Alegerile parlamentare din 2021 în Republica Moldova -

Transdnistrian project

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August 12, 2003
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Sources of inspiration

On August 6, Transdnistrian leaders made public their own draft Constitution for the prospective federation. In fact, it has nothing to do with establishing a federation, but rather with establishing a union of independent states, i.e. confederation, or as they put it “contractual federation”. What is annoying is the fact that the subjects’ right to secession is tackled right at the beginning of the document under the transitory provisions.

As for the content, at least two sources of inspiration are traceable, namely Treaty on the establishment of the Russia-Belarus common state and Constitutional Charter of the Serbia and Montenegro Union States. At least a couple of premises for the establishment of Serbia — Montenegro and Russia — Belarus common states could be identified, which derive directly from those countries’ interests. For instance, the goal of Serbia and Montenegro is to join EU in a common effort, fact reflected in Article 3 of the Constitutional Charter. To be accepted in EU those two countries have to conform to the requirement of preserving the union state. As for Russia-Belarus, under Article 6 of the Treaty the union subjects are to remain full rights UN members. The Union is established merely for economic reasons. Therefore, a would-be separation of subjects in the case of Serbia and Montenegro is tackled in one of the last chapters, whereas in the case of Russia — Belarus it is not tackled at all. Needless to say, de facto the said Union does not exist, although the Treaty was signed four years ago.

Given this it would be interesting to reflect a little on the reasons for establishing a union between the Republic of Moldova and Transdnistria, from the standpoint of the breakaway region. On the one hand, Transdnistrian region has no status whatsoever. On the other, it is also true that by signing the Memorandum in 1997 Moldova agreed in principle on establishing a joint state formed by two equal rights subjects. The Memorandum entitles Transdnistria to have a saying in the foreign policy of the Republic of Moldova in as far as its interests are concerned. From this perspective the mere fact that Republic of Moldova set EU integration as one of its strategic goals, whereas Transdnistria declares itself a “Russian land”, already poses a threat for the existence of the would-be “joint state”. Nevertheless, the guarantor countries Russia, Ukraine and OSCE signed the Memorandum. Furthermore, Republic of Moldova and Russia signed the Basic Treaty providing that Republic of Moldova adhere to “peaceful resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict, whereas Russia will serve as a mediator and guarantor”. Considering that Russia is Moldova’s main creditor and trading partner, the latter attaches great importance to the official documents signed between the two countries. As a mater of fact, Vladimir Putin stated during his meeting in February with Vladimir Voronin that he would plead for “granting Transdnistrian region a clearly guaranteed status”.

Goals pursued

This being said, the question is how far may the Transdnistrian leaders want to go within the framework of the agreements signed by the Republic of Moldova and principle guarantor country. Firstly, as it was already mentioned breakaway leaders pursue the idea of secession of the two equal subjects — “right to secession is granted to any subject whenever one of the subjects makes public its intent or takes actions in view of renouncing to sovereignty and independence”. In other words, if Transdnistrian leaders who are citizens of Russia declared as they used to, that Transdnistria is a “Russian land”, then they would be entitled to legally hold a referendum, whose results would have a legal effect under the Constitution they have proposed. Thus, the prospective “contractual federation” is intended first and foremost to grant de jure equal rights to both federation subjects, so that in the future they might part legally.

Another core principle of the document developed by Tiraspol is that the subjects’ rights have a supremacy over the federation’s right in matters of mutual interest. Obviously, they made sure to list under mutual interest: economy, currency, monetary issues, customs, communications, law enforcement, etc. Clearly, what Tiraspol is really looking after is to preserve control over customs and Eastern border of Moldova; to change the army name into “people’s guard” and to keep it under its control; to gain the right to issue a certain quota of the “joint state” currency (fact not even stipulated in the draft EU Constitution, instead, Belarus does claim to issue currency equivalent to its GDP quota in the Russia-Belarus Union); to keep control over law enforcement forces; and to hold any kinds of referenda and elections separately, so as to be able to manipulate their outcomes.

Generally speaking, it seems that Transdnistrian leaders intended to push federalization to its absurd. An illustration of this is the procedure developed for the adoption of normative acts by the Federal Parliament. The two chambers of the Parliament are to consist not of political parties’ factions, but rather of two factions including deputies elected on the soil of the two federation subjects. To be adopted, legal acts are to be voted by the majority in each of the two territorial factions. Another question then rises, what’s the use of a Lower Chamber elected according to the numerical criteria (1 deputy representing 25,000 citizens), if it does not affect in any way the voting outcome (Moldova’s electorate is about 2,400,000 and Transdnestrian — 700,000). Furthermore, why do we need to spend public funds for a federal parliament consisting of two factions formed based on the territorial principle, if it may be replaced by the Parliaments of each of the subjects who would examine draft laws developed by a legislative center of the joint state?

There are a number of other curiosities in Tiraspol’s draft, but what really matters is that Tiraspol seeks to obstruct the adoption of a new Constitution in line with OSCE draft, thwarting thus the intentions of international organizations, i.e. US and EU, to settle the conflict by the end of the year.

Time and electoral factors

What are the practical reasons for such kind of behavior displayed by Transdnistrian leaders? Firstly, the principle guarantor, Russia, is foregoing an electoral campaign for State Duma elections in December and then presidential elections in March 2004. Analysts pointed three key issues political debates would center around: denigrating oligarchs, fighting corruption in law enforcement forces, and patriotic and nostalgic citizens’ feelings. Having said that, it is very unlikely that Russian authorities would dare to pressure Transdnistrian breakaway regime, given that it pursues the same agenda, exploiting the nostalgic feelings of Russian speaking citizens. As usual, nationalistic Russian political elite would resort to patriotic and expansionist rhetoric. An illustration of this is the recent visit in Abhazia of the Chair of the State Duma Committee for Foreign Relations, Dmitrii Rogozin. He expressed his support to the leaders of the breakaway region and criticism towards Georgia. The fact is that currently the Russian “imperial reflexes” could be displayed only in such countries as Republic of Moldova and Georgia.

It is very unlikely that EU or US would undertake any uncoordinated actions towards settling Transdnistrian conflict or even coercive measures against Transdnistria, given that Russian political elite openly promotes Transdnistrian interests. Russian representatives expressed on several occasions their disagreements with such initiatives of OSCE (Netherlands initiative), US or EU (ban for Transdnistrian leaders to enter EU or USA). Their standpoint was made quite clear — Russian interests in Transdnistria should be taken into account.

Given this, domestic observers believe that by making public their draft Constitution Transdnistrian leaders were in fact seeking to provoke a negative reaction of the Moldovan authorities, so as to blame Chisinau, as it usually happens, for rejecting Tiraspol’s draft without having developed its own at least for the sake of comparison. The end goal appears to be to justify the obstruction of the joint constitutional commission’s activity. Transdnistrian authorities already stated that it might take one year to develop the federative Constitution, consequently the conflict wouldn’t be settled by the end of the year as OSCE and US insisted on. Actions have already been taken to justify a possible stay of the Russian troops on the soil of the Republic of Moldova after the deadline set for their withdrawal at the Porto OSCE Summit. The situation is escalated on purpose so as to infer that only Russia is able to settle. And all these efforts only to gain time and discourage EU and US from getting involved more actively in the resolution of the conflict.

The second reasoning behind the obstruction of the resolution process is to push the negotiation close to the launch of electoral campaign for Moldovan parliamentary elections due to start in December 2004. In the past Transdnistrian leaders succeeded in getting huge benefits and concessions from the Moldovan side exactly on the eve and immediately after elections. This might be explained by the competition among the electoral contestants in settling the conflict. This was the case in 1996 when on the eve of elections former President Mircea Snegur granted the customs seals of the Republic of Moldova to Transdnistria and allowed its foreign trade. Also, Petru Lucinski who succeeded to the Presidential seat signed on May 8, 1997 the famous Memorandum on establishing a joint state by two equal subjects. The incumbent President, Vladmir Voronin, also promised during 2001 electoral campaign that his party would rapidly settle the conflict. In this respect on May 16, 2001 he signed together with the Transdnistrian leader a series of documents reconfirming the provisions of the 1997 Memorandum. However, several months later he realized that Tiraspol leaders had no intention whatsoever to give up on Transdnistria’s status as an independent state, which might form a confederation with the Republic of Moldova for the sole reason of legitimizing and breaking apart afterwards. It was back then that Transdnistrian leaders were denied the new customs seals, and the “economic blockade” as they like to put it began.

Apparently the upcoming electoral campaign wouldn’t be an exception. Leaders of the major opposition party, Alliance “Our Moldova”, have already voiced their disagreement with the actions undertaken by the Communist Party in settling Transdnistrian conflict. They established a liaison with Transdnistrian leaders and implied that the conflict might be resolved once the Communist Party gets defeated in the parliamentary elections. This fact again allows Transdnistrian side some room for maneuvers.

In a related note, last year during the electoral campaign for the election of Gagauz-Yeri Governor, Gheorghe Tabunshik, candidate endorsed by the Communist Party, promised to plead for the autonomy to become a subject of the Moldovan federation. However, after elections both Tabunshik and the Communist Party suggested that granting Gagauz-Yeri the status of federation subject was no longer appropriate. It sufficed just to amend the Constitution in order to legalize the status and rights it enjoyed. Nevertheless, speculations on federalization played their role. Currently, the majority of deputies in Gagauz-Yeri Assembly demand the status of federation subject for the autonomy. It is not a coincidence that these claims come on the eve of the electoral campaign for elections in Peoples’ Assembly of Gagauz-Yeri. Indeed the candidates resorting to pro-federalization rhetoric would have higher chances to win the race. Consequently Chisinau authorities might end up with a strong pro-federation movement in Gagauz-Yeri contesting the concept of “asymmetric federation” founded by two subjects, which President Voronin is promoting.

Opportunities and resources

The confrontation between Chisinau and Tiraspol is ongoing it only varies in its intensity. In the last two years the propagandistic war coupled by economic and trade measures has reached its climax. In this respect it would be interesting to consider how the parties exploit the new opportunities and what are their resources.

For instance Chisinau’s resources have been limited, however the favorable international conjuncture, i.e. NATO and EU extension, has brought it some benefits, namely efforts to settle Transdnistrian conflict were put under international control. It so happens that NATO and EU interests to secure the borders with and eliminate the conflicts from the neighborhood regions coincide with a particular interest of the Republic of Moldova.

Tiraspol reacted in an adequate manner. Transdnistrian leaders proceeded to the privatization of the public property so that the economic interests of the regional separatist elite wouldn’t be affected upon an eventual federalization. Also, as usual, they exploited “Slavic brotherhood” motives so as to win the support of Russia and Ukraine. That’s because there are two main factors that ensured Transdnistria’s existence: a) Russian troops and ammunition dislocated in the region; b) Ukraine’s tacit consent to the illegal export of Transdnistrian goods through its territory.

Under the resolution of the Istanbul OSCE Summit, Russian troops and munitions had to be withdrawn from Transdnistria by the end of 2002. Transdnistrian authorities created the necessary conditions for Russian diplomacy to justify the impossibility of withdrawing the munitions. A new deadline was set during the Porto Summit, which most likely wouldn’t be met again. During the 8 months of the year only 1/3 of the munitions have been withdrawn. Transdnistrian side precludes the withdrawal of munitions on the grounds that Russia failed to comply with the financial compensation arrangements agreed upon. This situation resembles another one, the document signed by the Republic of Moldova and Russia in 1994 providing for the synchronization of munitions withdrawal with granting a legal status to Transdnistria. As Transdnistria wished to be an independent state, whereas Russia didn’t want to withdraw its munitions nothing was solved after all. Nowadays, Russia is still interested to keep its military presence in the region as is Transdnistrian administration.

As for the second reason that ensured Transdnistria’s existence, i.e. Ukraine, it underwent some changes. Through the mediation efforts of the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, EU managed to convince Ukraine to secure its borders with the Republic of Moldova and to allow only the exports of goods bearing the new Moldovan customs seals. In May Customs Departments of the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine signed an agreement in this respect. Noteworthy, two years ago President Leonid Kucima refused such an agreement, although his Moldovan counterpart insisted on it. Back then Leonid Kucima, explained his refusal by the fact that the revenues of some Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea come from Transdnistrian exports and that it is paramount to protect their interests. In response, President Voronin stated in public that he would endorse the Communist Party of Ukraine in the parliamentary elections of March 2002.

At the moment Ukraine’s good relations with EU seem to prevail and EU arguments seem more convincing. Allegedly, Kucima’s new perspective on Ukraine’s best interests determined Moldovan President to award him “Order of the Republic”, the highest decoration of the Republic of Moldova, on his 65 anniversary. This allegation comes from the fact that last year Russian President, Vladimir Putin received from Moldovan President, Vladimir Voronin, only a crystal crocodile for his 50th anniversary, celebrated in Chisinau. Afterall, may be Javier Solana, who is due to visit Moldova in autumn, is the one to deserve the “Order of the Republic”, instead or together with Leonid Kucima?

To adequately respond to the “economic and customs blockade” imposed on Transdnistria (as Ukraine recognizes only Moldovan Customs seals), Transdnistrian leader, Igor Smirnov, decreed a 100% tax on the import of Moldovan goods. At the same time he introduced a free trade agreement and preferential trade regime with Ukraine so as to cover the needs of the local market. Moldovan authorities mocked those actions and ridiculed Smirnov on the grounds he cannot distinguish between a free trade agreement and preferential trade. Apparently Smirnov holds a PhD in economics at one of the most prestigious Universities, the Moscow one. He might have received it for political rather than scientific reasons, still he should understand what a “balance of trade” is and what are the resources needed to cover the deficit. It seems that Russia would adequately recompense Transdnistria for the munitions already withdrawn from the region. Now it’s up to Kucima to decide what does he prefer “Order of the Republic of Moldova” or a free trade agreement with Transdnistria? That is the more important as the presidential election in Ukraine are scheduled for October 2004.

Besides the support they are enjoying, Transdnistrian leaders do not cease to use new opportunities. Apparently they have identified a new way of strengthening their positions. For instance up till now Tiraspol avoided to synchronize with Chisinau certain events, like elections, referenda and the like. However, recently Transdnistrian leaders announced they would hold a census in the region simultaneously with that in Moldova. How come?

There is only one reasonable explanation to this. Transdnistrian leaders justified the separation from the Republic of Moldova by “exercising Transdnistrian people’s right to self-determination”. Obviously, nobody took it seriously. During the 1989 census citizens residing in Transdnistria identified themselves as Moldovans, Ukrainians, Russians, etc. It then means that the genesis of the “Transdnistrian people” was completed only in one year, by 1990, when they declared their separation from Moldova. Nowadays, after 13 years of the regime existence, Transdnistrian leaders administer all the necessary tools to manipulate public opinion so as to determine citizens to identify themselves as Transdnistrians, distinct from Moldovans, Russians, Ukrainians, etc. residing on the opposite bank of Dniester river. Synchronization of the census on both banks of the Dniester river is intended to confer the event a greater legitimacy. This might be regarded as an important step towards implementing the provisions of the Transdnistrian draft Constitution of the federative state related to the secession right, so as to achieve the principle of “people’s right to self-determination”.

While Transdnistrian leaders find all kinds of justifications and resources in order to keep afloat, Moldovan authorities miss real opportunities to make the reunification of the country attractive to Transdnistrian residents, especially from an economic point of view. Transdnistrian propaganda has already spotted the economic problems Republic of Moldova is facing, especially given its worsening relations with IMF and World Bank. This might be a very serious argument in the propaganda war of convincing Transdnistrian citizens that reunification with Moldova will bring no good, except for worsening their financial situation.

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