Commotion around the Congress in Transnistria

Home / Analytics / Commotion around the Congress in Transnistria
Anton ŠVEC
Yesterday, Transnistria managed to attract widespread attention to its problems, making it to the top of the European political agenda for the first time in a long time. It seems that harsh reintegration of the region initiated by Maia Sandu’s regime contributes to further escalation of relations between the two banks of the Dniester
Yesterday, Tiraspol authorities pompously held the seventh “congress of deputies of all levels”. Such a forum has not taken place there for almost 20 years – the previous one dates back to 2006, which ended with the referendum on independence and accession to Russia. That is why the event, which was attended by more than 600 deputies, public figures and officials, had received much attention from the very beginning. The level of interest was raised by the local oppositionist Ghenadi Ciorba, who declared that the delegates of the congress would appeal to the Russian Federation to annex Transnistria. The whole of our political beau monde had to “extinguish” the topic. The speaker and members of parliament, the reintegration bureau and a number of pro-Western NGOs issued appeals for calm while threatening the regional administration. Igor Grosu and Lilian Carp denied the possibility of destabilizing the situation, the latter even recalled, just in case, the new amendments to the Criminal Code on separatism. Volodymyr Zelensky and the main directorate of intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine also tried to defuse the unjustified fuss around Tiraspol’s plans, saying that they did not expect any “final” appeals to Russia. Even NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana commented on the issue, referring to the fact that Transnistria had already held a referendum and promising NATO’s condemnation and support if Russia attempts to annex the region. Meanwhile, Oleg Serebrian, deputy prime minister for reintegration, went to Bucharest for consultations, where he was provided with the tightest possible schedule of meetings in order to synchronize the reaction to the events in Tiraspol. Romania is working out various scenarios related to the course taken by Maia Sandu’s regime to “unfreeze” the Transnistrian conflict. At the same time, the congress, an extraordinary tool for the left bank almost never used by its administration in the 21st century, was relatively calm and routine. In their speeches, local officials mostly appealed to Chisinau’s unfriendly policies, speaking of blackmail, economic warfare (figures of losses were given), blockade and even genocide. Some deputies spoke in Ukrainian and Moldovan, insisting, first of all, on the necessity of negotiations. There were even opinions that the central authorities, through their aggressive measures, are putting the European Union at risk and violating European commitments. The course towards Moscow was also mentioned several times, but without specific political appeals to the Kremlin to act right now (at least, they were not voiced publicly, but the opinions of the congress delegates were surely conveyed to Russia, including in private). Obviously, the region’s administration expects the financial support of the Russian Federation, which will allow it to hold on until the circumstances change in relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol. The resolution, declaration and appeals to international structures adopted at the forum had no drastic messages either. Despite all the accusations addressed to the central authorities, Tiraspol is still open for dialogue. Thus, the declaration of the congress lists the elements considered by Transnistria as violations of its citizens’ rights (“law on separatism”, bank blockade, restrictions on exports and imports, refusal of dialogue in the 5+2 format and at the level of the leadership). The conclusion is simple and predictable – “continuation of the course for the defense of independence and international recognition”: “Transnistria will persistently fight for its own identity, rights and interests of the Transnistrian people and will not refuse to defend them, regardless of any form of blackmail and external pressure. Only the sovereignty of Transnistria is an inalienable and essential condition for the defense of the original identity, as well as the fundamental rights and freedoms of our multinational people...”. At the same time, the appeals sent to the United Nations Secretary-General, the OSCE structures, the European Parliament, the CIS structures and the Federal Assembly of Russia, as well as a number of participants in the 5+2 format, call for the prevention of military escalation and the restoration of negotiation mechanisms. The constructiveness in the final documents of the congress should not mislead anyone. Even before the forum started, it was clear based on the statements of a number of local former and current officials that Transnistria does not intend to be a “suicide squad”. The first negotiator from the left bank, Valery Litskai, explained: “The shroud of secrecy has given rise to numerous speculations, in particular that there will be a request to become part of Russia. It is quite absurd, having appealed once and knowing that the situation is frozen, that there is a SMO, to appeal to Russia again now”. But Tiraspol has no intent to bow to the pressure from Chisinau and give up its course towards Moscow: “The situation has become more threatening. And in these geopolitical storms and wars, the search for a native, calm, safe harbor becomes even more crucial. Russia is historically a natural ally, a defender, so nothing has changed in this respect, on the contrary, it has only become more acute”. Obviously, in addition to informing the international community about the critical aggravation in the relations between the two banks, the region’s leadership pursued the goal of obtaining financial and political assistance and security guarantees from Russia. Most likely, some of the letters sent were not mentioned in the declaration of the congress, and Moscow is already thinking about how to prevent the ruination of the Russian bridgehead on the Dniester. Apparently, Tiraspol did manage to achieve its main goal: namely, to make international actors pay attention to its problems in relations with the central authorities, which are currently implementing a painful process of the region’s incorporation into the constitutional legal framework. At least yesterday the topic of the congress was already commented on, as expected, in Russia, as well as in the office of the UN Secretary General and the US Department of State. Chisinau’s reaction was also published instantly after the end of the congress. The government spokesman tried to sneer at the outcome of the forum calling it “a scam and a propaganda event not worthy of foreign journalists’ attention”: “the only problem today is the gloomy weather outside”. This assessment, as well as all other signals sent to Tiraspol in recent weeks, suggests that the course of the central authorities in relations with the region will not change regardless of the actions of the latter. Apparently, the current regime is not ready for dialogue with Transnistrians, confident in the strength of its position, supported by its legitimacy in the West and the remoteness of the current front line in Ukraine. However, by doing so, the authorities are depriving themselves of the room for maneuver, leaving the only scenario – unilateral reintegration of the region, where political negotiations are implied as an act of capitulation in the final stage of the process. But this option is rather risky, as, firstly, Transnistria, which has nothing to lose, may provoke an escalation of the conflict in order to break the status quo unacceptable to it, and, secondly, the outcome in Ukraine is still unclear and may turn out to be quite different from what Chisinau expects. Therefore, our leadership may find itself in a precarious situation if suddenly Kyiv, Brussels and Washington start a dialogue with Moscow. And whether in the new circumstances the Kremlin will want to deal with it and adhere to the position of territorial integrity of Moldova (or will automatically include Transnistria’s territory in its rider) is rather a question.