Is Moldova Ready to Lose Its Territory?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Despite the fact that history and international context push Moldova to finally “decide on the right key” to the Transnistrian settlement, our authorities, as before, try to avoid this complex and, apparently, intractable problem
The left bank of the Dniester once again celebrated the anniversary of self-proclaimed “republic” this weekend. The event gave experts and journalists a reason to reflect once again on the current state and future of this complex and still unresolved issue. The day before, the media published several themed materials on the history and development of the Transnistrian conflict, which from time to time comes to the forefront of public attention. After reading them, someone can come to one simple conclusion – after 33 years, we all, politicians and ordinary citizens, still do not know what to do with this longstanding problem. It seems that the ruling party does not know either. Let us recall that at the end of last year, they suddenly awoke and loudly announced that they were working on a reintegration strategy, and the general concept had already been submitted to the chairman of parliament, the presidency and relevant experts. At the same time, our chief negotiator Oleg Serebrian informed the public that they were preparing a specific plan for country’s reunification. It seemed that we were finally approaching a decisive moment. However, as had happened many times before, the sharp excitement was replaced by the usual apathy. And now Oleg Serebrian, deputy prime minister for reintegration, is making very ambiguous statements, hinting that the issue is actively deliberated in the halls of the government, without discarding any options. For instance, Serebrian, like his fellow ministers, does not rule out that Moldova will join the European Union, even if the Transnistrian issue is not resolved by then. In his opinion, the circumstances may turn out favorably so that Moldova will be accepted without the Transnistrian region. Of course, Serebrian categorically excludes that Moldova will give up 11% of its territory. At the same time, he explains this mainly by the fact that in case Transnistrian independence is recognized, additional problems will appear, in particular the issue of territorial insecurity. “Do we have any guarantees that this territory won’t be a starting point for tense situations in the region?” the official wonders. Besides, according to him, it is not clear what the borders of the region will be, as Chisinau and Tiraspol have different understanding of the territorial borders of Transnistria. My co-workers and I had the odd feeling that the deputy prime minister had decided to talk to the press as if by accident, in order to raise a number of awkward questions to Tiraspol, which would be settled during the official secession of the region. And what if the Transnistrian administration is able to give answers and also to propose effective solutions? How appropriate is it for a high state official to engage in such public speculations? Or is there something we don’t know and the public opinion is being “probed” for readiness to compromise in the name of European integration? All in all, it raised a lot of questions. It is no secret that a part of the Moldovan elites, whose leader is the current head of the MFAEI, Nicu Popescu, sticks to the idea that everything in Moldova should be subordinated to the concept of European integration. For this reason, they impose on the society the idea that now it is necessary to concentrate exclusively on EU accession and not to experiment with the same reintegration, which can open the Pandora’s box and drag Moldova into the most complicated geopolitical game, as a result of which Chisinau will be left without both the left bank and the European Union. This probability, in principle, explains the long absence of any unified view within the Moldovan political class regarding the Transnistrian issue. Tiraspol, apparently, subtly feels the disparity of positions in Chisinau, and therefore, despite the difficult regional situation, it continues to declare its traditional goals and promote its own ideas of settlement. According to the Transnistrian leader, “statehood” is the basic principle of the region’s existence, and its inhabitants see their future in their multinational “state”. At the same time, “statehood” is also a form of authority given by the population to the elected authorities to settle the conflict and officially enter the system of modern international relations. Moreover, Tiraspol believes that on behalf of the “Transnistrian state” those final documents will be signed that the region deems necessary on the basis of the referendums and negotiations with other countries. Unlike Chisinau, the representatives of the Transnistrian administration have no shortage of ideas. That is why they continue to insist on the idea that the de facto settlement process has already taken place and Moldova consists of 2 entities: Moldova and Transnistria, each of which has its own identity. The best way of settlement, according to local ideologists, may be “signing a treaty of friendship, peace and cooperation to put an end to this conflict”. While official representatives of Chisinau and Tiraspol continue to demonstrate diametrically opposing points of view, many consider that the fate of the conflict will depend on the outcome of the war in Ukraine. As time and nature of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict show, it won’t be possible to hide behind these “decorations” for long, and it would be a big mistake to hope solely for the outcome of the war. The situation in Ukraine may end or freeze in a very specific geopolitical form, which will require quick action. Then there will simply be no time to agree on a political compromise, strategy and plan, and Chisinau will have to make historic decisions in a hurry. The only consent of the political elites so far is the 2005 law on the status of the left bank districts. But, as before, the chances that Tiraspol will accept this concept are minimal, and therefore the standpoint will have to be adjusted one way or another. A sensible question arises as to what these changes could be and whether politicians together with society are ready to take such a step. After all, if the transformation process is started, it may lead to a constitutional reorganization. And hardly anyone will dare to do such a thing now, as perhaps the only chance to integrate into the EU is at stake. Despite the fact that history and international situation push Moldova to finally decide on the “right keys” to the Transnistrian settlement, our authorities, as before, try to avoid this complex and, apparently, unbearable problem. Therefore, the conflict will continue to “drift along” under the influence of time and various geopolitical circumstances. And the final point in this issue will probably be put in a non-standard format and not in the way we imagined it.