Opinion: “Moldova Is Missing the Chance to Resolve the Conflict with Transdniestria”

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Anton SHVETS A delegation of mediators and observers in the Transdniestrian settlement arrived in Moldova today. Plans include numerous meetings on both banks of the Dniester. However, Chisinau will not be able to take advantage out of the increased international attention to resolving regional conflicts. The previous visit to Moldova of a delegation of international participants in the Transdniestrian settlement process took place in July 2019. Then, the representatives of the OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU called on the conflicting parties to speed up preparations for the next "5 + 2" format meeting, including through intensive work of specialized groups of experts on confidence-building measures. The tasks of the diplomatic mission arriving today are much more complicated. Despite the generally favorable international context, relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol have reached their lowest point and the existing negotiation formats are either paralyzed or do not bring any results. An informal meeting of foreign ministers of the European Union member states held in Lisbon a week ago raised the issue of prospects for resolving protracted regional conflicts. This issue affects directly the interests of Moldova, which for over 30 years has been unsuccessfully trying to organize the reintegration of the rebellious Transdniestrian region. The attention of the influential "Gymnich format", which plays a significant role in the formation of the EU's foreign policy in certain areas, allows one to expect that the period of mutual disappointment and stagnation, symbolized by the inactive head of the EU Delegation to Chisinau, Peter Michalko, may end with a revival of interest in the topic of Moldova in Brussels. At the least, having convened a meeting on regional conflicts, Bucharest may be interested in the EU being most actively involved in the Transdniestrian settlement, having in it the documented observer status in the "5 + 2" format. Romania here can proceed from the fact that the increased involvement of the Union in the resolution of the conflict will contribute to an additional tie of Chisinau to the EU and prevent a revenge of the conditionally pro-Russian forces. Romania will also be beneficial, on the one hand, to raise the status of Brussels in the ongoing negotiations, and on the other hand, to fix its leading role in formulating the meanings and policies of the EU in a given direction. Increased attention is paid to relations between Moldova and Transdniestria at other authoritative platforms. For example, experts from the Crisis management initiative, including former negotiators of the parties, deal with the conflict. Often, an informal platform is provided through the OSCE. At the level of experts on the Transdniestrian settlement, an American-Russian dialogue is also under way. The meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States, scheduled in two weeks, will obviously be devoted to more global and ambitious issues, but the topic of the future of Transdniestria can also be touched upon there as one of the few points for a hopeless search for a compromise. It was the international conjuncture - the American elections, the situation in Belarus and Ukraine, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, mutual sanctions by the USA, China, Russia and the EU, the irresistible trend of the supremacy of domestic policy over foreign policy consistency - that shaped the demand for a predictable regulatory environment in regional conflicts. And here Moldova could be at the forefront of even the Russian-American deal, without which a political settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict is impossible. However, Chisinau, unfortunately has a bad habit to every time miss chances when given. The constant political crisis, unreliable structures of power that do not arouse the trust of individual or all international partners at once, endless elections accompanied by irresponsible geopolitical slogans, do not help key external actors to form a consolidated approach to the settlement. In addition, even this approach may turn out to be useless in practical terms due to the absence of political leaders and government in Moldova, capable of conducting a serious dialogue with Tiraspol and moving towards an end to the conflict. Resolving the Transdniestrian problem through diplomatic negotiations may require unprecedented flexibility, responsibility and even “manual control” for individual processes. Any of the steps must be predictable, fair and resistant to criticism towards political forces that do not participate in power. This is simply impossible for nowadays Moldova. On the contrary, what is happening in the relations between the two banks of the Dniester testifies to the distance of the final settlement. The authorities of the left bank constantly complain about new restrictions in the banking sector, in the field of communication, economics and trade. A new transport crisis might break out soon, given the ban to use vehicles cars with Transdniestrian numbers from September 1. Even the period of the pandemic did not help the parties to establish cooperation and improve relations. Tiraspol nodded when detention of imported goods, and Chisinau was angry when restrictions on the freedom of movement for the population between the two banks. Last month, according to the Transdniestrian media, a series of detentions of regional officials took place at the Chisinau airport. Also, the parties mutually blamed each other for two incidents in the Security Zone, which blocked the activities of the Joint Commission for monitoring the situation in the SZ. Obviously, the Kremlin will not accept such deal’s parameters when the population of Transdniestria, including the large Russian diaspora living there, will be limited in rights or deprived of a reliable channel of communication with Russia. Moreover, Moscow is unlikely to support any uncoordinated obstacles to the peacekeeping mission's activities. Consequently, the current situation in the internal politics of the republic, as well as the approach of Chisinau towards Tiraspol do only hinder international efforts to resolve the Transdniestrian problem. Instead of creating at least a semblance of unity of positions on the country's reintegration and stability in the negotiations with Transdniestria, the Moldovan authorities allowed the situation in the settlement to develop according to a negative scenario. That might soon become a crisis at all. Therefore, afterwards Moldovan politicians can only blame themselves for having missed opportunities.