In Whose Interests Is It to Open a “Second Front” in Transdniestria?

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Cristian RUSSU
The major regional and international players now seem to be trying to reach a consensus on Moldova’s future role in the conflict between the West and Russia
During the last week the situation around Moldova has markedly aggravated. On the one hand, we managed to get to the top of the world news and win the highest attention of the West, something that has always been one of the cherished goals of our political leadership. On the other hand, such attention amid the growing geopolitical conflict between Russia and the West threatens Moldova with disastrous consequences, since it inevitably entails active participation in this confrontation. Apparently, the only questions left are about the form of our involvement: whether we will have to agree to open a “second front” in Transdniestria, or we will manage to limit ourselves to just another series of anti-Russian political demarches. There is a feeling that the main regional and international players are now trying to reach a consensus on the future role of Moldova in countering Russia. The ongoing fighting in Ukraine, which many say has a “meat grinder” intensity, is demanding more and more resources. The authorities of the neighboring country have apparently requested the NATO countries’ approval for an operation in eastern Moldova to seize military assets at the Cobasna warehouses and to demonstrate frontline success to the population and partners. Probably, the final decision on this issue was not reached in Warsaw, and Maia Sandu left today for Romania for further consultations. Although in the Polish capital Romanian President Klaus Iohannis reiterated his country’s readiness to help Moldova in any scenario, no matter how the geopolitical situation develops, it seems that our neighbors across the Prut are not particularly happy about Ukraine’s plans for any military campaign on our territory. The Romanian leader bluntly said that he sees “no practical evidence of Russia’s plans to destabilize Moldova” and expressed his disapproval of the actions aimed at instilling fear and tension in the Moldovan society. It is interesting that Klaus Iohannis even had to explain that the cancellation of Vladimir Putin’s 2012 decree on Russia’s foreign policy priorities, including those in the Moldovan direction, had no direct consequences for our country. In general, it should be acknowledged that Bucharest has no interest in reinforcing Ukraine in any format. The scandal around the deepening of the Bystre Canal in the Danube delta proves that. Romania, as the main beneficiary of Moldova’s European integration, however paradoxical it might sound, benefits from maintaining the status quo, which in reality leads to systematic integration of our country, including the left bank, into the common Romanian space. Ukraine’s invasion of Transdniestria would have long-term consequences for this territory and would negate Bucharest’s long-standing efforts aimed at soft expansion in Moldova. Moreover, it could be seen as an attempt to draw Romania into military action, which Kyiv previously undertook against Warsaw. Moreover, because of the West’s policy of loyalty to Ukraine, Bucharest already suffers tangible costs. Take the Romanian farmers and their failure to sell grain throughout the year due to the dumping of Ukrainian suppliers, who exported grain and oil-bearing crops without any quarantine control. The warehouses full of grain and empty bank accounts are already prompting the neighboring state to ask the European Commission for help in preventing the disruption of the sowing campaign. Our authorities, in the meantime, signal that they are more likely to follow the predictable scenario of ousting the Russian presence from Moldova by political means. For instance, the MFAEI head Nicu Popescu recently stated that Moldova starts the process of withdrawal from several dozens of CIS agreements within the framework of European integration. In the same vein we can consider the statements by Prime Minister Dorin Recean about the importance of demilitarizing Transdniestria by executing the 1999 Istanbul Accords as a condition for resolving the Transdniestrian conflict. Obviously, it is impossible to remove or dispose the ammunition from Cobasna during the hostilities in Ukraine, which means that this process will be possible after the war is over. All journalistic attempts to promote the topic of a possible Russian invasion of Moldova, initiated by Volodymyr Zelensky, are quashed by the foreign minister and the new premier who cite the lack of novelty in these risks and Moldova’s readiness for them. The ISS behaves similarly, and on February 23 it reported on having successfully prevented the attempted destabilization of the country by Moldovan citizens and “another state”. At the same time, it is doubtful that Kyiv authorities will so easily give up their plans to play the Transdniestrian card. There have been too many signals and statements from Ukrainian representatives in recent days about an almost inevitable scenario in which it would be necessary to counter some kind of action by the Russian military in Transdniestria. The Russian Defense Ministry’s statement this morning about possible provocations on Moldova’s eastern border involving Ukrainian soldiers wearing Russian uniforms further added to the anxiety. Despite the fact that our authorities denied this information and called for calm, the residue definitely remained. One thing is clear – the coming days, weeks and months will be extremely disturbing for Moldova and will require restraint and utmost concentration from our leadership.