Will They Change the 5+2 Format Numbers?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Synchronous support for the traditional 5+2 format for the Transdniestrian settlement may indicate plans by the West to keep it as the basis for negotiations, but with at least one change in the composition of the participants
Despite the turbulent domestic political events, one of the most pressing topics last week, oddly enough, was the Transdniestrian settlement, which again came to the forefront both because of the visit of OSCE chairman Bujar Osmani and the notorious “law on separatism”. Experts believe that even with the appointment of a new government, we should not expect major changes around the Transdniestrian issue, especially since the post of Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration was retained by Oleg Serebrian. However, taking into account the figure of the new Prime Minister, some changes can be allowed. If we look at the program of Dorin Recean’s cabinet, we can see the following items in the “Reintegration” section: “continuing the dialogue in the 1+1 format and sectoral working groups; intensifying the dialogue with international partners in order to maintain stability and prevent escalation of tensions; strengthening the partnership with civil society; carrying out a consistent policy to restore a unified national space.” It also says “protecting fundamental human rights and freedoms on the left bank of the Dniester, overcoming obstacles to free movement, ensuring adequate conditions for the functioning of schools in the Romanian language, and promoting measures to support national culture in the eastern parts of the country”. Basically, nothing that hadn’t happened before. The only question is the result, and we must let everyone evaluate it for himself after 30 years. Although the government program says nothing about the final solution and other subtleties, in his first public interview, Dorin Recean identified several key policy objectives. According to him, while economic and social integration of citizens from the left bank is important, the demilitarization of the region should be the foundation for everything. Moreover, he argues that the current geopolitical shifts are likely to bring this demilitarization closer. The visit to Moldova by the head of the OSCE, Bujar Osmani, was more peaceful. The impression was that the North Macedonian official at least tried to approach the issue seriously. Besides the intention to revive the negotiation process, Osmani declared his readiness to organize a meeting of the 5+2 format in Skopje, although he was made clear at the meeting in the government that it would be premature to talk about that until the end of the war between Ukraine and Russia. In addition, he was probably the only European diplomat who publicly advised our authorities to assess the impact of the recent amendments to the criminal code on separatism on the Transdniestrian settlement. As has already been said, the authorities are pessimistic about the prospects for broad negotiations on the Transdniestrian problem and intend to focus on a dialogue with the left bank administration without distracting the respectable international partners from the fateful geopolitical battles. This, in fact, was confirmed during Friday’s meeting between the chief negotiators of Chisinau and Tiraspol. Our delegation made it unequivocally clear that for the time being it considers it important to interact at this level with the invitation of other international participants, but it sees no particular point in the “informal consultations” in the 5+2 format proposed by the Transdniestrians. In the assessment of the law on separatism, which has already entered into force, the parties also diverged, as expected. From the point of view of the central authorities, the new norms are not an obstacle to communication between the two banks of the Dniester, therefore Oleg Serebrian expects that the next meeting of the negotiators will traditionally take place in Chisinau. Tiraspol is still concerned that the new provisions of the Criminal Code will primarily apply to Transdniestrian officials. At the end of last year, many experts, including our editorial board, noticed a certain revival in Chisinau regarding the preparation of some “big” documents on the reintegration of the country (strategy and plan). At the same time, statements were made quite openly that the whole settlement process should be transformed in such a way that it would be in Moldova’s interests. It is difficult to understand what exactly has happened since then, but the plans have apparently changed: we no longer hear demands to reconfigure the Transdniestria negotiations with an increased role, at least, of the European Union and Romania. On the contrary, during January and February, the international partners and the OSCE repeatedly spoke in favor of retaining the 5+2. Meanwhile, the program of the new government does not say a word about this format in its current “numerical” form. From which it can be concluded that it may be retained as a basis, but the total number and status of participants is to be reconsidered. Russia apparently feels that the West is changing tactics and flatly refuses to change anything in the existing schemes of settlement. The evidence of Moscow’s growing nervousness is Lavrov’s recent statements that “the Russian capital feels the urge to undermine the role of Russia in the mechanism of talks on the Moldovan-Transdniestrian settlement in the 5+2 format.” Experts have long said that the architecture of future European security, in which Moldova and Ukraine are obviously to be built into, must be formed without the Kremlin getting involved and taking its interests into account. There is no doubt that Russia will resist with all its might attempts to squeeze or weaken its influence in the Transdniestrian settlement, so the next few months should be watched as closely and attentively as possible for the actions of Moscow and Tiraspol.