The Regions’ Revolt Brewing in Moldova?

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Sergiu CEBAN
The authorities are struggling to build relationships with the troubled regions, which only strengthens the destructive processes in the country.
The country’s socio-political life of the last week has been marked by contradictions between the center and the regions, which have been causing a lot of problems lately. It is now more important than ever for the official authorities to demonstrate their power and influence to both internal and external audiences, especially in the face of a serious decline in popularity and growing discontent in society. The turmoil inside the country coexists with difficulties in communicating with some traditional geopolitical players. We are talking, of course, about Russia, whose Foreign Minister said the other day that Moscow is “carefully monitoring the situation in Moldova and will do everything so that the interests of the Russian-speaking population are not affected”. In addition, as Sergey Lavrov explained, the Gagauz autonomy, as it turns out, also claims a special status, basically, just like the left bank of the Dniester. He did not do without bleak warnings as well: he stressed that Moscow will consider any action threatening the security of the Russian soldiers in the Transdniestrian region as an attack on the Russian Federation. This statement naturally did not go unnoticed by our leadership: a representative of the Russian embassy in Chisinau was summoned to the MFAEI to present explanations about Lavrov’s harsh statements. He was also given the official position of the Moldovan authorities. The MFAEI reiterated its commitment to “a peaceful dialogue for the country’s reintegration and the withdrawal of Russian troops illegally present on Moldovan territory”. Despite such a disturbing background, we must admit that last week the authorities seemed to have successfully skipped another curve and extended the status quo with Tiraspol. The proof is the electric power contract signed for September and the extension of several negotiation agreements. This is why we hope that the relations with the Transdniestrian administration will be more or less stable in the next month. Still, Tiraspol, most likely encouraged by Moscow, keeps sending letters and calling Maia Sandu for a “sparring dialogue”. It is difficult to understand the insistence that the Kremlin is now trying to restart a Transdniestrian settlement. Perhaps there are hopes to involve the West in negotiations in order to open the so-called “Moldovan issue” and thus reduce the military tension around the left bank. For now, Moscow’s nervousness is growing, especially amidst such “innuendoes” as retired U.S. General Ben Hodges’ comment that “it might be time for Ukraine and Moldova to resolve the Transdniestrian issue”. If we put aside all speculations, the best solution so far seems to be a tactical freezing of international negotiations on the status of the Dniester’s left bank, at least until the moment when the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis becomes more or less clear. If the dialogue with Tiraspol and the trip to Balti were not entirely fruitless, the relations with Comrat remain strained. The exemplary deployment of the MIA special units and the president’s announced trip to the autonomy were supposed to extinguish the flames of discontent in the region. However, Sandu’s visit to Gagauzia somehow failed from the beginning, especially after it became known that her program didn’t include a meeting with the mayor. Her visit’s neutrality and her comforting speech in Russian at the university did not have the desired effect, so she failed to prove herself as an experienced arbiter able to reconcile the internal rift between Chisinau and Comrat. On the contrary, things ended in a scandal with local deputies, as a result of which the president retreated to the capital empty-handed. Many accuse Sandu of lacking real solutions to the problems, in the discussion of which she often stops with general expressions about “solidarity”. Some experts blame the failed visit on the advisors who were unable to calculate all the risks. But the main conclusion to be drawn is that the central leadership finds it difficult to establish relations with the troubled regions, let alone find any lasting solutions. Instead of taking a time-out, not giving reasons for extra resonance and reflecting upon current events, our politicians, have decided to compete to see who would work best to escalate the situation. Oleg Serebrian, for example, stated that the Gagauz autonomy is functional and Gagauzia does not have the right to separate, enjoying many prerogatives stipulated by the current legislation. The ruling party deputy Vasile Şoimaru echoed him, saying that Comrat should not dictate anything to all of Moldova, and Transdniestria, in his opinion, could even be ceded to Ukraine in exchange for the historical Bessarabia and Bukovina. One of the key organizers of the president’s Gagauzian promenade and “tamer of the Comrat rebels” Vladislav Kulminski also spoke with quite bold predictions that the Transdniestrian problem will most likely be solved in the next year. According to him, the reserve of historical time for Moldova’s internal conflicts has ended, so Chisinau must prepare for big challenges and solve serious problems. What we can partly agree with is that there are indeed a lot of big trials and another turning point in the fate of the Moldovan statehood. History has repeatedly shown that it is major military-political cataclysms that set state borders in motion and heat up frozen territorial disputes and ethnic-national/confessional conflicts to the necessary degrees. No doubt, after the end of hostilities in Ukraine, the pan-European security system will face a complex reassembly and reconfiguration, which may well start with individual sub-regional territories. However, the predictions and possible challenges are not as scary as the state of our ruling political class and its unwillingness to seek compromise with regional elites. This will only logically lead to a strengthening of the country’s destabilizing forces. The president’s heated debate with the Gagauz delegates is a typical example of the Moldovan leadership’s desire to show its political superiority, once again occupying the head of the capital’s politicians. Such a self-perception dealt a painful blow at the dawn of Moldova’s development, which we cannot recover from to this day. It remains to be seen what our establishment is preparing for: to prevent another blow, or to try to withstand it.