Problems and Prospects of the Kyiv-Chisinau Axis

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Sergiu CEBAN
Moldovan-Ukrainian relations have always been a rollercoaster, and now it has all the more potential, as well as challenging problems
Relations between Moldova and Ukraine are experiencing a particular phase, which is difficult to clearly define as good or bad. But with a certain degree of certainty we can say that this is a stage of mutually beneficial strategic closeness, the end of which is still difficult to predict. Nevertheless, the dialogue between the countries is quite stable, and new issues keep popping up. This is confirmed by the results of the recent meeting between President Maia Sandu and Ukrainian Ambassador Mark Shevchenko, which allegedly focused on the relations between the two countries, as well as on military operations and common security challenges. In this case, the stingy press release should not mislead: rather, the two capitals do not want to divulge too much, but they certainly have a lot to discuss. Moreover, the topic of military assistance requires maximum caution and measured publication, especially in view of the Kremlin’s nervous reaction. Nevertheless, the Defense Minister once again openly declared our military department’s readiness to send a group of de-miners to clear Ukrainian territories. The contribution is admittedly modest, but it will surely come in handy after the end of hostilities. In mid-July, Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Oleg Serebrian also met with Mark Shevchenko to talk about Chisinau-Tiraspol relations. Then we also agreed to receive Ukraine’s special representative for the Transdniestrian settlement Yuri Klimenko, especially after the OSCE and Russian delegations had visited Moldova one by one. Experts doubted that Kyiv still had any diplomatic interest in the Transdniestrian conflict, but Klimenko came to our country the other day. The meager media reports that “the interlocutors discussed the latest developments in the negotiation process and the difficult regional situation” most likely conceal a much more substantive conversation and “coordination of stances” between our representatives. Which should come as no surprise: it would be strange if, in the face of ever-growing risks, we were to ignore the possibility to directly communicate on major issues and closely coordinate our actions. It is no coincidence that Oleg Serebrian, on the eve of his Ukrainian colleague’s visit, made several loud supportive claims (towards Kyiv) that the wave of fake reports about mines, Transnistrian officials’ statements of their desire to “reunite with Russia”, and the rocking of the situation in Gagauzia could be a prelude to Moscow’s military operation. Of course, such messages should be seen as a desire to have closer cooperation and to combine efforts to neutralize common threats. However, while Moscow, at the level of deputy chairman of the Security Council, is busy with mapping Ukrainian territories and an offensive to Transdniestria, just the other day, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych spoke in a completely different vein. According to him, Kyiv does not allow any prospect of “frozen conflicts”, especially on its territory, and categorically excludes the occupation of the Mykolaiv and Odesa regions by Russian troops, as well as their further advance towards the Transdniestrian region. Of course, there are also sharp corners in relations with Ukraine. The words of new Minister of Agriculture and Food Industry Vladimir Bolea confirm this. He admitted that the acute fuel shortage in the country has forced the Ukrainian oil traders to buy almost all Moldovan transport companies, which actually triggered the fuel crisis in Moldova just before the harvest and the new sowing season. Such reaction of the minister may be due to the fact that although Ukraine has mastered quite well Moldovan transport corridors for export of its agricultural production, we continue to hear different accusations. In particular, the Moldovan Railways was criticized for allegedly failing to cope with the flow due to the new locomotive traction, which resulted in a huge blockage of 90 barges on the Danube. Even though some Moldovan companies took advantage of the situation in Ukraine and significantly increased the volume of end product exports by processing Ukrainian raw materials, agricultural producers complain that Ukrainian traders have actually bankrupted many farms because of the serious drop in grain export prices. Meanwhile, Parliament Speaker Igor Grosu on the contrary believes that Ukraine, being in a very difficult situation, still remains in solidarity with Moldova and continues to help. We are talking about selling 30% of the electricity our country needs at prices much lower than in other countries. This is rather dubious, especially in view of the situation around the Zaporizhzhia NPP, which could lead to a significant drop in Ukraine’s generating capacity and the need to redistribute it in the domestic market. The Moldovan-Ukrainian relations have always been a rollercoaster, and now it is more important than ever to maintain a constant direct dialogue. Our authorities have a lot to think about together, to calculate the possible scenarios of how things may unfold in the coming autumn, which promises to be far from easy in terms of energy. The visit of the Ukrainian representative to the Transdniestrian settlement at this very moment also does not seem routine. The very fact of his visit shows that the attention to the Transdniestrian region remains high, and also confirms that the sides are still willing to keep the Transdniestrian issue in the diplomatic plane. Perhaps even the 5+2 format has a chance for some revival. By the way, Oleg Serebrian is quite clear that if there is a proposal from the Ukrainian side about to resolve the problem by force, it will be rejected. In the current circumstances, such an unambiguous signal from our authorities can only be evaluated positively.