Pandemic, presidential elections in Moldova, distraction of external players’ attention; in this context relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol are now being pressed by too many negative factors that contribute to a further trust drop between the banks of the Dniester.
After the difficult first half of 2020, when Chisinau and Tiraspol chose the path of confrontation instead of cooperation amid falling economic indicators and serious difficulties with pandemic management, the second part of the year got characterized by a conditional but rather alarming calm. To be mentioned, it is now at once interrupted by two remarkable and quite different in spirit events. At first glance, the compromise decision of the Transdniestrian authorities to allow residents of the left bank voting in the presidential elections a few days later unexpectedly turned into a blatant Moldovan policeman detention incident.
It is still difficult to understand what lays behind these two episodes, and are they actually interconnected. However, the inherent Moldovan politics’ secrecy that is as well affecting the relations with Tiraspol administration, apparently generates such a difficult to explain events development; all this is unlikely to have a positive effect on the general background of the settlement process.
The lack of regular main negotiators’ and experts’ meetings, as well as meetings in the “5 + 2” format or at other venues, only indicates that negotiations have been put on a pause. Obviously, this is primarily due to the upcoming presidential elections. Confirming it all was the recent Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Cristina Lesnik’s statement saying that the proposal to arrange a 5 + 2 is still relevant for Chisinau but it would be better to return to this issue after the end of the electoral cycle.
It is clear that Chisinau and Tiraspol are dominated by a large array of problems, some of which were revealed during the current difficult year. At the same time, the parties need to communicate and the dialogue (as the experience of the Nagorny Karabakh problem showed) should be constant and uncontested. In addition, there is still a glimmer of hope that international mediators will still be able to find the necessary arguments and resources to reorient both banks to mutually beneficial cooperation during pandemic that citizens will only benefit from.
Meanwhile, experts are making assumptions about possible negotiation process trajectories until the end of this year and beyond, all depending on the presidential elections outcome. Along with, the main influencing factor will most likely be not as much the head of state institution, as preserving the ruling majority and the government, those who determine the main directions, priorities and the Moldovan negotiators’ mandate, and the lines of which are not to get crossed.
If Igor Dodon wins, the line of building relationships with Tiraspol is likely to retain its current parameters. Subject to domestic political stability, the re-elected president can revitalize this important area by means of filling it with new practical proposals that should certainly have his coalition colleagues’ support. Ultimately, Dodon himself said that he intends devoting his second presidential term to solving “serious problems”, among which he named the one of country unification.
Maia Sandu’s victory will inevitably lead to certain changes within Moldovan political configuration; changes that are unlikely to help stabilize the overall situation. Hence, there is reason to believe that relations with Tiraspol will fade into the background and the negotiation process will continue its sluggish course anticipating the next internal political outcome.
As a result, due to pandemic and electoral processes in the country, for the first time parties may face an alarming situation (since negotiations in 2011 resumption) that is the absence of “5 + 2” format meetings. Transdniestrian conflict falling out of the international players’ view will definitely not have a positive effect on the process of any prospects for a final settlement developing.
The internal confusion in the OSCE is an additional element complicating the situation as a whole, thus, the organization exists in a semi-functional mode and cannot adequately fulfill its tasks. Therefore, it should not be ruled out that the sum of circumstances may jeopardize the annual ministerial meeting holding. This means that for the first time since 2011, Chisinau will not be able to receive an annual declaration reflecting the common position of international participants on the Transdniestrian problem.
Perhaps, such an events development is not of such fundamental importance but in political terms, the absence of a clear position of external players (who to a certain extent set the guidelines for the movement of the negotiation process) hardly meets the Moldovan state interests. Moreover, such a situation is likely to form a quite unfavorable background when implementing the president’s initiative to offer Tiraspol general principles to resolve the conflict and unite the country – and if this is impossible, there is no need then talking about any breakthroughs in the country’s reintegration process.
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