Expert: The Anniversary Year for the Peacekeeping Operation on the Dniester Will Not Be Easy

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Anton Svec
Regional realities have changed and impacted the peacekeeping mission on the Dniester, which is starting to feel the crises in the operation management and interaction between the parties to the conflict
This summer marks the thirtieth anniversary of the peacekeeping operation on the Dniester. Over the years, it has caused a lot of controversy. Some believe that it gave the two banks an opportunity to have a peaceful life and to develop quietly, while others believe that it froze the conflict, leaving a piece of Moldovan territory under Russian occupation and outside the constitutional authorities’ control. Despite the variety of opinions and positions, including those of the leaderships depending on their ideological and political attitudes, the operation is still underway. And, in general, even today, as an ordinary phenomenon, it is of no particular interest to either the public or experts. Meanwhile, the collapse of the regional security system in February has likely posed new challenges to a seemingly stable peacekeeping mechanism. For example, the Joint Control Commission, the governing body of the peacekeeping mission, has already faced a true crisis. For three consecutive weeks, it has not been possible to hold a JCC meeting and sign its final protocol. The reasons for this are interpreted differently on both sides. The Bureau for Reintegration Policies harshly condemns the incident with the Transdniestrian border guards who in mid-April stopped a car with members of the Moldovan JCC delegation. As stated, before the last meeting Tiraspol representatives “avoided a constructive discussion” refusing to give assurances that such incidents would not recur, and “preferred to postpone the meeting”. The Transdniestrian delegation predictably portrays it in a slightly different way, accusing some Moldovan representatives of conflictual and unacceptable rhetoric against the Transdniestrian JCC co-chair. Allegedly, the unwillingness to apologize for incorrect behavior was the reason for not continuing the meeting. It seems that the April incident, which at first glance caused all the commotion, is just a pretext to aggravate the situation inside the JCC, which has more serious grounds. Especially since cases like this and even worse are not rare in the relations between the sides and can hardly surprise anyone – everyone understands that their reasons often lie not in malicious intent, but in the lack of coordination and mutual trust. In fact, the introduction of the so-called red level of terrorist threat in Transdniestria may cause much more complaints on the part of the central authorities. This regime, recently prolonged until May 25, not only implies restricted visits to the left bank of the Dniester by foreign diplomats and journalists – under its pretext the Transdniestrian administration has also placed a number of armed roadblocks in the Security Zone. That is indeed a problem. The fact is that such facilities should not appear without the JCC’s approval. And, therefore, the Commission needs to make some kind of decision, either to condemn these posts or legalize them. And this is where a hard dilemma arises. On the one hand, our delegation should definitely demand the elimination of the roadblocks and the cancellation of the red level of the terrorist threat in the region, because the official version attributes the causes of the left-bank terrorist attacks to an intra-elite squabble. It has not been revised yet, despite some reservations from the country’s leadership. From this point of view, there is simply no reason for unauthorized military reinforcement across the Transdniestrian perimeter, especially in the Security Zone. Accordingly, legalizing these roadblocks at the JCC level is also impossible. On the other hand, it is clear that the Transdniestrian delegation (most probably supported by the Russian members) will in no way agree to condemn their methods in fighting the “terrorist threat from Ukraine”. Moreover, some recent unofficial meetings show that the authorities are no longer so confident in the “self-shooting” version, which, in theory, can influence at least the behind-the-scenes judgement about the installed roadblocks. However, openly admitting this would set a dangerous precedent, something that no one would want to allow. So, we arrive at a specific situation in which the commission’s activity is blocked because of a formal incident, so as not to discuss questions to which no one has an answer. Apparently, it was decided to wait until the block posts are removed, which is likely to de-escalate the intensity of the climate, as there is no real subject of dispute. It is not very clear what the Transdniestrian delegation is trying to achieve. Apparently, it does not want to make concessions on the April incident, because it sees no violations in the actions of its security forces. However, the “red” code of terrorist threat on the left bank may be extended again due to new “attacks” on the oil depot and military recruitment center. And then what? Should we allow the crisis in the operation’s management to grow further, or should we backtrack? Neither option is optimal. But it is obvious that Russia’s military special operation in Ukraine is getting protracted. Neither side will be able to achieve a decisive military advantage in the coming weeks, and probably months. Therefore, the territory on the left bank will continue to be under threat of new attacks, no matter who is behind them. In such a situation, one can hardly expect the Transdniestrian leadership to abandon the roadblocks. One way or another, crises in the activities of the peacekeeping operation are likely to continue, which amid the heightened security risks is a great challenge. Among other things, this is due to the uncertainty as to Ukraine’s participation in the mission. Its military observers withdrew back in February. At the same time, the Ukrainian representative continues his work within the commission. And yet, to what extent would such a mechanism with joint Russian-Ukrainian participation be sustainable, especially in the event of any major exacerbations in the Security Zone? The same applies to the “5+2” format, which has an uncertain future given the conflict between the two mediators. As we can see, there are too many new variables in the peacekeeping equation that complicate the calculation of quick and effective solutions. The problems triggered by the objectively new regional realities are added to the old sore points in relations between the two sides – grievances, mistrust, animosity, etc. That’s why it is not clear who, how and when is going to solve them. Still, it is better that these solutions be found: no matter how much one likes or dislikes the peacekeeping operation on the Dniester, today is clearly not the perfect moment for sweeping changes in terms of maintaining the national security.