, not to mention something more serious. This is likely to be a special “hello” from Mr. Kozak to his Western colleagues, who once prevented him considerably from signing another much more significant document. Such assumptions can be debated, but all the necessary prerequisites have undoubtedly been created for the Kremlin to effectively enter the game and demonstrate its “bunch of keys” from the Transdniestrian case. In this situation one should not exclude the resumption of the tripartite meetings (Moscow + Chisinau with Tiraspol) that can end up with the signing of papers much more serious than the 5+2 protocol decisions. More than 10 years have passed since the last document in this format was signed. This is a Joint Declaration of Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Voronin and Igor Smirnov, endorsed in March 2009, which became a kind of starting point for resuming the comprehensive work of the negotiation process at that time. The situation in 2020 is largely similar to what happened in Moldova almost 11 years ago: the authorities in power represented by the Communist Party and Vladimir Voronin are not the most convenient partners for Moscow, the pro-Western parties are eager for revenge and the Russian leadership is implementing a series of practical steps, including those related to the Transdniestrian issue, intended to mobilize the pro-Russian electorate around the PCRM and its permanent leader. It is difficult to predict what kind of document can be signed by Chisinau and Tiraspol. One way or another, the sides are far from intensive and hard work, therefore sitting down at the negotiating table and preparing something large-scale akin to the “Kozak Memorandum” is hardly possible. Nor will Moscow by all appearances risk getting involved in the elaboration of such an important document without proper consensus with the West and a clear confidence that the implementation of such an agreement in 2021 will be continued by Igor Dodon's team. Meanwhile, it is quite realistic to expect a certain breakthrough statement this year that might initiate discussions on drafting the final political settlement. Chisinau will certainly try to get the most out of such a historic opportunity, if Moscow is indeed inclined to proceed with the next unpacking of the Transdniestrian conflict political settlement. After Igor Dodon's return from Moscow, the Moldovan authorities had apparently received the necessary signal from the Kremlin, since nothing else can explain the pre-holiday rush, in which the government commission for reintegration was convened on December 30, 2019. There is reason to believe that the Cabinet of Ministers was “raised by alarm” to expedite the aligning of some consolidated position of Moldova within the negotiation process. Chisinau seemingly hopes for this position to be reflected in a future document, the signing of which will be one of the main goals of the visit to be paid by the Russian leader.