Invitation to the Dialogue

The politically eventful summer of this year in Moldova was marked by the event which in perspective can result in the qualitative changes in the regional policy urging the gradual Transnistrian conflict settlement.
Boris Asarov, 21 September 2010, 17:23

The matter concerns the meeting of Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat and two major political figures of Transnistria - President Igor Smirnov and the head of the Transnistrian Security Ministry Vladimir Antiufeev. Given the fact that Russia is the Transnistrian conflict "moderator" one should understand that each meeting between the first persons of Moldova and Transnistria's leadership is preliminary coordinated with Moscow.

The meeting of Moldovan Prime Minister and two most influential Transnistrian politicians should be viewed within several contexts at once as several simultaneous "knots" waiting to be disentangled are tied on the "Transnistrian issue".

It should be understood that the Transnistrian issue is systemic for Moldova and is capable of influencing Bessarabia's political life being also a factor, the presidential election depends on. Moldova's first President Mircea Snegur lost presidential election including due to the negative trail from the armed conflict of 1992 following him. Moldova's third President Vladimir Voronin, before the parliamentary elections of April 2009, was trying to obtain Russian leadership's support at the parliamentary elections and during the lamentably known events happened after them, and received the consent but together with signing of the document, joint with Igor Smirnov, regarding the peacemaking forces evolution. That document was objectively advantageous for Kremlin but also gave some dividends to Voronin and his party used as an election campaigning element.

The issues connected with the Transnistrian conflict may be divided for convenience into three groups. The first level is the problems which can be solved by Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Victor Osipov with assistance of Transnistria's Foreign Affairs Minister Yastrebchak and which have started being gradually solved as the Alliance for the European Integration Government was formed. The second level - the issues which can be solved on behalf of Moldova by its Prime Minister or President. The matter concerns, among others, the problem of restructuring of Transnistria's gas debt to the Gasprom which, from the legal point of view, is currently being a burden running into billions of Moldova's officials, budget and citizens. This problem is to be solved with the Moldovan authorities cooperating with the Russian leadership taking into consideration the Transnistrian authorities' position. The third level is the question what scheme will be chosen for the final Transnistrian conflict settlement. The decision taken will have to satisfy all interested parties including all interested foreign partners of Moldova, but the final word when taking the crucial decision formally rests with Moldovan President.

This summer Vlad Filat gave to understand that the gas debt problem would be solved in the near future. To be solved, this question had to be first coordinated with Igor Smirnov before being officially presented to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Being aware of the fact that Moldovan Prime Minister is going to have a meeting with Prime Minister of Russia and that Russian leadership is willing to carry out the gas debt restructuring, Smirnov couldn't refuse the meeting with Filat. But the matter is also that Vladimir Putin could refuse Moldova in settlement of some issues which are on the agenda, by speculating with the forthcoming elections, to refuse to meet Prime Minister Vlad Filat. However, all indirect data indicate that such meeting will take place and the Russian leadership will be ready to take into consideration Moldova's interests.

The manner in which this invitation to the dialogue is coming from Moscow should be noted here.

The problems with wine production access to the Russian market as well as the problems with access of companies exporting fruit to Russia are a kind of message from Kremlin, with the invitation to settlement of the existing unsolved issues in relations between Russia and Moldova coming as a challenge to Moldovan authorities. This manner is regrettable, however, the policy carried out by the current government of the Russian Federation in respect of the CIS states is an objective reality which should be taken into account when establishing the inter-state relations. The acting President Mihai Ghimpu's decree is far from being a reason of Moscow using measures of pressure on Moldova either.

The presidential and parliamentary elections are approaching and Moscow, following its policy, would launch this "testing" in any case in order to determine the one it will hold a dialogue with. Mihai Ghimpu by his decree just reminded the clauses marked in the Declaration of Independence of Moldova connected with the criminal Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. Having recognized the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation recognized these clauses of the Declaration of Independence as well. Later Russia also condemned openly the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact including on July 4, 2003 when signing the Russian-Romanian Treaty on Friendly Relations when it was stated that "Condemning the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939 both parties express their determination to overcome the negative heritage of the totalitarian past". Thus, this part of the decree couldn't have been the reason for using the economic pressure measures. The reason was the second part of the decree noting the illegal character of presence of Russia's armed forces on the territory of Transnistria, that is de jure the Republic of Moldova. An extremely important moment should be paid attention to here - the trend that has existed for 19 years, within which suggestions regarding the Transnistrian conflict settlement have appeared, is both incapable of satisfying all interested parties' interests and per se already nonviable on the whole. Neither the federative-confederative model, nor the unitary model is capable of taking into consideration interested parties' interests in the context of policy carried out by them. The conflict settlement by recognizing Transnistria's independence or its incorporation into Russia also doesn't exist. All this taken together not at all means that a viable solution of the Transnistrian conflict taking into account all interested sides' interests doesn't exist. This model is to be worked out and Chisinau's position will be important. The latter should already be ready for elaboration of such a model. In fact, by his decree, Mihai Ghimpu just made the issue more urgent, the Russian diplomacy demonstrated a reactive reaction and Moldova faced the necessity to respond to the challenge and to accept this peculiar invitation to the dialogue what was made by Prime Minister with dignity, the events not being the result of some coordinated game but becoming possible under the logics of developments.

Russia is a difficult partner for Moldova as the parties' principal interests concentrate on Transnistria's territory. Though it only increases the measure of responsibility that should be taken by the Moldovan leadership when approaching settlement of this matter. "Without bending our head", as Mihai Ghimpu said, but at the same time demonstrating diplomatic approaches used by Vlad Filat. It is very important that a diplomatic approach is accompanied, like it is happening now, by a strong politician's message. Not the servile readiness to oblige and an immediate quick march to Moscow ready to content ourselves with meetings with secondary officials, but a clear message of a strong politician who, accepting the challenge, is ready to battle for Moldova's national interests but also ready to understand the issues which are in the sphere of Russia's interests. The Bessarabian politicians' reaction in this connection is quite significant, - on the one hand, the lightning visit to Moscow of Vladimir Voronin an Marian Lupu which demonstrate both their weakness and their aspiration to enlist Kremlin's support at the forthcoming elections and reaction of Vlad Filat who immediately and openly gave to understand that there would be no embargo for Moldovan wine supplies to the Russian market and the problem would be settled soon when he is going to meet Russian Prime Minister V. Putin. Prime Minister Vlad Filat's speech regarding the agricultural production exporters' problem which has recently arisen is also significant. He immediately addressed to Russian Prime Minister. As a result, Rosselhoznadzor at once "stepped back".

Russia respects and has always respected only power, including the power as display of strength of mind. To build relations with it differently means one's readiness to admit beforehand all conditions put by it with the least promotion of one's own interests. After 2005, Moscow lost control over systemic processes in the Bessarabian policy, however, V. Voronin's position then wasn't the manifestation of power but the display of meanness. In 2003, Voronin, knowing beforehand that he will not sign the "Kozak Plan" was deceiving Moscow until the last moment in order to get a reason to enlist EU's support at the 2005 parliamentary elections and to avoid the "color revolution". Having taken advantage of the EU, Voronin acted with European partners just as cynically as earlier with the Russians, "under the wing" of which he decided to return wish ing to keep power after the 2009 elections. It wasn't the manifestation of power but of resourcefulness trying to keep the power at any price even crossing up the republic's foreign partners.

It should be also noted that the success of Filat's policy sometimes goes contrary to the system of power which was formed by the Alliance for the European Integration according to the algorithm principle as some high-level appointments were made not according to the professional criteria. Thus, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Moldova Andrei Popov only harmed the Transnistrian problem, stating in Moscow that it is impossible to reach an agreement with Smirnov and that the agreement "with politicians expressing Transnistrian people's interests" should be searched for. Apparently, he meant the protégé of the oligarchic group Sheriff, the political barren flower Evgeny Shevchuk who hasn't had any chances to become Transnistria's President - neither when he was the Supreme Council Speaker nor, especially, after his resignation. Perhaps, this statement made by Popov agreed with the policy of Marian Lupu who was promoting the idea of cooperation with Shevchuk despite his obvious political hopelessness and in spite of the fact that such a statement of the question could only harm the Transnsitrian settlement process.

Back to Filat's Tiraspol meeting, the presence of the Transnistrian Security Ministry's Head Vladimir Antiufeev can also be marked. Some time ago, the Prosecutor General's Office instituted a political character criminal case against him. If the criminal case issue "is closed", Chisinau may get an opportunity to make, with Tiraspol's consent, some serious decision. For example, Chisinau can pretty much count on Tiraspol's consent to change the negotiation process format. In the current 5+2 format, the European Union's and the USA's representatives hold the observer's status. Raising their status to the one of mediators, as a variant, would be possible. It should be noted that the Moldovan authorities' solicitation to the European Union to appoint a new special representative (Ambassador) of the EU to Moldova from Romania, as a country which is especially interested in promotion of the EU's interests in Moldova and which is ready to exert efforts of its highly qualified diplomacy, would look absolutely justified. President Traian Basescu said recently that Romania and Russia "also have coinciding interests that should be focused on". The Transnistrian issue settlement with the qualitative change of the trend could and should be such an interest.

The meeting in Tiraspol, beyond doubt, will contribute to the new impulse in the Transnistrian settlement process as much as the forthcoming meeting of Filat and Putin. No doubt, Igor Smirnov will be elected for the next presidential term and it is quite possible that Vladimir Putin will be Russia's President again. The motive that it is better to have good relations with the possible future President Vlad Filat wasn't the last one both when the Transnistrian leader agreed to have a meeting and with Putin's comprehension of the Bessarabian political processes currently taking place. Well, football in this case was just a cover for another kind of "sport".

Boris Asarov, the political expert, the Pro Europa Association Chairman.