Surprises Awaiting the Transdniestrian Settlement?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Judging by the latest developments, the two tandems of Brussels-Chisinau and Moscow-Tiraspol are clearly working on something
After the recent visit of the OSCE SR on the Transdniestrian issue Thomas Mayr-Harting to Moldova, the Russian diplomat Vitaly Tryapitsyn representing interests of Russia in the conflict settlement has unexpectedly came into the picture as well. His arrival was preceded by conciliatory statements from the Kremlin spokesman urging our country not to treat Russia as a threat and at the same time by comments from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who in his op-ed criticized Chisinau and our state’s ‘anti-Russian’ policy. Lavrov also stated with some arrogance that Moldova has the unenviable fate of being an eternal candidate to the European Union. In her turn, official representative Maria Zakharova condemned the attempts to blame the pause in the work of the 5+2 format on the current situation in Ukraine, recalling the last meeting of the seven in Bratislava, where allegedly the final protocol was not signed at to the fault of the Moldovan side. The Russian MFA’s speaker also hit out at the OSCE for failing to achieve a visible breakthrough. This apparently means lack of mediation resources in the work of the Polish chairmanship. Moscow is also concerned about the speculation on the threat from Transdniestria and the fact that Tiraspol’s refutations, as well as its calls for peace and stability, are not taken into account. However, Chisinau and our Western partners have a fundamentally different view of the situation. Therefore, at the meeting with Tryapitsyn our representatives expressed their own set of claims about Tiraspol’s actions and bravura claims of ‘independence’, and not at all friendly ‘outbursts’ from Russian officials to the Moldovan leadership. In addition, Moscow’s representative was offered some ideas that, if approached properly, could somehow fix the negotiation process paralysis. The meeting with the Russian Emissary was preceded by the conversation between the Deputy Prime Minister for reintegration Oleg Serebrian and the Ukrainian Ambassador Marko Shevchenko, during which, according to the press release, the parties talked about a possible visit to Moldova of a special representative of Ukraine for the Transdniestrian settlement. Whatever the actual content of the conversation, at present it is extremely important to demonstrate coordination and coherence of our actions with Kyiv, especially in terms of the forthcoming contacts with the Russian envoys. The appearance in the reintegration bureau’s release following the meeting with the Russian delegation of an announcement of Deputy Prime Minister Serebrian’s upcoming visit to Brussels is significant. Our authorities are convinced that this is where the ‘keys’ to the Transdniestrian settlement are now located. Yesterday, in a conversation with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, the Moldovan negotiator stressed the solid contribution of the European Union to the process of reunification of the country, and also noted that the candidate country status changes the background of the Transdniestrian problem, requiring new solutions. Therefore, at this stage, our authorities consider the two processes – European integration and reintegration of the country – as two national priorities. Of course, the new geopolitical reality and the candidate status granted have seriously changed and continue to change the landscape of the Transdniestrian settlement. Adjustments in approaches will most likely be needed, it may even be necessary to revise the government’s strategy toward this problem. One of Brussels’ key conditions will undoubtedly be the need to close the Transdniestrian problem for accession to the European Union. Perhaps this requirement will be designated as a precondition for opening negotiations between Moldova and all EU member states. The Europeans have already had the Cyprus conflict and will not allow another uncontrolled territory which de jure is in the EU, but de facto is not controlled. Therefore, as the experience of other candidates shows, all applicants are required to settle all possible territorial and political disputes before the negotiation process can begin. As it was with Serbia and Kosovo, as well as Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia. It is also important to understand what Moscow and Tiraspol are up to. Last week, the Transdniestrian leader defiantly complained to the Russian Ambassador about the infringement of the rights of Russian citizens. The Russian ombudsman and the State Duma reacted immediately to Krasnoselsky’s statements and decided to look into the ‘complicated’ situation. That the guilty party will most likely be the ‘anti-Russian’ Chisinau, which is again blocking and interfering with something. Time will show what exactly will follow, but Moscow and Tiraspol are obviously preparing the ground for some kind of joint action. Another interesting fact is that yesterday, meeting with a Russian delegation, the Transdniestrian leader voiced the idea of addressing all 5+2 participants with a proposal to prepare and sign a joint statement on guarantees of peace and security of Transdniestria. Either Tiraspol is trying to catch someone on the insincerity of its commitment to peace, or this move is a prologue to something more serious if this initiative fails. It should also not be excluded that this is the way the Transdniestrian administration wants to coincide with the declaration on the 30th anniversary of the deployment of the Russian military contingent to the conflict zone. Here it will be interesting to see what exactly Chisinau’s reaction to the ‘jubilee’ will be, while the EU is investing in the creation of a modern border security and management center, capable of subsequently acting as an international police mission, which our authorities have been talking about for years. Experts note that the dynamics around the Transdniestrian settlement has increased sharply in recent weeks, and the routine statements about the cooling down of the negotiation process have been replaced by strange visits and statements. Although some contours and figures can be seen through the public rhetoric, so far diplomats have been carefully concealing some points of their work program and do not allow us to see the whole picture. At the same time, we can say with certainty that the two tandems of Brussels-Chisinau and Moscow-Tiraspol are in close working contact and are clearly working on something.  Are they working on referendums on the two banks?