Expert: Chisinau Preparing to Negotiations on Transnistrian Status

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Sergiu CEBAN
It seems that some party is pushing the Moldovan authorities to form a model for the final settlement of the Transnistrian conflict and to start political negotiations with the region’s administration
As the year is smoothly approaching its finale, it is already possible to start summarizing the most important topics of the country’s foreign and domestic policy. One of them is the Transnistrian settlement, which every month adds new details and regional context, thus maintaining the interest of both specialists and the general public. Judging by the new statements of government officials, the behind-the-scenes discussion on this topic in the corridors of power continues. It is difficult to say whether our politicians have a more or less coherent idea of what to do about the conflict, what strategy to apply and how to build a dialogue with Tiraspol. However, it is quite obvious that the “X hour” is inexorably approaching and, sooner or later, Chisinau will have to present its vision to the world - at least we are expected to do so. In the meantime, Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu recalled in a somewhat anxious manner that the war in Ukraine had seriously adjusted the possibilities of managing the Transnistrian conflict. However, according to him, as long as the Russian army is far away and the Ukrainians are resisting, the Moldovan authorities remain confident of a settlement through diplomacy and negotiations. He admitted the possibility that a solution to the conflict could follow other scenarios, so any Moldovan government should be prepared for anything. Of course, Moscow also has its say. For example, Grigory Karasin, Chair of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs, stated that a solution to the Transnistrian issue without Russia’s participation is impossible. In addition, it seems that Moscow is still reminiscing about the missed opportunities of the Kozak Memorandum, which was perhaps the peak of Russian diplomacy in its endeavor to settle the conflict on its own terms. For this reason, Maria Zakharova had no other option but to proclaim the necessity to return to the negotiating table and “to search for a comprehensive, sustainable and fair solution to the problem, taking into account the interests of the parties to the conflict and the inhabitants of both banks of the Dniester”. At the same time, Moscow explains the current deadlock between Chisinau and Tiraspol by the persistent unwillingness of our authorities to respond to the repeated appeals of the left-bank administration to start political negotiations. Without a change in this position, the Russian Foreign Ministry does not expect any progress in resolving the conflict. Meanwhile, last week the Transnistrian settlement traditionally became one of the topics of the OSCE Permanent Council meeting. The report by the Head of the organization’s Mission to Moldova once again provoked an exchange of sharp remarks and criticism between representatives of the United States of America and Russia, who openly project their contradictions onto the situation in our country. Moscow is traditionally dissatisfied with the work of the field mission, the low efficiency and the lack of initiative of the OSCE, while Washington reminded the Russians of their commitments, as well as of some decisions by the Transnistrian administration. All this is, of course, quite pronounced indicator of the key players’ lack of a compromise view on the prospects for a settlement, which had previously been reflected, at least for the sake of appearances, in joint statements by all participants to the negotiations. One could simply dismiss Moscow’s further claims against the OSCE Mission to Moldova, but they have already resulted in the reduction of its mandate only until the end of the year. Moreover, in the summer the Russian delegation agreed to extend it for six months only on the condition that work on the convening of the so-called 5+2 format would continue. As you might easily guess, it was not fulfilled. Therefore, it is difficult to predict how Russian diplomacy will behave. Although even if the objective is to escalate the situation, this can be achieved without the cancellation of the OSCE mission in our country. Fortunately, the general situation around this organization seems to be improving a little. Thus, despite the protest boycott by Ukraine and the Baltic States, the 30th Anniversary Summit of OSCE Foreign Ministers will be held in Skopje with the participation of Sergey Lavrov. He has been invited to North Macedonia, and Bulgaria will open the skies to the Russian minister’s flight. In addition, the current head of the OSCE, Bujar Osmani, announced a compromise on the issue of the next chairmanship - in 2024 the organization will be headed by Malta. We cannot rule out that this moderately positive trend will open the way for other decisions, including with regard to the OSCE Mission to Moldova. Whether it is the pending decision of the EU Council on the start of accession negotiations, the dynamically changing regional context or particular ambassadors, but someone is obviously “pushing” our authorities, not allowing them to wait for clearer regional and geopolitical conditions, but to start formulating their considerations on the principles of resolving the Transnistrian conflict now. Therefore, we must assume that the Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration was instructed to highlight some reference points in the settlement of relations with the left bank. What is remarkable about Oleg Serebrian’s speech is the “warming up” of public opinion about the 2005 law on the status of the left bank, which was gently described as irrelevant and in need of revision. We recall that one of Moscow and Tiraspol’s principal demands was the cancellation of this law, which, in their opinion, “constrained” the negotiators. Another point is the interpretative discretion of the term “special status”, which can have different forms and content. Thus, Serebrian gave the example of Hong Kong, which is integrated into China with more than a wide range of powers often available only to sovereign states. It seems that such statements have two purposes at once: to probe the public and expert reaction in our country and at the same time to send a signal to the left bank about the readiness of the central authorities to consider various models, including ones attractive to Transnistria, for the sake of the country’s territorial integrity. At the same time, the variety of proposals is likely to depend also on Tiraspol’s readiness to refuse international guarantees of the final settlement configuration, which, according to our authorities, would complicate its application and limit Moldova’s sovereignty. Thus, our negotiators want to exclude any external factor in order not to “import” sharp international contradictions and to close the issue softly by means of a bilateral agreement with the Transnistrian region. In general, the approximate framework of the position with which Chisinau will enter into negotiations is more or less clear. Obviously, it is not just early, but also tactically wrong to introduce to the public the whole picture or a specific concept of settlement. What remains to be understood is what exactly the increased activity of the responsible structures is connected with, who is rushing us, for what reason, whether we should expect a possible start of political negotiations in the foreseeable future or some original diplomatic twists and turns.