Terrorist Attack in Tiraspol: a Moment of Truth in Relations between the Two Banks of the Nistru?

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Anton Shvec
Transnistria accused the Moldovan security services of organizing the terrorist attack in Tiraspol, but at the same time proposed that the central authorities jointly investigate the case. Will this help restore trust in relations between the two banks or plunge them ultimately into a grim crisis?
About two weeks ago, unknown persons threw homemade “Molotov cocktails” at the Tiraspol recruitment center. The incident reminded of the numerous arson attacks on Russian military commissariats that began after the start of the conflict in Ukraine. According to press releases from local security agencies, the perpetrators were quickly found and charged with “act of terrorism” and “sabotage”. Such charges imply serious penalty, despite the fact that there were no victims or significant damage to infrastructure and material assets. The suspect, a Moldovan citizen named Alexander, was featured on regional television. A supervisor from the Moldovan secret service was also mentioned. First reaction of the central authorities came from the speaker of the parliament, Igor Grosu. On Prime TV, the head of PAS again explained this terrorist attack by a confrontation inside Transnistria between the party of “war” and the party of “businessmen”, the first of which is interested in provocations and is controlled by the Russian special services. However, judging by the assertiveness of the Transdniestrian authorities, we can assume that they do have some evidence that the perpetrators from the right bank were involved in the May 13 attempted arson of the military recruitment office. The SIS, naturally, adopted a position of distrust, claiming it was “a provocation organized by representatives of paramilitary structures in Tiraspol”: “The statements made by the so-called regional authorities do not correspond to reality and are staged in order to attract attention and to demonstrate their relevance in the context of the complex regional situation”. However, the Office for Reintegration requested information from Tiraspol and also urged to respect the procedural rights of the Moldovan citizen who allegedly participated in the attack on the military recruitment office. Such interest on the part of the central authorities has predictably excited Tiraspol, which regarded this as another, albeit indirect, proof of its correctness. The Transdniestrian authorities even claim to have the personal data of those who ordered the crime from among the Moldovan law enforcers. In this sense, Tiraspol made a rather good move by inviting the top officials of the Prosecutor General’s Office to cooperate, saying that they should come and see everything first-hand. And leaked all the correspondence to the media in order to publicly force Chisinau to choose between a bad and a very bad option. Accepting the invitation will create circumstances in which we will have to validate the actions of the Transdniestrian authorities, including the introduction of the so-called “yellow code” of terrorist danger and the resulting reinforcement of the security component on the left bank of the Nistru River. Yet, the main risk, based on the confidence of the Transdniestrian officials, is that the trail might lead in our direction. Organizing a terrorist attack on the uncontrolled territory is fraught with a major scandal, given the current security risks. When Tiraspol accused sabotage and reconnaissance groups from Ukraine of terrorist acts, it was easy to dismiss this as vicissitudes of war and “internal confrontation”. But if our authorities prove to have resorted to such a careless move to “raise the temperature”, this will be an outrageous case. Especially in light of Transnistria’s constant complaints about the blockade, information warfare, and sabotage of the conflict resolution process. On the other hand, Chisinau’s refusal to cooperate under any pretext could be interpreted by the public as proof of guilt, which would be very difficult to win back. It would require serious media efforts and full loyalty of the domestic political field, which is impossible to ensure amid the protest campaign launched after the arrest of ex-president Igor Dodon. The leader of the left bank added fuel to the fire by suggesting that Maia Sandu and Igor Grosu might simply not have information about what their intelligence services were doing. This is not the first time that Krasnoselski made this kind of rebuke to the president: he called on Sandu not to make hasty comments on what she had not had time to delve after the shelling of the “MGB” building with grenade launchers. Of course, what he said discredits the country’s leadership as the one unable to control its own special services and obtain objective information from the left bank. Although, as far as we can tell, Tiraspol administration, at least for now, has no desire for a real confrontation, and, despite all the accusations and reproaches, continues to urge for negotiations. Further developments in this regard will certainly be of interest. Either PAS will try to make steps toward Tiraspol, seeking to settle the incident through cooperation on the case, perhaps, without excessive media coverage. Or the two sides will continue to quarrel in absentia aggravating the regional climate. Maia Sandu is on vacation and has never been famous for the ability to take the tough decisions, especially with regard to the Transnistrian agenda. What her local and foreign consultants will advise her is hard to guess. As for Igor Grosu, he is hardly ready to communicate with Transnistria – in his interviews, he can barely hide his animosity. Especially since Tiraspol might not want to talk to him either, recalling his behavior during the presidential elections. Perhaps international mediation could be a solution to this stalemate. Tiraspol is apparently willing to share information with the OSCE, as is evident from the correspondence that was made public. It is within the mission’s mandate to participate in such complex matters, provided that Chisinau agrees to this. One way or another, this episode may become a kind of watershed in the settlement. It is obvious that the negotiation process is now in crisis, relations between the two banks leave much to be desired – and now the already conflict situation will be further aggravated by the factor of the terrorist attack organized, according to Tiraspol, by the right bank. Most likely, there is still a chance to restore at least minimal confidence, through the same cooperation on the case. But more likely is the scenario in which the possibility for normal communication between the two banks will be completely buried. If so, the population would suffer the most.