Transdniestrian Hexagon: Hand of Moscow?

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Dumitru Iordatii
It is obvious that there are influential forces with resources and intentions to shape the negative context around Moldova today. But what are their goals?
Who is behind the protests in Moldova? For sure, many people remember Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, saying that Europe is a “blooming garden” and others living in the “jungle” can invade it, so one must guard this garden. Let’s memorize this pithy quote and move on. Very often, when analyzing developments in our country, I come across opinions suggesting that the current instability is provoked by Russia. The Moldovan leadership also constantly repeats that it is Moscow that is in charge of the months-long protest, which has grown quite massive and grave, in terms of its impact on the republic’s domestic life. Ilan Sor, a member of parliament and head of the self-named party, is most often dubbed the main leader of the opposition, who is allegedly acting at the behest of the Kremlin. The statements of our leaders and the official press releases prompt the overall feeling that Sor is in the Russian capital and runs the street demonstrations from there around the clock. However, the reality, as we know, is quite different. The ex-mayor of Orhei resides peacefully in Israel and regularly contacts his supporters via the internet. That said, it is very difficult to imagine that Russia has any leverage over Israel or Jewish business elites. It is much easier to believe the opposite. Another opposition figure who is often cited in tandem with Sor is Gheorghe Cavcaliuc, former head of the Police Inspectorate General and PACE party founder. The authorities also accuse him of destabilising the situation. One would think that this man is under Russian manual control somewhere in the suburbs of Moscow. But no, Cavcaliuc is safely in London, and the latter cannot be suspected of playing along with the Russian Federation. Nor is it difficult to imagine a scenario in which Moscow can influence a politician who is in a sensitive position inside the UK. Thus, a closer look at the situation reveals a peculiar state of affairs: the opposition leaders, who, according to the authorities, are allegedly funding and steering the “pro-Russian” protest, are safely residing in Western capitals while their names and political positions are well known in the host countries. Streets as a blackmail tool: what for? Another curious thing is the demands of the protesters. Look at what the participants in the “popular protests” are pushing for. Are they calling to replace Maia Sandu with a pro-Russian politician? Luckily, we have contenders for that role. Or the immediate resignation of parliament and the government? Or perhaps someone is urging to imprison corrupt officials linked to the current government? The same Andrei Spinu, who obviously heeded his interests in gas and energy deals. No, the slogans are very simple and far from political ambition. The protesters’ main concern is that the authorities allocate money to pay utility bills of the population. Modest as it is. This is clearly not a political protest with far-reaching goals. In fact, today there are plenty of really big problems that would serve as a much stronger motive for the normal opposition to politically undermine the regime. For example, right now the nation is being robbed of its identity and history, once and for all. Just as its international identity and financial capacities closely tied to external donors have already been stolen. The attempt to liquidate the Moldovan language, which prominent representatives of the ruling party declare as non-existent, is a kind of “final chord”. This is a more than serious cause for the most powerful protests. But there are none of them. Moreover, most of those who take to the streets – pensioners and farmers – do not look like the young confident protesters who achieved their goals in other post-Soviet states. The protests must therefore be seen as an attempt of certain forces clearly linked to Sor and Cavcaliuc to put pressure on the current government. To a certain extent, they are blackmailing President Sandu and her team demanding something in return. It is hardly about handing over political power – other, pragmatic, things are in question. But what are they? Ukrainian war and European integration Let’s continue our analysis. The war factor in Ukraine has mixed up all the cards creating a new reality which our leadership is actively exploiting. Moldova has suddenly become one of the main beneficiaries of the conflict in political terms, a fact that makes its Ukrainian neighbours jealous at times. Moreover, the EU candidate status obtained in advance still does not cover all of Chisinau’s ambitions. On the contrary, there is a desire to speed up even more, and certainly to move towards European integration faster than the warring Ukraine, whose “prospects” are rather dim. The other side of the coin is a completely new reality in terms of regional security. Our territory, in one way or another, is exposed to constant military risk, both direct and indirect. This is particularly evident with regard to the left bank, which recently reported about a series of terrorist attacks against the leadership and residents of the region allegedly prepared by the Security Service of Ukraine. The other day, this news was spiced up with curious details – in fact, the initial target was a representative delegation led by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office which visited Transdniestria in mid-February. Curiously enough, the notorious hexogen, or RDX, is mentioned as an explosive in the investigation of alleged terrorist attacks. A series of apartment blasts in Russia in 1999, involving this very explosive, immediately comes to mind. Just for the sake of interest, I phoned my university friend, now a military expert, to learn that hexogen is a fairly well-known explosive in the professional community used by quite a few countries, and Russia is indeed among them. Tiraspol claims that RDX was shipped from Ukraine via Moldovan territory and that the attack was intended to damage the separatist state and discredit the Russian soldiers and peacekeepers stationed there, as using RDX would immediately suggest a “Russian trail”. However, in my view, an attempt to blow up an OSCE motorcade indicates that the authors of this crime set a far greater goal than simply eliminating any particular Tiraspol official. Let’s assume that the terrorist attack reports are true, that these explosions might indeed have happened and that someone in the OSCE motorcade would have been killed. What would the consequences have been? First of all, the negative buzz around the region, with any further international support no longer possible. There would hardly be many people willing to come to Transdniestria to meet with local figures after that. In fact, this is the path towards the region’s total international isolation. Would that be good for Chisinau? Probably yes, if not for one important nuance. As we know, Chisinau is set to host a very high-profile event in June, a European Political Community summit to bring together the leaders of the continent. Would this summit have taken place in the case of terrorist attacks in Transdniestria, a territory de jure recognized as part of Moldova? Hardly. Would that have shifted the focus from Moldova’s bright European prospects to less pleasant security issues and the need for concerted efforts by special services of friendly states? Quite possibly. This would have steered Moldova off its pro-European course pushing it in a different direction, to put it mildly, bypassing the direct European route. The “European garden” – not for Moldova? And here we return to Borrell’s (by the way, a very controversial and well-known figure in certain circles) landmark phrase about the “European garden”, as its meaning becomes clear in the light of the above, as is the fact that there are influential forces with resources, clear strategic goals and the intention to shape the negative context in which Moldova lives today. And exactly these forces are trying to manipulate the European choice of the country by launching a long-term regime of controlled destabilization, thus preventing it from pursuing this path. Of course, it’s a pity about Maia Sandu, a person with burning, but in a way “wide shut” eyes. She seems to be leading the country to Europe and struggling against “Moscow’s influence”. But at the same time, fugitive oligarchs residing in the west and linked to corrupt structures are organizing protests against her. Then there is Ukraine, which has repeatedly expressed in public its dissatisfaction with Moldova’s European active efforts. And what has now been discovered in Tiraspol is a serious reason to think about who the real customer is and what his motives are. It is clear that Maia Sandu lives in a different world, painted in black & white “ideologised” colours, which clearly defines where the enemy is and where the friends are, where there is truth and perspective and where there are lies and decay. But if we put emotions aside and look at things soberly, does it turn out that Kyiv actively assisted by its partners and supervisors in London and other Western capitals was targeting not so much Transdniestria or even Russia (which a priori is guilty of everything – one more or one less accusation makes no difference), but rather Moldova’s strategic political prospects? Obviously, after such a major terrorist attack, the European partners would have tasked Chisinau to resolve the Transdniestrian conflict as a matter of urgency and priority. And only after that –Welcome to Europe. Reintegration will take a long time and is not an easy process. Both those who live in the ‘blossoming garden’ and Kyiv that is very jealous of our activity on the way to the European ‘garden’ would be happy about that. Let’s look from another angle. Had the terrorist attack proved successful, how would Tiraspol have reacted? It is unlikely that it would have demoralized its elite enough to crash the entire political regime on the left bank. Moscow would have clearly increased its support for the region. The incident would not only have spurred separatist sentiment – it would also have been an occasion to further militarize the area. This, again, would have posed problems for Moldova’s European aspirations. After all, we have repeatedly heard statements that our country has no European perspective until the Transdniestrian conflict is resolved. And fueling tensions is about amplifying, not removing, this obstacle. Hence, our leadership should be very careful and cautious if it really wants to keep the situation under control. For if the influential forces have failed to ignite a fire in Transdniestria, could it be that the next “hexogen” will explode right in Chisinau?