Surge of Activity around the Transnistrian Conflict – Why Now?

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Sergiu CEBAN
At the end of 2021, the “dormant volcano” of the Transnistrian settlement began to erupt, and some strange diplomatic games are taking place around it
In recent months, international attention has been mainly focused on Ukraine, while our country has traditionally remained in the shadow of the events. Even our republic’s leadership tried not to mention the aggravation between Kiev and Moscow. Nevertheless, the other day, Maia Sandu publicly expressed concern about the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border for the first time, since a potential military conflict will inevitably affect Moldova. Apparently, the authorities are figuring every scenario of the Kremlin’s actions that could potentially affect our eastern regions. Meanwhile, on the territory of the left bank, local “elections” have recently predictably ended, and results did not show anything surprising or extraordinary. They were fixed by the hackneyed visit of the “old-fashioned” Pridnestrovian leader Vadim Krasnoselsky to Moscow and a meeting with Dmitry Kozak, who continues to oversee relations with post-Soviet countries, and also, judging by the contacts of the Russian official, coordinate processes around frozen conflicts on their territories. Nevertheless, upon his return from Moscow, Krasnoselsky unexpectedly published an appeal to Maia Sandu, in which he proposed to solve the existing complex of socio-economic problems, as well as to take the next important step and seriously talk about the final settlement of the Transnistrian conflict that has dragged on for 30 years. He proposed to meet the head of state before the new year, in order to first work out the conditions for “future peaceful coexistence”, and then bring them up for discussion in the 5+2 format. Krasnoselsky’s “peacekeeping initiative” was almost immediately picked up by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The official representative of the ministry noted that Moscow “welcomes the readiness of Tiraspol to begin a committed discussion of ways to bring the banks of the Dniester closer together and resume negotiations in the 5+2 format. In their opinion, this initiative is able to give impetus to the Transnistrian settlement process, and Moscow, as a mediator, is ready to contribute to this. Other Russian speakers representing official structures of the Russian Federation also responded, urging our leadership to act “constructively” and respond positively to the Tiraspol’s letter. The President has repeatedly stated before that she does not plan on meeting with representatives of the left-bank administration. Therefore, in response to this strange public invitation to dialogue, she reiterated that she had not seen any letters, was not planning any meetings, because she did not see the need for them. The conditions for possible negotiations were announced more clearly by the Chairman of the Parliament, Igor Grosu. According to him, they should proceed from respect for the Constitution and laws of Moldova, its unitary and sovereign status. Experts are asking a reasonable question why Moscow and Tiraspol decided to play some kind of combination right now. What do they know that Chisinau doesn’t, and why did the Kremlin see the very geopolitical and regional context able to accelerate the Transnistrian settlement and even pressuring our leadership on the eve of the New Year holidays? Especially alarming is the desire, untypical for left-bank politicians, to talk about the final settlement of the conflict, especially with a footnote on the “status” and without mentioning the notorious 2006 “referendum”. Therefore, Maia Sandu’s refusal to get involved in questionable contacts with the Pridnestrovian administration in the current situation looks like the right decision. But there are risks here, because, most likely, Tiraspol is counting on such a reaction in order to use it to the maximum in the future, convincing international partners of Chisinau’s “non-negotiability”. The fact that Moscow and Tiraspol are not sincere in their messages and are trying to drive Chisinau into a trap is also evidenced by the fact that just a few days after the invitation to the conversation, the left bank decided to snap back and threatened to close the points of re-registration of Pridnestrovian transport to the so-called “neutral-design license plates”. It is obvious that such self-confidence could not be shown unbeknownst to Moscow. It remains only to find out the logic of such actions, and why Russia continues to raise the stakes and demonstrate its suddenly high interest in the region. It is possible that all these maneuvers around the Transnistrian problem are part of the Kremlin’s general offensive line, intending to change the geopolitical landscape of the post-Soviet region and draw together with Washington this territory’s strategic contours. According to Russian representatives, the first round of negotiations with the United States may take place in the first half of January next year. There is a feeling that Moscow has plans to discuss the Moldova’s case, convincing the Americans to put pressure on the Moldovan leadership and force it to start negotiations with Tiraspol. Perhaps this is just speculation and subjective assumptions, that are far from reality. However, there is no doubt that the Kremlin is trying to draw Chisinau into some kind of game, the meaning of which remains vague. Therefore, it is important for our leaders to consult with key development partners as soon as possible and agree on a plan of possible counter-actions to neutralize Moscow’s and Tiraspol’s unnatural initiative and persistence. At the same time, given that Maia Sandu has recently been forced to comment on the Transnistrian issue on her own, it is probably necessary to speed up the appointment of a deputy prime minister for reintegration, who should become the “lightning arrester” and short this surge of activity around the Transnistrian settlement. P.S. Right before the publication, it became known that Tiraspol also decided to limit the validity of the agreement on land use in the Dubasari district by June 2022. If it’s not a bluff, the risks for the aggravation of the Transnistrian settlement process next year are noticeably increasing. The left bank seems to have started to increase the rates – and considering the fact that nothing like this has shown in recent years, this only confirms my idea that all this is part of some kind of Moscow’s game. I think we’ll see it’s point soon.