Judging by the recent promises, the current government has in mind the scenario of depriving Gagauzia of its autonomous status and reintegrating Transdniestria as an ordinary region. Thus, Moldova may well become fully unitary – but how would it affect the country’s future?
As it is known, our state has several “birth traumas” at once, which tend to constantly reappear. I am referring to the tragic conflict of 1992, which finally formalized the withdrawal of the left-bank territories from Moldova, as well as the short existence of the independent Gagauz Republic in the first half of the nineties. The latter case, fortunately, was resolved peacefully, but these events still left a mark on the further relations between the center and the autonomy.
Over the past decades, many things have happened in the Chisinau-Komrat and Chisinau-Tiraspol relations: there have been relatively calm periods, and there have been tough confrontations. Now the situation is special, because such a combination of unique factors has not yet been observed in the history of the country. The first is the presence at the helm of a pro-Western monoparty, which enjoys full legitimacy in the West. The second one is the strong regional instability due to the war in Ukraine, which is considered by the authorities as a direct threat to Moldova’s security and sovereignty. Both of these factors to a certain extent untie the hands of the ruling party in domestic politics, including relations with the rebellious regions.
It must be said that the PAS has not been able to establish a dialogue with Gagauzia practically from the beginning. Probably as revenge for the disappointing results of Maia Sandu and her team in the elections of 2020-2021, its problems were left almost without the attention of the new leadership of the country. The evident course to sever all ties with Russia only added fuel to the fire, because not only are pro-Russian sentiments still strong in the region, but there is also a certain political influence of Moscow. Especially memorable is the unrest after the ban on the use of St. George ribbons in Moldova.
However, the main root of the problems is buried in the distribution of powers, where Comrat has long felt disadvantaged. It is known that Gagauzia’s autonomous status in the late 90’s – early 00’s largely turned into a fiction. The famous “Gagauzian bills”, designed to improve the situation, were not without cynicism altered by the center, and then completely shelved.
As a result, the problems with the political status of the autonomy have not been resolved to this day. PAG has recently issued a statement accusing the central authorities of numerous violations of the main law on Gagauzia. A delegation of Gagauz deputies has also met the US ambassador to Moldova, complaining about the pressure from Chisinau, refusal of representation in the national parliament, etc. Mr. Logsdon was even asked to use the embassy’s influence on the government to solve these problems.
However, the PAS prefers to make no bones about the Gagauz people. A timid attempt to build bridges in the form of Maia Sandu’s visit to the autonomy ended in a total failure, after which the Center only plays the “bad cop” part. Fulger special forces began to visit Gagauzia regularly, allegedly for trainings (which were not announced in advance), but in fact – to intimidate particularly stubborn local activists. The upcoming amendments to the Criminal Code, which will introduce penalties for “separatism”, etc., are perceived in the same way.
At the same time, through radical speakers such as Oazu Nantoi and Octavian Ticu, the threat to deprive Gagauzia of its autonomy has been voiced. They promote the ideas that the Gagauz don’t use their status “properly” (to develop their own culture and language), but turn it into an outpost of Russian influence in Moldova. And in general, the land where the Gagauzians live was given to them by the Moldovans (and, therefore, the gift can be taken back).
So far, these talks are presented as a personal opinion of certain individuals, but to me it is an obvious trick in order to monitor the reaction of the society. I have almost no doubt that depriving Gagauzia of the autonomous status is a workable scenario for the ruling party, which, taking advantage of the current situation in Moldova, could implement it without much fuss and thus finally get rid of a federalist element in the unitary state.
As for Transdniestria, things are a bit more complicated. As with Gagauzia, the ruling party had no relations with the left bank. Maia Sandu immediately refrained from any contact with the Tiraspol administration, and the reintegration process was entirely at the mercy of the relevant government bureau. It progressed in approximately the same way as in all recent years – that is, it practically did not. After the start of the war in Ukraine, the negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol are almost non-existent. The authorities simply see no point in them, publicly stating that they are waiting for Kyiv’s victory to reunify the country.
Here again, the country’s leadership has unique chances – first of all, to take the Russian Federation out of the settlement process, which is the only major player sympathetic to Tiraspol, and to eliminate the previous negotiation formats, where Transdniestria participated on an equal basis. Which in the future will make it possible to resolve the issue directly with the actors interested in and supportive of Chisinau – the US, the EU, the UK and Romania.
With such state of affairs, the authorities are dreaming of more, and so, as a kind of underground, the idea is proposed again that the left bank should return to Moldova as an ordinary region. This undermines the “sacred cow” of the whole settlement – namely, the “special status of Transdniestria”. After all, along with the “territorial integrity of Moldova”, it was the cornerstone of the general resolution formula of the Transdniestrian conflict supported (at least, verbally) by all international players over the past decades.
Everything for the Sake of Unirea?
As we can see, reaching full “unitarity” is very much on the minds of many representatives of the ruling party. One must understand that this is quite a risky undertaking. For example, we can easily predict a socio-political explosion in Gagauzia. It will surely be backed from outside – for example, by Turkey, relations with which will significantly deteriorate. And even if the rebellion is suppressed, the region will become a lasting source of instability that will impede the center in any way it can.
In terms of Transdniestria, such, so to speak, unattractive proposals from Chisinau can hardly facilitate a peaceful path of reintegration which the current government seems to follow. On the contrary, such an ultimatum will only force the left-bank administration to hold on to independence to the bitter end, up to the readiness to defend it militarily. Russia’s negative response is also inevitable, although the ruling party seems to be hopeful that by the time the country is finally reintegrated, Moscow will no longer be able to influence the situation in any way.
That the central government is willing to gain more control over the regions is quite clear and logical – there is never too much power. Another thing is that the dream of absorbing and assimilating two very specific regions into the country may turn out to be utopian, and will only create new problems and further internal tension. However, all the current actions make sense if their final intention is in fact to become part of Romania (there are more and more clues to that with each passing day). After all, the neighboring country also has a unitary system and, as the experience of the same Szeklerland (Ro: Ținutul Secuiesc) shows, it is not going to mess with autonomies, especially Moldova ones.