Transdnistria has found itself in a quite difficult situation. The financial situation has worsened dramatically, further the September 11 events have scattered all the hopes for a would-be support from Russia and Ukraine. And that’s because United States and European Union’s increasing interest in the conflict regions of the Former URSS. An illustration of this is that last year European Union and US summoned Ukraine to observe the international norms on exports, when allowing exports from Transdnistria through its territory.
Several months later, in February 2002 Steven Pifer of the US State Department undertook a visit in Moldova and Transdnistria. In April Rudolf Perina, former US Ambassador to Moldova, currently State Department Special Coordinator on Conflict Resolution in the former URSS undertook a similar visit. American officials’ message was clear — US would never recognize Transdnistria’s independence, in addition the conflict should be resolved by observing the principles developed in 1993 by OSCE. Noteworthy, OSCE representatives have recently visited Moldova among other things to probe the possibility of re-launching the negotiation process. Finally, US interest in the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict was reflected in the Declaration on the New Strategic Relationships between United States and Russia signed by George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin on May 24, 2002. The declaration reads that United States and Russia will cooperate in view of regional conflict resolution, including in Transdnistria.
The shifting political environment forced Transdnistrian leaders to react in a certain manner. As a rule to justify their reluctance to take part in the elaboration of Transdnistria’s status they used to resort to the trick — economic problems first and then political ones. That situation has lasted for 10 years now, period enough for the Transdnistria to become self-sufficient due to the low prices on energy sources and Chisinau’s lack of control over their exports. Under those circumstances the issue of Transdnistrian status within the Republic of Moldova has been always adjourned.
After September 2001 change in Chisinau’s policy regarding the separatist regime and the introduction of new customs seals the negotiation formula has been inverted — juridical status first and in exchange new customs seals. Separatist leaders weren’t happy with that formula so they launched a denigration campaign against Moldovan Communist authorities and even resorted to such actions as undisguised provocations. Firstly they insinuated there’s nobody to negotiate with in Chisinau on the grounds that there is an inconsistency between Moldova and Transdnistria’s constitutional regimes. Further, Transdnistrian press circulated rumors regarding a possible collapse of Chisinau regime given severe internal problems, especially protest rallies and Gagauzian crisis. Council of Europe involvement in settling Moldovan crisis, including the Gagauzian one, spoiled Transdnistria’s plans to call to rebel Gagauzian leaders. The latter had to comply with Council of Europe recommendations on peaceful resolution of the conflict. In response Transdnistrian press labeled Gagauz leaders as villains, although previously it used to praise their patriotic ardor targeted against Chisinau.
All those facts point to the effect that the negotiation process on Transdnistrian conflict may resume in the nearest future. Both pro-Transdnistrian oriented Russian press and Tiraspol one report that the federalization of Moldova might be accepted as a possible variant of the conflict resolution. In Chisinau also, during a permanent roundtable launched by the former Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis, at issue was the federalization of Moldova as a possible variant of conflict resolution. For this to happen the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova needs to be amended and the figures that blocked the negotiation process over the last 10 years need to be replaced.
Apparently the resolution is close. Anticipating the strategic agreement between Bush and Putin, on May 23 Ukraine’s Council of Defense and National Security headed by Leonid Cucima passed a resolution providing that on July 9 (on the 5th anniversary of the Charter on Ukraine and NATO partnership) Ukraine would apply for NATO membership. Certainly, Ukraine doesn’t want to be overshadowed by Russia for which a very special place is reserved within NATO. Russian press reacted immediately labeling Ukraine’s decision as a “strategic betrayal”.
Such a sudden change in the geo-strategic situation may once again be a cause of major frustrations for Moldova with its disoriented foreign policy. The fate of Presidents’ initiatives of Euro-Asian integration is absolutely unclear. In mid-May President Voronin probed the possibilities of Moldova’s integration in the Euro-Asian Union. Moldova has been accepted as an observer member to the union. Two weeks later, during the second reunion of the Presidents of Central and Eastern European States held in Slovenia, Voronin discussed the possibilities of Moldova’s integration in the European Union.
It is known for a fact that the simultaneous integration in both structures is impossible. Even the gradual integration — firstly in the Euro-Asian Union and later on in the European Union, cited by the Moscow analysts doesn’t make too much sense for the simple reason that Euro-Asian Union would never join the European Union.
Tiraspol leaders promptly grasped the latest developments in the international politics. They understood that in the context of the recent Ukraine’s initiative, Tiraspol has regained its strategic importance for Russia, although after the 2001 Communists’ victory in elections Russia tended to be on Moldova’s side. Noteworthy, two weeks after the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the separatist security forces, the speech of Chief of Security Vladimir Antiufiev was published. It reads that there is no other alternative for Transdnistria than edifying an independent state. Strangely enough just when it seemed that the things were clearing out, separatist leaders are nurturing hopes of a possible life buoy from Russia.
There are some indications that separatists drafted a new strategy after the Declaration on New Strategic Relationships between United States and Russia was signed. In fact the reason d’etre of the Transdnistrian separatism made public by President Voronin, namely survival of Smirnov clan and swindle of the breakaway region economy, has been known for a long time. However, it still amazes how Transdnistrian regime is able to rapidly adjust to the changing environment. Thus, at the beginning of the 90’s Transdnistrian statehood was justified by the need to defend linguistic rights of the so-called Transdnistrian nation against the Romanian nationalism. In 1991–92 Transdnistria’s existence was justified by the need to rebuild the Soviet Union. Later on, after the bloody dissolution of the Russian State Duma in 1993, Transdnistrian regime pretended to be the main promoter of the Russia’s interests in the Balkans. And finally, after the Communists victory in Moldova, the existence of the Transdnistrian regime was justified by the need to prevent Chisinau authorities, which aim at reviving the bolshevism, from taking hold of the economic potential of the region.
Acknowledging that for certain economic reasons Russia cannot yet become a self-sufficient power, and that President Putin has made a strategic decision to closer ties with the West, Tiraspol leaders now insinuate that Transdnistria might serve the needs of NATO extension and that Moldovan Communist regime is a major obstacle in this respect. This seems rather as a dazzle aimed to show the frustration with Russia, which is loosing a strategic region to the United States. However, the idea separatist leaders are hopelessly trying to promote so as to preserve an equal status to Chisinau at the negotiation table is that — upon federalization or co-federalization of the Republic of Moldova Transdnistria would be the only hope for the country de-Communization. This is the more important as the prominent leaders of the ruling Communist Party are discussing seriously to adopt chiuchi he ideals of the North Korean Communists.
Transdnistria’s arguments are not to be neglected. Firstly, during the last presidential elections Smirnov simply humiliated the Communist candidate who was cast only 2% of the valid votes. Secondly, Communists are also to be blamed for triggering Gagauzia conflict. And last but not least, the de-Communization of the Republic of Moldova via free and fair elections with the participation of the opposition seems so unreal at the moment that political analysts are speculating how would Moldovan political scenery look like after the expiration of Voronin’s second presidential mandate.