No matter how the conflict in Ukraine ends, the authorities are unlikely to be able to keep the Transdniestrian issue frozen for another 5-10 years
Military events in Ukraine seem to have finally lost any chance of a quick diplomatic resolution. International organizations, especially the United Nations, are nonetheless trying to grasp every opportunity to urge the parties to reduce the intensity of hostilities and gradually mitigate the conflict. Just yesterday UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres proposed a four-day “Passover truce” from April 21 and the opening of humanitarian for the delivery of aid and the escape of refugees.
However, judging by the military reports of recent days, Moscow has completed regrouping its forces and doesn’t plan to stop, gradually shifting to a new phase of hostilities in the southeast of its neighboring country. For us, this development is rather alarming, because any shift of the front line to the west threatens us with direct and severe consequences.
Strange as it may seem, but the first weeks of the conflict in Ukraine, despite the incessant barrage of accusations from Kyiv, have worked to bring Chisinau and Tiraspol somewhat closer together. A common challenge had clearly brought both sides together. The actions of the center and the local administration showed much more logic, coordination and a certain synchronism. Openness and hospitality towards Ukrainian refugees became an important trump card, opening a niche in which our country took a special and at the same time comfortable position amid the confrontation between Kyiv and Moscow.
It should be understood that the achievement of a cease-fire or even the signing of a final agreement will in any case leave a deep wound in relations between Ukraine and Russia. Overcoming this trauma will be very difficult, complex and will stretch for decades. There is no doubt that a long post-conflict period, as well as a deep regional restructuring, will affect our country to a great extent. And above all, the end of the military crisis in Ukraine will be decisive for Moldova’s territorial integrity. No matter how the war ends, there is hardly any chance of keeping the Transdniestrian issue frozen for another 5-10 years if not more.
Thus, Chisinau, maybe for the first time in 30 years, is being offered an opportunity to make a serious claim to resolving its historical territorial problem. In order to do this, a short-term strategy should be developed and filled with steps for speedy step-by-step progress toward the final goal. The development of a roadmap for its practical implementation could be delegated to the expert community and non-governmental organizations, in order to ensure the transparency and legitimacy of the entire project to unite the banks of the Dniester.
What do we have so far. For quite explicit reasons, our authorities have focused on the European integration process, which also has a chance to bring Moldova closer to the great historical goal. Therefore, in principle, it is possible to understand somewhere the current arrangement of priorities, and not react in any way to Tiraspol’s excited we-will-go-another-way statements for the time being.
On the other hand, for example, it is not very clear what our diplomats are guided by and whether they have any strategic plan. When talking about Transdniestria, Nicu Popescu said recently that Chisinau will have to admit that the generally accepted European standards are not respected on the left bank of the Dniester River, which causes serious problems. Such assertions by the head of the Foreign Ministry give the impression that the Transdniestrian region is a burden for our country, because it seems that its existence distorts the smooth pro-European profile of Moldova and only complicates the already thorny path towards Brussels.
The status quo has indeed begun to change, but the current negotiations with Tiraspol have strangely focused on the topic of trade and the difficulties of exporting-importing operations in the new logistical reality. It seems that the partial closure of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border in its central Transdniestrian section prompted our government to take the easiest way and offer Tiraspol to live by the same rules. Experts’ opinions are divided as to how justified such a simplified approach is and why more political skill could not have been shown so as not to leave the left-bank administration with reasons for open discontent and loud accusations.
The ban on the St. George’s Ribbon does not look much in time or place, and the controversy surrounding it is only gathering momentum, but will obviously cause a lot of unpleasantness. And in the case of Tiraspol, where the leadership has long ago “harmonized” with Russia on issues of historical memory of the Great Patriotic War, this kind of measures seriously blurs the prospect of a normal peace settlement.
If the military events initially set a certain track, including the conditions for rapprochement and cooperation between the banks of the Dniester, now there is a feeling that everything has followed a chaotic scenario and without even any internal coordination. Some actions seem hasty and hardly vital in this difficult historical period, while opportunities to solve long overdue problems are completely ignored. Perhaps, at least, the rapidly approaching “energy storm” will force our authorities to take seriously the question of how we still see the model of relations with the left-bank administration, at least for the medium term.