The Transnistrian settlement has actually been paused. The party of power does not want to take advantage of the current extremely favorable situation and is waiting for the outcome of the conflict in Ukraine for comprehensive reintegration of the country on own terms. But this is a risky strategy with bunch of unknowns.
Recently, Secretary of Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov expressed dissatisfaction that the reintegration plan being developed by Chisinau is designed for 7 years, and urged to deal with the Transnistrian issue as soon as possible. It is obvious that Kyiv, noting the Russian echeloned defense in the Kherson and Zaporozhye directions, is aware that the success of the counteroffensive coming in the second half of spring is not guaranteed. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who recently asked journalists not to perceive the planned actions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as a decisive moment of the war, speaks about the same.
To improve own chances, it is vital for Kyiv to create problems for Russia in remote seats of war, especially in Moldova, preferably in accordance with international standards. That is, with our hands and the hands of those who is going to voluntarily help us (this can be either the Romanian special forces and mercenaries from NATO countries, or the Ukrainian task force, but as part of a “joint operation”). Our ruling regime is well aware of the Ukrainian military strategic needs and is ready to help it in every possible way, ignoring any inconvenient moments, even such as terrorist attacks on the left bank territory (if they were really planned by the Security Service of Ukraine).
At the same time, no one intends to conduct a police operation in Transnistria. As if in response to Oleksiy Danilov, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian again rejected the possibility of such measures, pointing out that the concept of reintegration is already being developed, moreover, without haste and in consultations with strategic partners. At the same time, he admits that now is not the right time to unveil large-scale settlement plans. The OSCE also believes that now it is necessary to look for ways to bring the talks out of the “stagnation”.
Such an uncomplimentary assessment is understandable. The 5+2 Format has practically not been operating for several years (obviously, the desire of the authorities to either replace or modify it, strengthening the role of the US and the EU, which are just only observers with a limited range of rights and powers). Maia Sandu fiercely rejects proposals to meet with the Transnistrian leader Vadim Krasnoselsky, who had frequent meetings with Igor Dodon. During the premiership of Natalia Gavrilita, informal contacts were reported between Krasnoselsky and Dorin Recean, but no more, of course. Actually, only negotiators and WG experts from the two banks still meet, but they do not show any results. The agreements of recent years in most cases only look good on paper.
Eventually, Oleg Serebrian summed up the current vision of the settlement, subdividing it into topics leading to reintegration and disintegration. He suggested waiting and doing nothing, if the issue does not contribute to reintegration. Following this logic, the central authorities look inconsistent, because then it is not very clear why they signed any documents, which, as it is now stated, do not lead to the unification of the country. In addition, if you look impartially, the same agreements on telecommunications, VROs or opening of the Bicioc bridge do not look like something condoning Transnistrian separatism. On the contrary, they unite two banks physically, economically and symbolically.
The situation in the Transnistrian settlement was additionally aggravated by amendments to the Criminal Code, which, according to Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu, should help return Transnistria. They provoked a predictably angry reaction of Tiraspol, which was fully supported by Moscow. And the OSCE does not hide its concern that the law on separatism may become an obstacle to the negotiation process.
In general, as we can see, the trajectory of the Transnistrian settlement today is as uncertain as possible. There is no timetable, no ready-made plans or clear proposals from any of the parties or international mediators. Just a set of mutual accusations of blockades, human rights violations and warnings about the coming aggravation of the situation, accompanied by a dissolving package of agreements of past years and the most difficult negotiations on energy supply.
Some experts link the prospects for the situation normalization with a more active role of the OSCE, whose field mission in Moldova was recently headed by US diplomat Kelly Keiderling. Though, she almost immediately ran into a serious problem: Russia refused to renew the mission’s mandate for twelve months, so for now it is valid until July 1. Permanent representatives of the United States and Russia to the OSCE have already come with an inspection, having listened to the opinions of both Chisinau and Tiraspol. It is possible that in this case the regional administration is playing along with Moscow. Russia does not need a second front in Moldova, Transnistria also highly values its physical security and declares a peaceful frame of mind. The regional authorities have extended the agreement on farmland in the Dubasari District, which is extremely important for Chisinau, but only until July 1, hinting the term for at least partial normalization of the situation in the negotiations.
Despite this, the authorities do not want to have unnecessary deals with the left bank and are in an alarmingly optimistic expectation. Obviously, they do not offer a settlement formula or any logic of the negotiation process, because they are simply waiting for the outcome of the Ukrainian crisis. Moreover, even the understanding that membership in the European Union is impossible without the resolution of the conflict does not make anyone stir. The bet is on the success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive actions, the weakening of Russia and the final blockade of the enclave, which, under the threat of military intervention, can be presented with any ultimatum. The government, in a sense, stakes everything. The replacement of Natalia Gavrilita, who simply ignored the Transnistrian dossier, with Dorin Recean, who met with representatives of local elites and is tuned in to a power scenario, confirms this opinion. In the meantime, the government is trying in every possible way to weaken the region, not only economically, but also in terms of security.
The party of power apparently believes that it can outwit everyone, and that its actions are not defined by the expression “win or bust”. So, if Transnistria does not capitulate, and Russia suddenly strengthens on the remnants of the disintegrated Ukraine, then Moldova could always have time to unite with Romania. Such forwarding was actively done by our politicians on the ordinary anniversary of the Unirea (Unification). And if the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation continues without a preponderance of any party, it will be possible to continue slowly poring over “reintegration plans”. The calculation is tricky, but there is no guarantee that it will work. After all, now there are unique chances, since the positions of Tiraspol are most unfavorable, the region is weakened, and all the participants in the settlement, including Russia, support the territorial integrity of Moldova. By ignoring such opportunities now, you can easily outsmart yourself and get left in the future.