The negotiation process between Moldova and rebellious Transdniestria in the classical sense of the last twenty years is de facto ruined. The authorities, through the scandalous law on separatism, are preparing to restart it under new circumstances, in a new format and from a position of power
The drafting and adoption by Parliament of a bill to amend the Criminal Code by introducing eight new articles at once, including “separatism” and “conspiracy against Moldova”, has badly stirred up the relations between the two banks of the Dniester. Formally, Maia Sandu’s signature is still needed for this law to enter into force – but no one doubts that it will appear. This is also confirmed by the assessments of the authorities. Deputy Speaker and Head of the Parliamentary Commission for the Transdniestrian Settlement Mihai Popşoi considers it an “indisputable fact” that the law was needed. Alexandru Flenchea, Advisor to the Prime Minister for Reintegration, sees the law as a reality that will have to be dealt with.
All pro-government NGOs have unanimously commented on the innovations, mostly in a positive complimentary manner. Consequently, the amendments themselves were either fully supported or (which is very likely) inspired by their donors and patrons from Western embassies.
It is hard to imagine such unanimity on the highly resonant topic of separatism without the signal from the USA, Romania or the EU – the main partners of the current authorities and the non-governmental sector. Especially if we remember that similar attempts to legislate the “Transdniestrian witch hunt”, and in more delicate versions, had already been made, first of all by the Liberal Party, but were not supported. At that time, it was the 5+2 participants who cooled down the “hotheads” by demanding that the negotiation methods and “small steps” tactics be given a chance.
This time, the intervention of mediators and observers did not take place, despite repeated calls for them by the de facto authorities in Tiraspol. The parliamentary opposition simply ignored the amendments, apparently fearing accusations of complicity with separatism. The socialists and communists pretend to be sure that the PAS is bankrupt in all respects, including the Transdniestrian settlement, and decided simply not to disturb the ruling party, hoping for revenge in the next parliamentary elections. Although, in truth, it is more about disorganization, ideological confusion, political impotence and fear, above all, before the Western patrons of the ruling regime.
The issue of the president signing the law is therefore of a purely technical nature, especially given the personal views of Maia Sandu, who is ready to confront the separatists with maximum enthusiasm. There is a clear understanding of the timing – the signing and entry into force of the amendments (the Information and Security Service has separately asked for the possibility to apply the law immediately from the date of its signing) will take place as early as next week. In the meantime, the next meeting between the political representatives of Chisinau and Tiraspol is scheduled for February 17. Apparently, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian expects to arrive at these talks already in the new legal reality.
The same refers to the informal contacts of the parties that are used to resolve the issues of Russian gas and electricity supplies. It is unlikely that in such dialogues Andrei Spinu or any other Moldovan decision makers would dare to use criminal “arguments”. Although refusal to supply electricity to the right bank at the prices and volumes favourable to Chisinau can always be qualified as a conspiracy provided that there are certain instructions to escalate the conflict.
The biggest intrigue is how the Tiraspol negotiator's office will behave during and after the February 17 meeting. Vitaly Ignatiev’s name was mentioned several times in the discussions during the adoption of the amendments. The Tiraspol delegation may well refuse to hold meetings in Chisinau or stage another kind of demarche. Yesterday, the local supreme council sent its statement to international representatives, placing all “responsibility for a possible escalation of tensions and destabilization of the regional security system” on the central authorities. Tiraspol has already referred to the new law as “an act of aggression”.
The opinion promoted by the Transdniestrian administration about the harmful effect of the Criminal Code amendments on the negotiation process is confirmed by government representatives themselves, although their language is markedly softer. Thus, Mihai Popşoi suggests that there may be difficulties in the negotiations and that “Tiraspol representatives feel anxious”. Alexandru Flenchea also suggests that the amendments will not benefit the negotiation process, but he does not expect significant harm either.
Enforcement will probably be the key issue in the near future: either the law will be swept under the rug, or there will be several subpoenas to intimidate the Transdniestrian political elite, or mass arrests will follow with no regard to legal technicalities. Whether authorities have a specific action plan on this issue is not yet clear. The same Mihai Popşoi evasively shifts the responsibility to the judiciary and the judicial system and the government has made similar statements.
However, the point may be that the amendments to the penal code are only part of a new strategy for the Transdniestrian settlement, backed and shaped together with Western curators. A strategy that suggests a refusal to negotiate on equal terms, within traditional formats, and to ignore Moscow’s opinion, which, according to the collective idea of Kyiv, Chisinau and the West, should lose out in Ukraine. PAS deputy Oazu Nantoi confirmed yesterday that such consultations with certain experts are indeed underway. This approach will inevitably imply the shaking of the region’s economy, and ultimatum offers to its elites to accept new rules of the game or be liquidated.
Maia Sandu and the government are raising the stakes, seeking to smash Transdniestria with criminal and economic tools. A proposal has been put forward to Moscow and Tiraspol – to respond or to accept. In the near future, it may take the most concrete shape.
Most likely, the incumbent authorities are confident that the Kremlin is unable to produce a proportional response and so they will wait for certainty in Ukrainian events, keeping their cudgel on hand. Whether this risky bet will work, future will show. Perhaps, they will have to explain to Moscow that their actions were taken wrong or that in general they were hasty and ill-conceived. Maia Sandu, like some of her ideological inspirers, does not really care, as she can always go back to Western countries after her mandate is over, or even earlier. Yet, sometimes even the most respectable pioneers of the militarist policy can be held accountable fifteen years later, and Mikhail Saakashvili’s unenviable fate is a vivid example of that.