Why Does Chisinau Fuel Tensions in Relations with Tiraspol?

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Anton SHVEC In 2020, the Moldovan government took a number of steps that averted the political elite of Tiraspol and exacerbated the split between communities on the two Nistru banks. This winter, despite favorable weather conditions, was marked by a noticeable cooling in relations between Moldova and Transdniestria. The negative trend was aggravated throughout 2019, including under Maia Sandu government. However, it was precisely after Igor Dodon seized all power in cooperation with the Democratic Party and Ion Chicu Cabinet of Ministers was appointed that the hostility between Chisinau and Tiraspol reached its peak. It is possible that the current situation will lead to such a hyper-cooling, that it will resemble somewhat the situation of 2006-2011, when negotiations in the 5+2 format were first frozen and later conducted on an informal basis. At that time, various mutual restrictions and measures of pressure were in effect between the parties. So, Transdniestria refused to sell the electricity produced by the Moldavskaia GRES to the right bank, levied a migration fee from all Moldovan citizens, and also introduced a 100% protective import duty on all goods produced in Moldova. The so-called working (expert) groups were practically non-operating, and high-level meetings were possible only through mediation and at the request of Moscow. At that moment it seemed that no international efforts, even the Mezeberg initiative of Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Dmitry Medvedev, could move the situation from a dead point. 10 years later, thanks to the successful “small steps tactics”, the settlement process no longer seems as hopeless as before. The most important thing is that negotiations are no longer indifferent to the interests of people. Both sides in the last decade have demonstrated their readiness to give up the fundamental elements, go beyond some “red lines” in order to move the process forward and gain support of the population on both banks of the Nistru. That is why today many observers are disappointed with Igor Dodon’s approaches, leading to the destruction of what has been created over the years through significant international investment. They are the reason why mutual rejection has reached an unprecedented level. Tiraspol reports on new problems almost on a daily basis. First, Moldovan banks, according to the left-bank officials, refused to open current accounts for Transdniestrian enterprises, although in theory they should be interested in controlling Transdniestrian financial flows and in their transparency. Moreover, Moldova has recently stopped transactions in its national currency. Chisinau also refuses to provide frequencies for the Transdniestrian company “Interdnestrcom”, although obtaining a Moldovan license is a significant political concession to Tiraspol which was very positively met by international mediators. In addition, the recent story with transport bans has further exacerbated mutual discontent and mistrust. And the fact that restrictions were immediately canceled after Tiraspol’s sharp reaction, and, perhaps, recommendations of Moscow, only confirmed some adventurism of the current Chisinau policy with regard to Transdniestria. The left-bank region reacts extremely painfully to any possible restrictions and pressure, threatens with countermeasures and constantly fuels tensions in the information environment. In its turn, Chisinau pretends that nothing is happening, that there are no problems, and addresses Tiraspol with accusations of an oligarchic regime and smuggling. The observers are also alarmed by the aggravation of the situation in the Security Zone, which is obviously an unfavorable background for discussing the Soviet ammunition removal process from the Colbasna village in the north of the Transdnistrian region, as well as the further fate of the Task Force of the Russian troops stationed on the left bank of the Nistru. Obviously, the current Moldovan tactics in the negotiation process fails to prove its worth for the time being. Transdniestria and Russia as its patron are annoyed. Working groups on confidence-building measures at this stage are practically useless, and Tiraspol in response takes a tougher line. Now negotiations are being held not to resolve pressing issues, but to voice mutual accusations. Five Dodon-Krasnoselsky meetings only rooted mutual insults and distrust, and are now used solely to remind of unfulfilled obligations. The gulf between the parties is widening, and Tiraspol is already voicing the threats to revise the previously reached agreements, for example, regarding the schools with teaching in the state language. Moreover that Transdniestria considers itself deceived under agreements in the field of motor transport and telecommunications. Chisinau’s strategic silence about the Berlin+ package fate and the prospects for the 5+2 format, interspersed with Igor Dodon’s nice but unrealistic promises to quickly resolve the Transdniestrian conflict after the presidential election, speak of the ideological crisis of the Moldovan authorities in the Transdniestrian direction. Chisinau’s attacks on Tiraspol’s various vulnerable points testify to the Moldovan authorities’ desire to force the left bank to make significant political concessions that could be useful in light of the upcoming elections. But this tactic does not work - there are no dividends yet, but there is a certain disappointment of international mediators with the emerging regression in the negotiations. In addition, Tiraspol’s dissatisfaction with the dialogue and agreements with Chisinau only activates the intention to dissociate it from the rest of Moldova. In 2013-2014, the Tiraspol leadership actively promoted the idea of ​​a “civilized divorce”, on accessible international forums including. Later, within the paradigm of intensive negotiations, mutual compromises and active international participation, this concept faded into the background, and international participants became convinced of the stable and productive nature of the settlement with the ultimate goal to reintegrate the country. But in conditions of growing tension and confrontation, a certain perplexity of mediators is felt, who are not able to make the parties sit down at the negotiating table. Therefore, the “divorce” again began to loom on the horizon of the settlement process. This time, however, there are no clear indicators that it will be “civilized”.