What Are the Reasons for Ukraine’s Activity in Moldova?

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Victor ENI
It looks like Kyiv has a political intention to unfold its activities in Moldova with far-reaching plans
Late last year, I already wrote about the marked renewal of Ukraine’s interest in our country. Its increased diplomatic activity can be regarded as a derivative of some obvious plans for Moldova. It is still difficult to say what they are about, but there are more and more pieces of the puzzle which sooner or later will reveal the whole picture. For example, the number of broadcasts with the participation of Ukrainian Ambassador Marko Shevchenko has increased, he appears in our media almost weekly, and sometimes several times a week. It is not only the frequency of media appearances, but also their content. For almost two years, the Ukrainian authorities perceived Moldova, including the Transnistrian region, only in terms of military danger. However, now they have taken a more moderate and, I would say, even a distinct position that allow for the variety of problems and nuances in relations with our republic. When asked whether Ukraine will provide assistance to Moldova in case of need, the Ukrainian ambassador assures today that his country will “promptly respond” to an official request from the Moldovan government. Thus, Kyiv continues to demilitarize its discourse and set a more conciliatory tone. It correlates with the approaches of our authorities, who rely more on non-military forms of resolving issues. As for assistance in the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, the Ukrainian authorities, as it turned out, are already leaving this entirely at the mercy of Chisinau who must decide how, when and in what way it will be resolved. If Moldova considers the peaceful way acceptable, then, according to the Ukrainian ambassador, it will be supported. Interestingly enough, it is no longer important for Kyiv what status Transnistria will receive as part of the Republic of Moldova. The only interest is that the region should not pose a threat to its national security and live by the same rules as others. Most likely, it means that Kyiv agrees that the left bank of the Dniester should not have any status, but in theory it turns out that it is ready to support even a federative or other formula only to exclude the Russian military factor in the region. There is more clarity about the negotiation structures around the Transnistrian issue. According to Marko Shevchenko, Russia has lost the opportunity to be a mediator in the Transnistrian settlement and that the 5+2 format cannot work further because the Ukrainians will never again sit at the same negotiating table with the Russians. In this respect, there are some discrepancies with our official position which says this format is temporarily frozen but not cancelled. Despite the hints given to Tiraspol with obvious political overtones, Ukraine, however, now prefers to avoid any categorical statements. Moreover, direct communication with the Transnistrian administration is entrusted to the special ambassador of the Ukrainian foreign ministry, Paun Rohovei, who is not verbose, but has already become a frequent visitor on both banks of the Dniester. There is much to talk about, since the problems are numerous, as we know, especially in the light of the armed incidents on the line of contact, which did take place. We should not, of course, rely entirely on public statements, which shed a little light on what is going on behind the political scenes. The content of conversations behind closed doors sometimes significantly differs from statements of the emissaries of foreign capitals. For this reason, it is important not to let our guard down under the abundant flow of ear-pleasing diplomatic treacle, which may be a banal cover-up or a distraction from events that really deserve attention. Clearly, it is crucial for Kyiv, amidst its weakening positions on the front line, to ensure, mainly through diplomatic methods, security and predictability in the countries adjacent to its rear regions. Objectively speaking, the ability of our authorities to rule out any abnormal scenarios is limited. That is why Ukraine has to diversify its contacts inside Moldova and resort to different ways of achieving its goals. Probably, one of the tactical tasks is to reduce Moscow’s focus to Transnistria, which can take many different forms. A vivid example is the recent statements of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov regarding Russian citizens, which caused undisguised irritation of Ukrainian representatives, although they only affected Moldova and the left bank of the Dniester. Our eastern neighbors are also rather concerned with the internal political uncertainty in the republic. It may turn into a big problem if the forces affiliated with Moscow take revenge or at least gain leverage over the state course. This is fraught with a change in Moldova’s position towards Ukraine, which is now based on the unconditional all-round support. According to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s press release on Paun Rohovei’s latest trip to Moldova, Kyiv will “respond resolutely to any instigations, including attempts to destabilize the situation in Moldova”. This is a very interesting figure of speech, which provides grounds for a variety of interpretations: for instance, about what will be considered an instigation and how exactly the Ukrainian authorities are going to “respond and stabilize” the situation in Moldova. In general, Ukraine has had difficult relations with all of its neighbors for almost the entire period of its independence, which largely stem from the genesis of Ukrainian statehood. The current partnership between Chisinau and Kyiv can hardly be romanticized, as it has enough dark spots and intricate stories. Of course, no one is going to make them public, as Ukrainians have enough conflicts with neighboring countries even without us. The most obvious conclusion that emerges amidst Kyiv’s activity is an attempt to increase its influence with a gradual seizure of the diplomatic initiative. The available tools of influence on both Chisinau and Tiraspol allow Ukraine not only to restore its presence in the region, but also to equate itself with the Kremlin in terms of influence. At the last meeting in Tiraspol, the left-bank administration reiterated its readiness to provide transport corridors for Ukrainian exports. This story will sooner or later lead to the gradual unblocking of the central Transnistrian segment of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border, which, in turn, is unlikely to please our authorities. This is a rather vivid example of how Kyiv will try to bargain certain benefits for itself exploiting the political interests of Chisinau and Tiraspol. Another unexpected step, given the decreasing attention of foreign diplomatic missions to the region, is Kyiv’s readiness to consider the issue of restoring field consular services for its citizens on the territory of Transnistria. The only condition is “ensuring an appropriate level of security for the activities of Ukrainian consular staff and guaranteeing their unhindered movement to the places where field consular activities are carried out”, which seems quite possible. This decision once again confirms that Kyiv has a political intention to unfold its activities with far-reaching plans.