New Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Intends to Take a Different Approach to the Transdniestrian Settlement

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Sergiu CEBAN
Will the recently appointed Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration be able to change the country's approach to resolving relations with Transdniestria and succeed in this “frozen” process?
The second week of the new government's tenure has not triggered yet any remarkable coverage opportunity, since the new ministers are mainly focused on targeted reshuffles and appointments in the management of key subordinate agencies with people loyal to the PAS party and personally to the president. This has already provoked a number of ugly scandals, which were quickly used by the opposition to its advantage. As one would expect, the main foreign and domestic policy directions in the Cabinet were entrusted to the presidential confidants from Maia Sandu's closest circle who have served as her advisers and right hands for many years. At the same time, they had worked in the team of several previous prime ministers from the Liberal Democratic Party known to become, in fact, a parent political formation for the PAS, which later united a majority of the Liberal Democratic Party's former activists. The Transdniestrian direction has also been given in charge of one of the closest international experts for Maia Sandu, Vladislav Kulminski. Remarkably, the press considered him as the most likely candidate for this position all along. Judging by his biography, it is more customary and comfortable for the new Deputy Prime Minister to be in the shadows rather than on the “front line”, influencing the top leadership of the republic “from behind the scenes”. During the short premiership of Sandu in 2019, Kulminski chose in favor of the post of adviser to the head of the Cabinet, giving up the post of negotiator to the socialist protege Vasile Shova. Nevertheless, as the saying goes, “you cannot fight fate”. This time, however, he will have to personally deal with one of the most tough problems of the Moldovan statehood, taking his first high government position. Based on the publicly available information, we can conclude that Kulminski is a trained specialist in the field of security and international relations. He acquired his professional skills not only in the academic environment, but also during his service in the US and UK embassies, as well as Western expert structures. This background, most likely, influenced his professional convictions and personal views as to the place of our country in the international system of coordinates, as well as his personal stance regarding the Transdniestrian conflict settlement. The Transdniestrian issue is well known to the Moldovan negotiator. Therefore, unlike the previous deputy prime ministers, experts have enough information at their disposal to make a careful forecast about the fate of the negotiation process between the two banks of the Dniester. As of today, Vladislav Kulminski takes a generally cautious position, not making hype resonant or radical conceptual statements, thereby leaving room for himself to maneuver, at least at the level of rhetoric. It seems that the Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration believes that Chisinau needs to pursue a more restrained policy and not provoke harsh reactions from Tiraspol, leading to complications. In the media, Kulminski  said that he considered actions in which the left bank would feel in a blockade strategically wrong. The positive results of the recent meeting of the President of Moldova with Dmitry Kozak and the tone of the statements of the Russian official to the press suggest that Maia Sandu has heeded her former consultant's recommendations. Chisinau is taking the first steps to build a renewed and more rational relationship with Moscow, which, provided that Chisinau's actions remain consistent and careful, without sudden imbalances, will save Moldova from a geopolitical “clinch” with Moscow, which our Ukrainian neighbors could not avoid. The first meetings of Vladislav Kulminski with representatives of the Delegation of the European Union and EUBAM, the USA, Ukraine, as well as the Special Representative of the current OSCE Chairmanship indicate that the Moldovan negotiator is in the process of shaping his own working agenda. Perhaps that is why there is no information about any official contacts with the Tiraspol administration yet. As known, the negotiation process has witnessed no progress for the past few years, sticking to the so-called "Berlin package" in anticipation of political will and fresh ideas. In addition, during his term as an adviser to the president, Kulminski repeatedly stated that he saw a big problem in the accords of recent years, since all agreements on diplomas, neutral numbers, farmers and other "Berlin topics" can create a certain precedent format for solving problems with Tiraspol, which ultimately will negatively affect Chisinau's interests when discussing a special status. Apparently, the negotiation process really has every chance of surviving at least a declarative "reset" period. It seems that the new Moldovan negotiator is a supporter of the well-known Eastern approach when opponent is smoothly “strangled” in a “soft embrace”, which gradually grow tighter against the background of good relations of Chisinau both with the West and the East. The first important steps of the new leadership to normalize relations with Russia have already been made, and quite successfully. However, the previous authorities have left a new government led by Natalia Gavrilita a bitter legacy in the form of a vast "minefield" with many unresolved problems. Relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol will be first seriously tested by the situation with Ukraine's planned ban on the movement of Transdniestrian vehicles on its territory from September 1. It won't be long before we learn whether Vladislav Kulminski will keep moving along the confrontational “rails” built by his predecessors, whose subversive actions against President Maia Sandu were obvious political “partisanship”, or will find arguments to make Chisinau's approach more rational.