How Will Relations between the New Moldovan Authorities and Transdniestria Develop?

Home / Analytics / How Will Relations between the New Moldovan Authorities and Transdniestria Develop?
The Action and Solidarity Party's landslide win in the early parliamentary elections implies, among other things, significant changes in the Transdniestrian settlement issue
Success of the incumbent president's supporters in early parliamentary elections is unprecedented since the social media revolution in 2009. Despite the hypertrophied fragmentation of the right flank and a significant number of political forces that meet the formal criteria of the Action and Solidarity's electoral competitors, the party confidently won the Sunday vote. The maximum variety among the right-wingers actually played into the PAS's hands, since that prevented any of the direct competitors (and spoilers) of Maia Sandu's party project to overcome the electoral barrier. As a result, about 15% of the votes received by the extra-parliamentary parties (and the independent candidate) were distributed among only three or four political forces that turned out to be represented in the supreme legislative body. Thus, the Action and Solidarity party had 63 mandates, the most solid number in the last 20 years since the communists' convincing win in the 2001 parliamentary elections (71 mandates). The latter led, inter alia, to the formation of a parliamentary form of government in Moldova. Moreover, unlike the socialist leader Igor Dodon and Ilan Shor, who has six mandates, the PCRM, represented by its permanent leader Vladimir Voronin, has not yet announced its going into opposition against the current government (although, judging by the published statements, the PCRM is in no hurry to withdraw from the bloc with the socialists, judging by the published statements). Of course, the communist representatives will not be involved in governing the country. However, under certain circumstances, their 10-11 votes will allow Maia Sandu to form a constitutional majority to settle certain strategic issues. These may well include issues related to the Transdniestrian settlement, therefore tactical deals between the Action and Solidarity Party and the communists cannot be completely ruled out. This has already happened with Vladimir Voronin, who, after the 2005 parliamentary elections, unexpectedly entered into an alliance with the center-right anti-Russian Christian Democratic Party of Yuri Rosca. The precondition for that union was a trend towards conflict aggravation and mutual accusations in relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol. Meanwhile, the communist record of 2001, which was almost reached by Maia Sandu's protege 20 years later, was marked not only by tectonic upheavals in Moldova's internal politics (when the form of government was changed), but also by the accelerated dynamics of the Transdniestrian settlement. It is precisely that period of the one-party rule in the Moldovan politics when a peaceful resolution of the Transdniestrian problem admittedly was the most real and within reach. Certainly, the general public's support and lack of a strong, critical opposition was to a degree a kind of carte blanche to move negotiations forward, including through tough compromise and decisions. In 2001, numerous meetings between Vladimir Voronin and the then leader of Tiraspol Igor Smirnov took place and agreements were signed, to which the Pridnestrovian side still appeals. In 2002, a joint commission was actively working to develop a new constitution for a common state, built on a federal basis by two equal subjects. In 2003, Chisinau and Tiraspol were close to signing the so-called "Kozak memorandum", which assumed an asymmetric federation on the territory of the Republic of Moldova within the borders of 1990 from three subjects (including Gagauzia), giving the Russian language the status of a second state language and maintaining the military presence of Russia for a period of at least 15 years. Following the 2005 parliamentary elections, the negotiations climate changed dramatically, despite the retaining communist majority in the legislative body of the Republic of Moldova, after a law on a special status of the left bank of the Dniester criticized by Tiraspol had been adopted. In 2006, negotiations in the 5+2 format were interrupted and a September referendum was held, during which the majority of the Transdniestrian residents spoke out in favor of independence with subsequent affiliation with Russia. The current post-electoral situation gives the Action and Solidarity party and President Maia Sandu a special mandate - the ability to independently form a government, appoint ministers, clean up state institutions, pass laws requiring a simple majority (for example, the budget), and manage politics in the Transdniestrian settlement process. The only question is whether Maia Sandu needs such responsibility in the early stages of an independent rule. After the embassy revolution in the summer of 2019, Prime Minister Sandu gladly outsourced the negotiation process to the Socialist Party and Igor Dodon. The latter appointed his adviser Vasile Sova as Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration, who had spearheaded the negotiations back under Vladimir Voronin. The future president has distanced herself from the dialogue with Tiraspol and in no way prevented the deteriorating climate between the conflicting parties in recent years. Today, however, such a maneuver is not possible: willy-nilly, Maia Sandu will have to take personal control over the talks with Tiraspol, relying on the willingness of most negotiation participants, primarily Western partners, to actively assist her in this issue. The events of November 2020, in which the Action and Solidarity party leader, Igor Grosu, was directly involved and is currently the main contender for the post of Prime Minister, form to some extent a negative background in the minds of the Transdniestrian leadership and population. Meanwhile, the Transdniestrians were not seriously prevented from voting on July 11 by Maia Sandu's party activists. This role was assumed by the Romanian conservative party "Alliance for the Unification of Romanians", whose representatives have repeatedly kept the watch on the contact line with Transdniestria and even tried to break into the region. Thus, the PAS party signaled its political maturity and readiness to take into account the opinion of the Transdniestrian residents, but whether its politics will feature that approaches in practice is unknown. Sandu's personal approach to the dialogue with Vadim Krasnoselsky, and comments on the 5+2 format, which is in deep stagnation, will indicate Chisinau's future course towards the rebellious region. Thus, the head of Pridnestrovie made several public statements as to his readiness to hold meetings with the President of Moldova (in total, seven meetings were held between Igor Dodon and Vadim Krasnoselsky in 4 years), but Maia Sandu has so far ignored these initiatives. Moreover, the head of state has not yet expressed her support for the 5+2 format, which has not convened for almost two years. The future Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration is highly anticipated and would mean a lot. Former Defense Minister Viorel Cibotaru is running for the post - at least, he was in the list of both governments proposed by Maia Sandu (Igor Grosu and Natalia Gavrilita). Of course, the left bank of the Dniester and Moscow won't welcome such a candidate, and it will be difficult to build a trust-based dialogue. The Kremlin will closely monitor the PAS's approach to the activities of the peacekeeping mission and the JCC, including any changes in the composition of the commission, as well as public rhetoric regarding the Russian presence. If they are relatively conciliatory, then Moscow and Tiraspol will readily participate in negotiations with the new Moldovan authorities. One of the top-priority topics that the Pridnestrovian administration will inevitably raise will be the PRTS functionality and the ban for the Transdniestrian-plated vehicles to enter Ukraine. This question can be used by Maia Sandu both to send a positive signal and gain the trust of citizens and the political elite from the left bank of the Dniester, and to signify the most tough uncompromising course. In any case, the basic configuration of relations between the two parties will be determined in the very near future.