Has Moscow Conceived Something in Moldova?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Moscow is still polite but at the same time more and more persistent in sending interesting signals to Chisinau
The past few days revealed the first timid signs of the possible diffusion of tensions around Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s meetings with the heads of France and Germany were followed by the Kremlin’s slow withdrawal of troops from the border with Ukraine and a new series of statements about its disposition to solve problems using diplomatic routes. Paradoxically, in just a few months, the pan-European security agenda was turned upside down, which, in fact, is one of the Kremlin’s tactical achievements. However, the barely noticeable willingness of the geopolitical rivals to compromise has not yielded any results so far, since no one has a serious intention to make open steps towards rapprochement. Any attempt to reach a consensus with Moscow will still be seen as a sign of weakness with corresponding implications for internal policy. Therefore, at this point all actions and signals are relayed indirectly. For example, yesterday, Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde announced that Stockholm has no intention to apply for NATO membership and the security policy line will remain unchanged. According to the minister, “Swedish neutrality serves us well and contributes to stability and security in Northern Europe.” Meanwhile, it was absolutely (not) by chance that the Ukrainian ambassador in London, Vadym Prystaiko, let fall a word about Kiev’s possible refusal to join NATO in order to prevent a war with Russia. This certainly received an extremely harsh response from the Ukrainian capital later on. But the ripple effect followed immediately: for example, the British defense minister noted that London would support any sovereign decision of Kyiv, including the refusal to integrate into the North Atlantic Alliance. However, the main signal of readiness to reduce confrontation came from Washington. According to Joseph Biden, while there is hope for a diplomatic resolution that will prevent the use of force, it is necessary to work in this direction. The American leader also said that he did not believe in Russia’s desire to wage war with Ukraine. Addressing Russian citizens, Biden said that the United States is not trying to destabilize Russia, recalling the Second World War, in which both countries fought together. In addition, the President of the United States stressed that there are no American offensive systems on the territory of Ukraine, and Washington has no plans to deploy them there. Basically, a cautious exchange of encrypted “signs of truce” can only mean a change of scenario. Therefore, the parties involved continue to raise the stakes. Preventive threats about extremely tough sanctions are being made against Moscow, while the Russian parliament has decided to appeal to the Russian president with a proposal to recognize the self-proclaimed LDPR. This happened after a series of failed meetings of the Normandy advisers. It seems that in doing so Moscow decided to increase pressure on Ukraine and prompt the Western partners to persuade Kyiv to start implementing the so-called Minsk agreements. By the way, in Moscow, the German Chancellor announced Volodymyr Zelensky’s promise to submit draft laws on the Donbass’ special status, constitutional reform and electoral law in the near future. Alas, Moldova is also in this European security-related vortex, the epicenter of which is Ukraine. So far, the main attention is focused on our neighbors. But there is little doubt that, once implemented, the “Ukrainian recipe” will be one way or another used in Moldova. In our case, the starting point may also be an attempt to settle the conflict in the east of the country. The other day, the deputy head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Andrei Rudenko, paid a visit to our country. In Chisinau, he held consultations with colleagues from the foreign ministry about the development of relations between the countries, along with the trade and economic cooperation in view of the meeting of the intergovernmental commission scheduled for spring. Certainly, the Transdniestrian settlement was also raised, and the resumption of negotiations in the 5+2 format was supported. Rudenko also met with the deputy prime minister for reintegration. This done, the Russian diplomat went to the left bank of the Dniester where he talked with the Transdniestrian administration. It is curious that it was in Tiraspol that Andrei Rudenko made a number of public comments to the press, which he hadn’t done in Chisinau. In his opinion, Moscow believes that the past years’ stalemate in the settlement process should come to an end. His words about the intention to increase staffing of the consular post in Tiraspol gained much attention and have already met a negative response from the ministry of foreign affairs. The experience of involving neighboring Ukraine in negotiations on the political status of separatist territories and Kyiv’s firm resistance to pressure from Moscow and Western capitals demanding the implementation of the so-called Minsk agreements clearly demonstrates what kind of trap you can fall into if you do not calculate all the long-term consequences from the start of a political settlement of the conflict. Moscow is still politely, but at the same time quite persistently signaling to us, this time from Tiraspol, that it expects to restart a comprehensive settlement of the Transdniestrian problem. However, the example of the eastern regions of Ukraine shows what actions the Kremlin is ready to take to force Kyiv to grant the status to Donetsk and Luhansk regions on favorable terms. Perhaps, it is not accidental that the resolution with a proposal to recognize the so-called LDPR was adopted on the same day when the Tiraspol parliament delegation was in the Russian State Duma. Moscow’s offensive actions in the sphere of European security have significantly accelerated the processes around the conflict zones, in fact bringing them to the points of final and fateful decisions. Therefore, everything that is happening requires very careful attitude from our authorities. It is important to understand how ready we are to negotiate the left bank’s status and to make sure what kind of support we can expect from our development partners so as not to appear in a situation of “total pressure”, both from international mediators and society as a whole.