ROAR: Russia makes position on Moldova & Transdniester clear

Moscow supports the territorial integrity of Moldova, but wants a special status for the breakaway Transdniester Republic.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made this statement after talks with his Moldovan counterpart Iurie Leanca in Moscow on May 27. Moscow suggested that the negotiating process should be resumed in the “5+2” format with Moldova, Transdniestr, Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as guarantors and the EU and the US as observers.

The mostly Russian-speaking Transdniester proclaimed its independence in 1990 as a result of Chisinau’s nationalistic policies. The Republic of Moldova was proclaimed in August 1991 before the Soviet Union broke up. In the summer of 1992, Chisinau sent troops to Transdniester, but Russia’s peacekeepers prevented a war in the region. Now the stability in the region is secured by Transdniester, Russia and Moldova.

Russia encourages the moves “toward restoring confidence between the parties to the conflict,” Lavrov said. Nobody will solve this problem instead of them, he noted. The two sides should eventually agree on what will be acceptable to the population both in Transdniester and the rest of Moldova, he added.

The Moldovan foreign minister said Russia is playing an important part “in searching adequate model of settlement on the basis of maintaining sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova.” Prior to his visit to Russia he had told journalists that Moldova “is striving to develop relations with Russia in the spirit of strategic partnership.”

Chisinau is not considering changing the status of Russian troops in Moldova, Leanca told Interfax news agency. But he added that Moldova wants the current military contingent, which “has fulfilled its peacekeeping tasks” in the security zone to be replaced by multinational civil mission working on an international mandate.

The Russian troops are the former Soviet army’s unit that had been based in Moldova before the conflict between Chisinau and Transdniester’s capital Tiraspol started.

Many observers doubt that this conflict may be resolved soon. “Political rows” in Moldova and Transdniester hinder Moscow’s mediatory mission, Kommersant daily said. The foreign ministers confirmed the plans to settle the conflict on the basis of Moldova’s territorial integrity, “but did not say a word about particular steps in this direction,” the paper noted.

“Moscow, which believes that it is much easier to solve the Transdniester problem than others in the post-Soviet space, is not able to approach it until fierce political struggle calms down in Chisinau or Tiraspol,” the daily said.

In Moscow, Leanca supported the idea of resuming talks on the problem, saying that the issue of the movement of people and goods between the two banks of the Dniester River could be resolved quickly enough.

The more difficult task is the creation of “necessary inner and external conditions for the beginning of talks on the status of Transdniester in the united Moldova,” the minister said.

“But for all the years that the frozen conflict smolders in the Dniester, its sides have never been noticed for their ability to come to an agreement,” the daily said. This is why Moscow, which has the biggest political and economic influence on Tiraspol, “has taken the initiative upon itself many times,” it added.

A serious political crisis has been continuing in Moldova since the summer of last year when the Party of Communists led by then-President Vladimir Voronin lost power. But seeing as the party controls 48 of 101 seats in the parliament, it managed to block the election of the president, and the parliament’s speaker Mihai Ghimpu remains the acting president.

The presidential elections should be held in Moldova. But the date is still unknown, and all the leading Moldovan politicians are working “in the regime of permanent electoral struggle,” the paper said.

In such conditions, it is unclear who Russia should negotiate the problem with, the daily noted. “Today these people have the power, tomorrow others,” it quoted sources in the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying.

Russia wants Moldova to obtain a single center of decision-making. According to Kommersant, this issue was discussed at the meeting between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Moldovan counterpart Vlad Filat, who recently met in St. Petersburg.

Polls show that early elections will hardly improve the political situation in Moldova as the Communists remain the most popular party, and three other main parties are not willing to make a coalition with them.

Meanwhile, Ghimpu has proposed to ban the Party of Communists and all the symbols of “totalitarian regime.” Ghimpu wants the parliament to discuss the report prepared by the Commission for the Evaluation of Communism. The Communists insist that the commission’s work should be stopped. However, they may have to change the party’s name, observers say.

The new Moldovan authorities promised last year to abandon the Soviet past, Evgenia Voyko of the Center for Political Conjuncture said. They describe the communist symbols as one of the main obstacles in the way of the country’s integration into European structures.

For them, abandoning those symbols means in some way losing many cultural ties with Russia, Voyko told The analyst does not rule out that a continuation of this story will follow as “the democratic Chisinau said it was ready for integration with Romania based not only on historic factors, but also on cultural ones.” One of the main “cultural factors” is the introduction of the Romanian language.

Many in Transdniester cite the possible integration of Moldova and Romania as the main reason for their independence. Meanwhile, Transdniester cannot boast of better political stability than Moldova, Kommersant said.

During the recent local elections the “Renewal” party led by former speaker of the breakaway republic’s parliament Evgeny Shevchuk won. The party is in the opposition to Transdniester’s President Igor Smirnov, who said in October 2009 that the republic may join Russia in the future.

Moscow does not expect any serious negotiations between Moldova and Transdniester until they go through election campaigns to their parliaments, the paper noted.

At the same time, the media and political circles in Moldova speculate that Russian and Ukrainian presidents may have decided “to attach Transdniester to Ukraine.” However, officials in Kiev say the joint declaration signed by Dmitry Medvedev and Viktor Yanukovich on May 17 does contain any “secret protocols.”

The document urged the parties to the conflict to grant special status to the breakaway republic. Prior to his visit to Moscow, the Moldovan foreign minister said Moscow and Kiev had demonstrated “a political will” in trying to settle the conflict. He also described attempts by the previous Moldavian leadership “to play on disagreements between Russia and Ukraine” as “unconstructive”.

At the same time, Moldovan authorities are also concerned about the unity of Moscow and Kiev in this issue, Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said. Prime Minister Vlad Filat hailed the Russian-Ukrainian declaration, but added that his government would launch consultations on replacing the peacekeepers in the region by a civil mission with an international mandate.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review