Zero-Sum Game in the Transnistrian Settlement

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Sergiu CEBAN
Both the parties to the conflict and the concerned international figures are now busy strengthening their positions and opportunities at the expense of their rival. The goal is to get a “golden share” on the eve of the decisive moment in the Transnistrian settlement
Despite the fact that they try to put the Transnistrian issue aside and make it less visible for the society and mass media, it still remains quite acute. There is absolutely no talk about any freezing, on the contrary: there are indicators that if not the settlement itself, but the negotiation process built around it will be replaced or improved. The past week was quite eventful in this sense, and the events that took place help to understand more or less where the relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol are heading. In general, specialists and all concerned people has long known the pack of contradictions between the two banks of the Dniester. The chance that it will continue to grow rather than shrink is, alas, quite high. For instance, last week the so-called working groups in the field of health care met, but without much result. Some may worry that the sides cannot find a way to meet even on minor humanitarian issues. But this in principle reflects the general negotiations background when there is almost no space for compromise between the two sides, and international actors who could force one side or the other to compromise are not up to that right now. In the meantime, the issue of car insurance seems to be a new point of tension, after the central authorities decided to bring Transnistrian drivers with no Moldovan insurance to administrative responsibility. Tiraspol has so far avoided making loud statements, but this situation is sure to continue and will most likely lead to another exacerbation. It is not only the left bank that has reasons for discontent. Ahead of the new European football season, UEFA suddenly announced that after consultations with the “local authorities” and after receiving written security guarantees from them, it had been decided to allow the football club Sheriff to play European competitions in Tiraspol. International matches back to the Tiraspol stadium provoked a wave of indignation from the government, which either did not want such a decision or was jealous of direct contacts of Transnistrian businessmen with the Union of European Football Associations. Most likely, it is a sign that henceforth the level of Chisinau’s sensitivity with regard to everything that concerns the external manifestation of the region will be much higher, and such reactions will be more frequent and acute. The recent dialogue between the Russian Ombudsman and his Transnistrian “counterpart”, which expectedly addressed the topic of human rights violations against Russian citizens by Moldova, was no less vexing. In response, the Moldovan ombudsman urged the Russian human rights ombudsman not to get involved in activities that undermine the security and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova. The fact that the topic of human rights was again voiced, including by representatives of Tiraspol on international platforms (UN), probably indicates the willingness of Russian human rights defenders to “join the struggle” after our authorities sooner or later reduce the staff of the Russian embassy in Chisinau. The inability to provide consular services to Russian citizens on both the right and left banks of the Dniester will come as a side effect. Moscow, of course, will take it painfully, but after a few days of violent indignation the Russians will have to come to terms with the new reality, since they have no means to prevent it. Of course, Chisinau would like to focus more on European integration and not to be distracted by the Transnistrian issue, solution of which, if seriously addressed, would require a lot of actions and intellectual resources. That is why foreign minister Nicu Popescu says that the best option would be to join the European Union together with the separatist region, but if the reintegration process cannot be completed at the time of accession to the EU, only the territory under Chisinau’s control will be included in the Union. It seems that the country’s leaders have hooked on the words of Josep Borrell that the Transnistrian settlement is not a fundamental requirement of Brussels in the process of European integration. Apparently, the authorities now intend to deal with the left bank only half-heartedly, expecting that Tiraspol will jump into Chisinau’s embrace as it gains European integration speed. Presumably for the same reason, “profile experts” have been recently active in throwing various analytical materials to the public about the applicability of the Cyprus case to Moldova in the conditions of insurmountable contradictions with the left bank. With such uncertainty at the very core of the conflict, no one takes much risk in predicting what the new negotiating structure will look like. Especially when Moscow tries to put pressure on the OSCE, setting deliberately unrealistic tasks before it to convene a meeting in the 5+2 format and threatening to close the organization’s Moldovan office. Judging by the nature of the current relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, no one can say that they are capable of making any breakthrough and that international mediators can help them. Rather, each of the participants in the process wants to strengthen its position, role and capacities in order to have a key influence on the negotiations, especially if the decisive moment of settlement comes. It is quite logical that Moscow’s actions against the OSCE mission were immediately reciprocated by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which adopted a resolution with a call to transform the trilateral military-peacekeeping operation into a multilateral civilian mission with a respective international mandate. In this way, the West seems to be sending a message to Moscow that it, too, should not rely on the status quo in the matter of its military presence in the region, and that its position will sooner or later be weakened. So far, our country is still closely following the external developments and does not dare to take any drastic steps. By the way, last week a new commander of the Moldovan contingent of peacekeeping forces in the security zone was appointed - a colonel who previously served as Moldova’s military attaché in the USA and Canada. However, no matter how inert some events may seem, the current state of affairs in the Transnistrian settlement resembles a zero-sum game in which both Chisinau and Tiraspol, as well as international players, seek to get stronger at the expense of their rival. In the end, all this struggle over diplomatic décor will, one way or another, reshape the old negotiating space, thus defining the final outcome of the conflict.