Expert: The Transdniestrian Settlement Is Being Restructured

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Sergiu CEBAN The knot of international players’ interests and positions in the Transdniestrian settlement is gradually tightening, changing the principles of mediation in the negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol The end of last week was characterized by the Transdniestrian settlement. On Friday, amid the annual summit of OSCE Foreign Ministers in Poland, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian met with the Tiraspol negotiator. To the rather standard event this time there was an increased interest which is not so much connected to the settlement, but more to the solution of urgent problems in energy sector. The first results were not very encouraging: the parties traditionally lambasted each other and told the press that they had failed to come to any agreements. “Unfortunately, we have not yet reached solution to any of the problems,” said the representative of Tiraspol, although he announced plans to hold another similar meeting before the end of the year. For his part, Oleg Serebrian spoke about the moderate expectations regarding the prospects of finding a solution to the electricity supply from Transdniestria. According to him, Chisinau proposed five scenarios for resolving the energy issues, which involve the lowest possible price for electricity in order to support citizens and businesses. However, despite the pessimistic tone (perhaps so as not to give great hopes to the intrigued public), the next day we were all told about the intention to sign a contract with the Moldavskaya GRES to purchase electricity in the next month. There are also plans to explore the possibility of extending the contract from January to March, so that, it seems, to pass the winter season without difficulties. Among the main conditions of the next energy compromise is the delivery of the entire volume of gas (5.7 million cubic meters daily) to the left bank and the production of electricity at a price of $73. In addition, according to Andrei Spinu, this volume will ensure the operation of Transdniestrian industrial enterprises, including the steel works in Rybnytsa. At the same time, the right bank will begin to use previously accumulated reserves (about 250 million cubic meters) to cover its needs. This has naturally caused a storm of indignation among our politicians and well-known journalists. From the official explanations, no one could understand why it was then necessary to buy expensive electricity in Romania, in order to eventually return into Moscow's “energy embrace”, and with higher rates as well. Despite the coherent calculation offered by Mr. Spinu, there are still many questions, especially to the logical sequence of actions of the authorities, as a result of which in December already will have to reactivate the strategic reserves and the left bank will receive everything necessary to ensure not only its socio-economic but also political stability. Another apparently forced energy deal between Chisinau, Moscow and Tiraspol will hardly lead to any thaw in this triumvirate. The official rhetoric of the Russian Foreign Ministry is becoming increasingly harsh and accusatory, narrowing the room for reversing the situation. If Moscow still expects at least a minimal change in our position, it looks as if we are acting on principle and irrevocably. Nicu Popescu again reminded the Kremlin of the need to withdraw its troops from the left bank of the Nistru River, and also said that in practical terms, Moldova has already de facto suspended its participation in the CIS. And President Maia Sandu just on the eve of her visit to the USA noted that accession to the European Union is the only way for Moldova’s survival, security and economic development. In addition, we finally got the first explanations to why our authorities do not launch a broad public dialogue on neutrality and the best forms of defending the country. According to Sandu, the internal discussion of joining NATO is hindered by the presence of the Russian military in the Transdniestrian region. Nevertheless, time stands still, and the former peace with its long-standing configurations, as well as the security system in Europe, are falling into history. As we predicted, another meeting of foreign ministers in Łódź, Poland, ended for the first time in 10 years without the traditional declaration on the Transdniestrian settlement. Only a reduced version of the statement by the OSCE Troika that advocated the need to ensure the territorial integrity of our country was adopted. Poland’s reluctance to grant visas to the Russian delegation to come to the annual ministerial council meeting was seen in Moscow as a deliberate destruction of the OSCE and its marginalization. It’s not yet completely clear how Moscow will behave towards the organization and its continued membership, but if such trends continue, it is likely that Russia will leave the OSCE following the Council of Europe. In principle, the abolition of institutions such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was relevant during the Cold War and the transitional post-Soviet period, seems quite logical and inevitable. However, the growing security vacuum against the background of the disappearance of even nominal collective conflict prevention mechanisms is fraught with increasing risks and uncertainty, especially in the space not covered by the North Atlantic alliance. Moscow's withdrawal from the OSCE could significantly untie its hands, including in the Transdniestrian settlement, where it adhered to the general principles for the final resolution of this conflict. The actual incompetence of the 5+2 format and unwillingness of all the other participants to take into account the position and interests of the Kremlin with respect to the Transdniestrian region could turn into a cardinal transformation of Russia's approaches up to non-recognition of Moldova's territorial integrity or recognition, but on terms that would hardly be acceptable to our leadership. While the representatives of Romania and Ukraine hope that a successful completion of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict will accelerate the reintegration of Moldova, we are witnessing the process of restructuring of the Transdniestrian settlement. But so far it is not clear how exactly the new principles of mediation in the dialogue between Chisinau and Tiraspol will take shape. As the saying goes, a sacred place is never empty. Therefore, despite the collapse of the international consensus on the Transdniestrian issue, its predisposition to a relatively rapid and peaceful settlement will continue to awaken interest. Consequently, in the not-so-distant future, a variety of plans may be proposed to our authorities, both by individual countries and by groups of states.