Has the Military Threat Activated the Transdniestrian Settlement?

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Sergiu CEBAN
It is obvious that the political elites on both banks of the Dniester are not interested in the situation to be destabilized, since it will inevitably rock the whole of Moldova resulting in disastrous aftermath
The low-intensity course of events in Ukraine with no active hostilities is most likely the result of the operation, which has been underway for several days, to rescue civilians from the Azovstal steel plant. Nevertheless, according to experts, another surge in military activity can be expected with the approach of May 9. Moscow is known to have a special attitude to symbolic dates, as evidenced by another series of missile strikes on the Odessa region, “timed to coincide” with the anniversary of May 2, 2014 events. There is a lingering feeling that stability in Moldova really bothers certain external forces who seek to add “Moldovan oil” to the fire of the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation. Our authorities are obviously having a tough time, because it is not possible to keep the situation under control all the time and in all aspects. The most mobile part of the population susceptible to the ongoing processes has already left the country, a number of businessmen have started shutting their industries and reducing economic activity. For several days, there has been a flurry of news reports about an imminent attack by Russian troops on Moldova. The news monger in this case was a Western media outlet which, citing Ukrainian intelligence, reported that Moscow was hatching plans to invade our country. It seems that in the coming weeks the number of such publications will only grow and the Ministry of Defense will have to produce rebuttals on a 24-hour basis. The main purpose of such external information pressure is apparently to persuade our political leadership to put the country under martial law. The recent events in the Transdniestrian region were to a certain extent unexpected for the leadership of the republic and difficult to respond to adequately. Yet, we must admit that Moldova has never had to deal with such cases during its three decades of independence, so in the first day it was important to avoid confusion on the part of responsible law enforcement agencies. By the end of the week, the dust had settled and it became more or less clear what the final stance toward the incidents on the left bank of the Dniester River might be. Apparently, additional information was received from the sources inside the country and from foreign colleagues, since later the president did have some doubts as to the initial version of internal causes of what happened in the Transdniestrian region. The need to clarify all the circumstances even prompted a closed-door meeting between Chisinau and Tiraspol representatives in the village of Varnita. Scant details of its contents make it difficult to assume what exactly was tackled there. However, the decisions that followed leave no doubt that the communication was productive. It is obvious that the political elites on both banks of the Dniester, for all the pressure of external factors, are not interested in destabilizing the situation, since it would inevitably rock the whole of Moldova and lead to disastrous aftermath. The ball of contradictions, which exists between Chisinau and Tiraspol, apparently, did not prevent the parties from finding at least a temporary compromise at the very last moment, and eventually Gazprom, without any additional explanations, continued gas supplies after May 1. Moreover, a one-month contract for the supply of electricity at an affordable price was signed, and the MMZ was allowed to operate until the end of May. Last week’s events seriously alarmed our foreign partners, so the news about the incidents in the Transdniestrian region reached the highest-ranking desks. For example, a number of countries recommended that their citizens leave Moldova or refrain from visiting Transdniestrian territory. Leaders of European states, the European Union, as well as NATO expressed their concern and support for the Moldovan authorities. By the end of the week, an OSCE delegation visited Chisinau and Tiraspol as a matter of urgency, seemingly to look into the current situation and to understand how exactly the parties can be helped in these circumstances. Following the visit, the head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova held a separate meeting with the Russian Ambassador in Chisinau, during which the desire was expressed to preserve the existing 5+2 negotiation format aimed at a peaceful solution to the Transdniestrian conflict. A few days earlier, in an interview with the leading Russian media outlet, Tiraspol made a somewhat unexpected proposal about the need to sign an agreement with Chisinau on a final comprehensive peace settlement, which would also guarantee mutual non-aggression. According to the Transdniestrian administration, this would put an end to the thirty-year conflict resolution process. A day later, former Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, in whose government Maia Sandu, Dorin Recean and many of the current Action and Solidarity Party members worked, suddenly stated that Moldova should seriously consider uniting with Romania, should the Russian army come close to our borders. If this is not done, in his opinion, the Moldovan statehood is doomed to perish. Moreover, Leanca confessed that in 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea, he initiated unification talks with the Romanian leadership. Victor Ponta, the then head of the Romanian cabinet, confirmed that at that time Bucharest had indeed launched a plan for the integration of the two states, and also developed specific response measures in case Moldova would have fallen a victim of Transdniestria’s aggression. We will not try now to examine how realistic these plans are or how seriously they should be taken. However, the fact that such ideas have already been voiced openly in the media, especially after the behind-the-scenes political contacts at the level of Chisinau and Tiraspol, is hardly coincidental. Presumably, this is the way to probe public opinion, including the degree of support for certain conceptual ideas. It should not be excluded that amid the growing pressure and desire to play the Moldovan or Transdniestrian card in the Ukrainian conflict, the political leaders in Chisinau and Tiraspol decided to be proactive and play their own game. Most likely, such a plan might help neutralize attempts to draw us into someone else’s scenario, as well as attract completely different international attention and resources for the prospects of a final settlement on the Dniester banks.