A Challenging Task for the OSCE in Moldova

Home / Analytics / A Challenging Task for the OSCE in Moldova
Sergiu CEBAN
The Organization has almost no time to keep the Transnistrian settlement within the framework of the still existing negotiation format
In July, Russia agreed to extend the mandate of the OSCE Mission to Moldova for another six months only on the condition that this year the organization would convene the negotiations on the Transnistrian settlement in the 5+2 format. Perhaps that is why, despite the period of holidays, the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairman Thomas Mayr-Harting visited Moldova. The main purpose of his visit, apparently, was to clarify whether there was any chance of holding any negotiation event before the end of 2023. In general, the current pace of negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol is poor. This year there have been only two meetings of political representatives and five meetings of working groups of specialists. At the same time, it seems there are no results at all. It is difficult to say what can we expect in such circumstances. Unless the OSCE or other international partners, for their own reasons, decide to encourage the parties to move towards each other and thus set a practically immobile “wagon” of the Transnistrian settlement in motion. For now, we cannot expect any breakthrough. On the contrary, the current frozen state of negotiations and accumulation of mutual problems is fraught with a severe breakdown. In this case, foreign actors will have to quickly step in and diffuse the situation. However, the problem is that mediators and observers are hardly ready to act together in this case, and thus there is a high risk of unpredictable and dangerous steps from the outside, which would only fuel the conflict. Dry protocol press releases after the OSCE envoy’s meetings on the two banks of the Dniester do not provide any specifics and understanding of what processes are really taking place in the Transnistrian settlement. Thus, Dorin Recean assured that the government tries to bring the region in line with the goals of peace and security, economic development and social protection, and that regular communication with international mediators is important for maintaining stability and preventing the escalation. In parliament they spoke of the need to continue “open dialogue and peaceful resolution of the conflict” too. Oleg Serebrian, deputy prime minister, referring to the import, car insurance and transport registration issues that are of concern to Tiraspol, said that the provisions of the national legal framework are applied in a fair and non-discriminatory way throughout the country. Perhaps the only noteworthy point in the report of the profile body is the remark about a seemingly dormant problem of the law on separatism. Chisinau called on the OSCE to help change the situation of holding meetings only in Tiraspol and Bender because of Transnistrian representatives’ tactics who are afraid to come to the right bank due to possible criminal prosecution. At the same time, the left bank as always outlined the harsh reality of the Transnistrian settlement for Mayr-Harting and informed that there are facts of declaring Tiraspol officials wanted on the basis of the Criminal Code’s new articles on separatism. In the opinion of the regional administration, this is “a direct way to escalate the conflict”. Some of our media outlets tried to get official comments to understand if this information is true. The press service of the Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Cases replied that they had not issued these warrants and that there were no cases on the facts mentioned by Tiraspol. The Bureau for Integration did not confirm or deny the statements from the left bank, noting that people who do not violate the provisions of the national legislation are not subject to legal liability. Let us hope that the OSCE managed to clarify how matters stand around the law on separatism. However, even without this it is clear that the legislative measures to intimidate unruly regional elites does not work. As a result, it may create problems not only for Chisinau and Tiraspol, but also for international mediators, who, sooner or later, will have to bring the Transnistrian settlement out of its stagnant state. By the way, there have recently emerged a variety of ideas on how to more actively resolve the conflict on the Dniester. For instance, Bucharest has suggested that the 5+2 format has only aggravated the problem, and therefore the chances of finding an optimal resolution in international organizations, be it the OSCE or the UN, are close to zero. Because of this, local experts think that a new regional format Romania-Ukraine-Moldova should be created. In my opinion, from the point of real prospects, these plans are hardly justified. Too many geopolitical factors have intersected in our country, which is why the Transnistrian conflict has become so important, involving the majority of global and regional figures. In the current security vacuum, it was a very bold statement to say that the conflict settlement on the Dniester can be localized and given to Bucharest, Kyiv and Chisinau. Moreover, the situation in the region is far from stable and predictable, especially after Moscow expanded its frontline and launched a naval blockade of Ukraine. As a result, the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation has smoothly shifted to the Moldovan borders, and the constant attacks on the port and, subsequently, railway infrastructure may become a factor of Moscow’s remote influence on regional processes. With the reduction of Russian diplomatic staff in Chisinau, it is clear that the Kremlin will demonstrate its rejection of attempts to dislodge the Russian Federation from regional arrangements while projecting influence in other ways. Thus, the OSCE has almost no time to keep the Transnistrian settlement within the framework of the still existing negotiation formats. Further disintegration of the formats does not guarantee the way to an early resolution of the Transnistrian issue. The non-trivial course of events with various external actors projecting their power and influence is much more likely in this scenario, which may result in the deprivation of Moldova’s sovereignty and harsh consequences for decades to come.