What Caused the Increased Interest in the Transdniestrian File?

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Sergiu CEBAN
In the West, the option of “European integration without reintegration” is probably not considered, and therefore they expect that the frozen conflicts in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia will have at least some more or less clear path towards a final settlement
A real drama is developing around the candidate status for membership in the European Union. There are a lot of options as to what decision European leaders will ultimately make. The average scenario suggests that Georgia has the least chance of European perspective, while Brussels is more inclined to send positive signals to Moldova and Ukraine. However, the perception of such messages will be quite different in Chisinau and Kyiv, as the Ukrainian authorities are counting on the maximum result. Against the background of different statements and anonymous comments that leaked to the press from the political backstage of EU the former unity and solidarity between the members of the Association Trio has disappeared completely. Kyiv and Tbilisi began to lose their nerve in the long-distance Euro-Integration race, and they publicly rebuked each other. Our government, too, was not left out and participated in disputes over who deserved the EU’s approval the most. Such mutual jealousy and diligence with which each of the “candidates for candidacy” tries to leave their recent allies behind hardly inspire optimism in European politicians faced with a difficult historical choice. According to observers, the outcome of the recent visit of the leaders of Germany, France and Italy to Kyiv, where, apparently, the Ukrainian leadership will be offered to freeze the conflict in exchange for full-fledged candidate status in the European Union, will be decisive in this matter. Before going to Kyiv today, the president of France will also pay a short visit to Moldova. According to Nicu Popescu, the arrival of Emmanuel Macron in our country is a gesture of high political support, especially given the security crisis in the region. However, this opinion is not shared by everyone: some believe that it could mean an attempt by Paris to somehow soften the expected interim decision on the application for candidate status, which would be the maximum compromise within the EU at the current stage. Just as noteworthy was yesterday’s statement by a representative of the French Foreign Ministry, who said that first we should stop the war, then start the reconstruction of Ukraine, and only then talk about joining the “European club” on good terms for both Ukraine and the European Union. It is still difficult to understand what exactly the French diplomat meant, but such a precondition can be interpreted absolutely differently with regard to Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia. It is hard to call it a coincidence that the other day sitting in the Georgian prison, ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili suddenly put forward a project of reunification of Georgia and Abkhazia. Its essence is to create a Georgian-Abkhazian federation with provision of the Abkhazian language with the status of a second state language. In addition, a bicameral parliament should be established in the federation in the city of Kutaisi. Although the initiative is ambiguous, but it is difficult to consider it isolated from the European integration process. Of course, all three states would like to put the frozen conflicts on hold until better times. When submitting the application, the Moldovan authorities did not respond to the outcry from Tiraspol, which saw a link between integration into the EU and the resolution of the conflict. However, in Brussels, apparently, a different opinion regarding the issues of security and controllability of territories. Presumably, the Europeans expect that the “non-status territories” will have at least some clear path towards a final settlement. The existence of such a requirement explains the desire of our officials and our Western partners, which seemed strange to many, to pay more attention to the Transdniestrian file. Everyone paid attention to the statements of U.S. Ambassador Kent Doyle Logsdon, for the “main” diplomatic mission is still perceived as a reference point that sets the tone for the domestic political agenda in Moldova. According to him, the talks in the 5+2 format led by the OSCE should be continued, and when the conflict in Ukraine is over, something new should emerge to achieve “a special status for Transdniestria as part of an integral and sovereign Moldovan state”. At the same time, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian appeared on TV and made some reciprocal courtesy gestures to the American diplomat, mentioning, for example, the need to raise the status of the U.S. and the EU to the level of mediators. He also spoke about certain fatigue with the current negotiation process that requires a reset. It seems that the talk was about fatigue from the previous configuration of the participants, where formally Russia and Ukraine had the decisive role and relations between them are in a certain state. That is why, presumably, the key task of the proposed reformatting is shifting the center of gravity towards the U.S. and the EU. To some extent, this step is more than justified, because in the current circumstances only Washington – Brussels tandem can guarantee that the conflict will be resolved without affecting our country’s territorial integrity. Such consistency in statements with our Western partners is explained by the window of opportunity that has opened, which pushes us to speed up the Transdniestrian issue and formulate a clear position of the authorities on this problem. It should be understood that in the current rapidly changing conditions, we may not have more advantageous negotiating positions with Tiraspol, so the logic of forced action seems quite justified. According to Serebrian, Chisinau already has an elaboration on the status for Transdniestria, and Moldova does not intend to give up the region. Although today the settlement plan is not so much needed for negotiations as for a formal cover in Brussels. We have to admit that in our case the situation looks much more reassuring in all senses, which is why some observers also admit an unimaginable scenario, when the candidate status will be given only to Moldova, and the questions about Ukraine and Georgia will be temporarily postponed until the fall. It cannot be ruled out that Moscow, for some tactical reasons, will agree to get involved in a new game in the Transdniestrian settlement in order to gain time, and at the same time to reduce the level of political vulnerability, which is provoked by the current uncertain status of the Transdniestrian region.