Why do Relations between Moldova and Ukraine Worsen

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Anton Shvets Nothing has left from the previous idyll in Moldovan-Ukrainian relations since the time of Plahotniuc-Poroshenko. Volodymyr Zelensky still does not intend to meet with Igor Dodon, bilateral contacts are extremely low, and Kiev, apparently, refuses to help Chisinau even in the Transdniestrian direction. Alienation and distrust between Kiev and Chisinau have recently become a norm of Ukrainian-Moldovan relations. The cooling occurred on the backdrop of internal political processes in Moldova, which put a bold question mark on the vector of its development and continued cooperation in the same volume. Even more, Kiev cannot leave unnoticed Chisinau’s numerous steps that lead to economic and political-diplomatic damage of the Ukrainian side. Previously, when Vladimir Plahotniuc actually ruled Moldova, and Petro Poroshenko held the presidential term in Ukraine, the close ties between the two oligarchs ensured almost complete mutual understanding of the two countries in key areas: the fight against Russian influence in the region, joint economic projects, and European integration. In addition, Kiev significantly helped Chisinau increase pressure on Transdniestria in order to force the Tiraspol administration to make various concessions. However, there is no trace left of the described idyll in the relations of neighbors, and the far from friendly steps of Ukraine are an evidence of it. So, Kiev decided not to prohibit access to its territory of cars with Transdniestrian registration, despite the Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Chicu statements. The clarifications of the Embassy of Ukraine in Moldova issued at the end of February 2020 showed that Kiev, remaining a mediator in the 5 + 2 negotiations, no longer intends to bear image costs, helping the current Moldovan authorities to pressure the rebellious Transdniestria. At least at this stage, while the actual government formed by President Igor Dodon is in power in Moldova. The latter, despite all the current steps and statements, is still regarded as a client and creature of Moscow. Thus, the plan of the Moldovan government, announced by Ion Chicu, to restrict the movement of Transdniestrian vehicles from April 1, can be considered at least postponed until a later date (for example, until more handshake partners appear in Chisinau). And the statements of the Moldovan Prime Minister, to put it mildly, are exaggerated. Meanwhile, completely denying the fact that the possibility of restrictions was seriously analyzed by Kiev would be, at least, naive. The fact that the decision was finally made in favor of the separatist region and the citizens of Ukraine living in it, only confirmed the cooling in relations between the two countries. The joint Euro-integration agenda and unresolved territorial conflicts are factors that objectively contribute to Moldovan-Ukrainian friendship. But there are plenty of reasons for mutual discontent with regard to the two states. No wonder Volodymyr Zelensky, from the moment he took office as president of Ukraine, has been emphatically ignoring the need for Igor Dodon to arrange a personal meeting. The long-standing telephone call congratulating the elected leader of Ukraine remained the only contact at that level. Obviously, if Igor Dodon would have been glad to communicate with the rating Ukrainian president, then the second would clearly distance himself from his Moldovan counterpart, who had lost the confidence of Brussels and Washington. In addition to the Transdniestrian direction, mutual problems are accumulating in other areas. For many years, the parties cannot find a common language on the environmental agenda, since Chisinau constantly indicates public dissatisfaction with Ukraine’s plans to build cascade hydroelectric power stations on the Dniester. In turn, Kiev is concerned about delays from Moldovan side in the process of state border demarcation on its central (Transdniestrian) section and the ban on the import of Ukrainian chicken meat initiated several weeks ago and which markedly outraged local producers. Ukraine is also losing significant money when investing in the Transdniestrian conflict settlement process as agreed with Chisinau. Often, political logic in such situations prevailed over commercial interests. In particular, the ban on the import of excisable goods through the Kuciurgan and Platonovo checkpoints since 2015 led to a decrease in the profit of distilleries, beer and tobacco enterprises in Ukraine. There are problems with freight rail services due to the impossibility to deliver fuel to Moldova and Transdniestria through the territory of Ukraine, as well as the prohibition of the Moldavian railway to use Ukrainian locomotive traction and rolling stock, which leads to downtime, disruption of contractual obligations and commercial damage Ukrzaliznytsia. Kiev was also concerned by the February situation aggravation in the conflict zone controlled by the peacekeepers which was provoked, according to media reports, by Chisinau’s actions. Tiraspol’s demands for a substantial increase in the number of Russian troops in the Transdniestrian region cannot be ignored by Ukrainian military strategists, given the tense situation in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which has recently tended to escalate. The unpleasant surprise from Chisinau in this sense pretty angered the leadership of the General Staff of Ukraine since it was forced, without any particular reason, to be distracted and carry out control of its southern borders. Despite the continued inertia of cooperation, the Ukrainian President’s leadership office believes that Igor Dodon is not the person to build a joint policy with. And the reason is not only the pro-Russian rhetoric and ambiguous position of the Moldovan president on Crimea or of the defense minister’s statement about the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass. Igor Dodon proved himself to be a very skilled regional politician, cleverly using the geopolitical context, maneuvering between the west and the east, making serious efforts to stay afloat in the conditions of turbulent internal political processes in the Republic of Moldova. However, the pre-election context and the presence in Moldova of alternative presidential candidates who have a more transparent past, adhere to a clear and constant focus on the United States and Europe, and who receive significant support from Western development partners, give grounds to Volodymyr Zelensky not to rush to strengthen ties with the current Moldovan counterparts. Elections in Moldova are just around the corner, and it is absolutely on their results that Kiev will build further relations with its western neighbor.