Two interviews with President Vladimir Voronin published by the Moscow-based newspapers Komsomolskaya Pravda (in Moldova)RO and IzvestyaRO on October 4 and 10, 2007 mark a new approach of the problems linked to the settlement of the Transdnistrian conflict. The new approach of principle proposes:
Also, the chief of state reiterated a series of principles that Moldova will not give up during the settlement of the Transdnistrian conflict. One will see below that the chief of state has prepared well his arguments this time and at least they eliminate the need of persuading the international community, foreign diplomats that he loves his country as much as presidents of the states represented by diplomatic corps in Chisinau do, the way it happened in late June when President Voronin had to convoke foreign diplomats to explain them the essence of the “package of proposals” raised to the Russian Federation to restore the bilateral relations and settle the Transdnistrian conflict.
In all likelihood, the new presidential initiatives will have an impact but not immediately.
President Voronin has placed his initiatives in the context of better relations with the Russian Federation. Before launching the proper initiatives he noted that:
These remarks were aimed to demonstrate the pragmatic approach of existing problems in bilateral relations outside the “eternal friendship” slogans. In order to confirm the ground for optimism, President Voronin stressed that Russia is permanently reiterating the need to settle the Transdnistrian problem on basis of territorial unity of Moldova, transparent approach of existing problems and guaranteed support of all participants in the negotiation process.
The optimism of President Voronin is also based on internal factors related to reciprocal confidence measures taken in humanitarian and economic areas;
On the other hand, the president noted that the Transdnistrian authorities have made some steps forward:
Examples of reciprocal cooperation have also been revealed, in particular, the implementation of projects supported by international institutions such as the programmes against tuberculosis and Acquired Immunity Deficit Syndrome, aimed to demonstrate the unity of joint efforts to resolve humanitarian problems and to assure that “Moldova does not have plans to annex Transdnistria by force.”
In order to stress the importance of his initiatives, President Voronin reiterated a series of principles that Moldova will not cede in the Transdnistria settlement process. These principles mark the internal and external political context of settlement of the conflict:
Insisting on these principles, President Voronin was confident that Moldova, Ukraine, EU, Russia “will not reaccept the fishing in the troubled waters of the early 1990s. Transdnistrians are not interested any longer in criminal economic schemes, but they are interested in legalisation of properties from barber’s shops to big enterprises in the recognised legal area.”
President Voronin did not mention only one principle of great interest – the attitude towards the July 22, 2005 law on basic principles of the special status of localities from the left bank of the Dniester River (Transdnistria). In fact, the chief of state emphasised at the June 2007 meeting with diplomatic corps that the “package of initiatives” raised to the Russian Federation does not stipulate the renunciation of this law, which remains a cornerstone in the settlement process. It is unclear so far if President Voronin has changed his attitude towards this law in his new initiatives, particularly when the mediators and observers of the negotiation process were empowered to find a solution to Transdnistria’s status.
Substantiating his initiatives, the chief of state noted that “there are problems linked to Transdnistria’s status which we cannot resolve outside the existing negotiation process. The great powers will retry to resolve them, no matter how serious are the obstacles on way of tackling the Transdnistrian problems.” The Republic of Moldova must “influence the eventual solutions,” focussing on problems “which we can resolve without intermediaries, for the interest of citizens from both banks of the Dniester”:
President Voronin substantiates the eventual success of these initiatives on confidence that “everybody expects stability and predictability of the conflict resolution process. This time, the Chisinau-Tiraspol dialogue could justify the expectations of citizens from both banks of the Dniester River. Chisinau is ready to resolve these problems.”
The chief of state substantiated his proposals on demilitarisation and disarmament invoking Moldova’s neutrality status. He wondered what role Moldova’s armed forces play and gave the following answers:
President Voronin drew the conclusion that “there are two absolutely useless armies in Moldova, including Transdnistria”
President Voronin considers that “Moldova and Transdnistria could start the disarmament and demilitarisation process until mediators and observers discuss the format of the peacekeeping operation in the region.” Thus, “a demilitarisation agreement would be reached after a complex analysis” as follows:
According to Voronin’s initiatives, the military will be trained in an eventual army to learn the “profession of peacekeeper” at the highest level. They will have to learn both the military art and the art of preventing conflicts, stopping them under agreements. The peacekeeping experience of neutral states such as Sweden, Finland and Ireland was indicated as a very good example to follow.
President Voronin’s initiatives pass Moldova’s framework, proposing international solutions. Thus, arguing that the army of the unified Moldova is useful only as a peacekeeping force trained to intervene at the request of international bodies in order to manifest solidarity with other countries and nations, he proposes international organisations to allow only neutral states to hold peacekeeping missions. This would be the pledge of sincere peacekeeping missions, without following obscure goals.
President Voronin says that a substantial international support including financial is needed to implement his initiatives. So, the following is needed to protect the military from feeling themselves victims of the proposed changes:
The chief of state is sure that “it is the time to take actions, but these projects will be only good intentions without a support of the international community.” Even more, he is sure that “the foreign partners of Moldova, in particular, the United States, NATO member states, Ukraine and Russia are interested in such a transformation of the Moldovan army. We will resolve these problems with their support only.”
Internal reactions to the new initiatives of President Voronin were positive in general. Both representatives of political parties and commentators stressed the generally satisfactory argumentation aimed to strengthen the confidence of the citizens from the left bank of the Dniester River towards intentions of the official Chisinau to settle the conflict. There is a substantial difference between the new approach and the one launched last spring, when impossible actions such as early elections in a parliament of the common state were proposed while a solution of principle to the legal status of Transdnistria as part of a reunited Moldova was absent.
It was noted that many of the recent presidential initiatives have a tangency or reiterate in fact elements of:
These examples reveal that the recent initiatives of the chief of state generally met some expectations and they deserve all support. At the same time, there were some reservations regarding possibility to implement them. Firstly, it was invoked the pre-electoral nature of the initiatives. Also, it was indicated the desire of the chief of state to attenuate the eventual reactions of Russia towards recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the West. This way, it was tried to explain the policy on approaching Moldova to Russia in the detriment of good relations with Romania and the refusal to take part in events linked to the GUAM membership. Only leftwing parties such as the Patria-Moldova Party and the Ravnopravye Movement, which radically call for approaching Russia and CIS, described President Voronin’s initiatives as impossible because the chief of state is not trusted in Transdnistria.
Reactions of the Transdnistrian authorities toward President Voronin’s initiatives were foreseeable. Here and there ironical and even sarcastic, here and there favourably inclined, the attitudes were expressed and they could not be ignored like those towards the “package of proposals” on Russia last summer. Transdnistrian authorities simply affirmed then that they did not hear anything about organisation of early parliamentary elections with Transdnistria’s participation in November 2007 and about appointment of its representatives to high-ranking governmental posts.
Transdnistrian leader Igor Smirnov stressed that the recent initiatives by President Voronin aim at PR and propaganda only. He noted that there are documents that he and President Voronin signed on May 16, 2001 for all humanitarian and economic initiatives:
As regards the demilitarisation and disarmament initiatives, the Transdnistrian leaders gave a very succinct answer: – President Voronin is not credible after he accepted and then turned down in November 2003 the Kozak Memorandum on disarmament and demilitarisation of Moldova and Transdnistria.
Reactions of the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Evgeny Shevchyuk, were more diplomatic. He welcomed in principle the initiatives as a manifestation of Chisinau’s good-will. However, he demanded guarantees that these are serious intentions, not propagandistic actions. In order to confirm the good intentions, Shevchyuk recommended the Chisinau Parliament to ratify the agreements signed by the sides, including the protocols invoked by Smirnov. Also, he demanded the Chisinau Parliament to annul the law on basic principles of special legal status of localities from the left bank of the Dniester River (Transdnistria).
The former chairman of the Supreme Soviet, a founding parent of the regime from the left bank of the Dniester, Grigore Maracutsa, special representative of the Supreme Soviet for interparliamentary relations, welcomed President Voronin’s initiatives, but stressed that they will be accepted if Russia’s influence is spread from the small territory of Transdnistria on the whole territory of the Republic of Moldova. Only this way Transdnistria would negotiate with Russia and Moldova to resolve the problems in Russia’s interest.
Transdnistrian foreign minister Valery Litskay has made the shortest comments on President Voronin’s initiatives: “uninteresting, impossible and inopportune.” Perhaps Litskay was hurt by tonality of Moldova’s Ministry of Reintegration, which proposed him “to create a joint working group in order to work out a schedule of sittings of joint expert groups and their topics, so that to resolve the problems related to implementation of the initiatives by Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin launched in the interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.”
The reactions toward the new initiatives by President Voronin will not stop soon for sure, but on the contrary, they will be a constant decorum of preparations for the March 2009 parliamentary elections. At this stage, at least two initiative groups have posted intentions to create political parties for participation in the 2009 elections, launching sounding proposals on Transdnistria problem.
In the first case, the former presidential advisor Sergiu Mocanu (dismissed in late June 2007) launched a document titled “A strategy for the Republic of Moldova,” anticipating this way the presidential initiatives with one week. Thus, on September 26, 2007 Mocanu announced “an ample campaign to promote the initiative – in the European Union with the territory we control,” on behalf of the initiative group People’s Action.
It should be noted from the very beginning that the initiative of the former advisor is completely contrary to the presidential proposal. Mass media launched the supposition that the “strategy” of the former presidential advisor is only an invitation at an “intellectual exercise”. By accepting this approach it is important to know the premises and how the former presidential advisor argues his initiative:
In consequence, the solution “In the European Union with the territory we control” proposed by the former presidential adviser stipulates:
Thus, the preliminary conditions of the “intellectual exercise” seem to be as clear as the proposed solutions. But one thing is unclear: the solutions are the things that the former presidential advisor apparently wants, not the results of conclusions substantiated in logical and methodological terms. It is unclear why a border with all necessary attributions is needed to make the European integration issue a priority versus the country reintegration problem.
Firstly, if these are “rigours” in setting up a border with all necessary attributions, it seems that the former presidential advisor did not take great pains to study the Moldovan laws on state border and border guard service, in order to find out what the “rigours” he speaks about imply in fact. He is very approximate as regards the marking of the border across the right bank of the Dniester, making abstraction of the security zone and Chisinau-controlled localities on the left bank, as well as of the fact that the Bender municipality is de facto under the jurisdiction of the separatist regime. It is unclear how to enter the security zone to “rigorously” set up the border.
Secondly, it is unclear what the eventual border across the Dniester will be used for. It seems that the quality of governance, rather than the absence of a border on the Dniester affects Moldova’s accession to EU priority at present. The two banks of the Dniester do not hold economic relations in fact. The infrastructure was separated long ago. The Transdnistrian regime does not obstruct the building of authentic democratic institutions in line with European standards on the right bank of the Dniester. Would the border across the Dniester improve the quality of the Moldovan judiciary or would it make the mass media freer? Even more, European institutions clearly signal that justifications related to the influence of the unsettled conflict on the adequate functioning of democratic institutions is not accepted any longer.
Thirdly, it is an illusion that by isolating the right bank from the left bank the first could become attractive for the latter meanwhile. Even the author of the “strategy” says that Transdnistria is a “zone of political, economic and military protectorate of the Russian Federation.” Would Russia accept a much worse material condition of its industrialised protectorate than on the right bank? So far, it was clear that Moscow has promptly combated all claims of Chisinau to create a better situation on the right bank, both in political and economic terms, in particular, the conduct of a referendum on independence and joining to Russia, embargoes on Moldova, differentiated gas prices and exigency toward payments on the right and the left banks, etc. Moscow has taken all these actions to equal the conditions of the two conflicting sides in the so-called negotiation process. The claim to isolate Transdnistria in order to make the right bank more attractive for the left bank is illusory at present, given Russia’s political and economic ascension. Russia is like a “thermostat” capable to keep the constant “temperature of Transdnistria” regardless of eventual oscillations of temperature in Chisinau. This is a demonstrated fact. The declared intention to isolate Transdnistria will unquestionably be described as an attempt to antagonise the Moldovan-Russian relations with all predictable consequences. Russia has habituated us to prompt, “asymmetrical” but efficient answers, isn’t it? The threats of the “strategy” developer to break up diplomatic relations with the states which would obstruct it to stand out seem to be simple manifestations of “patriotic courage”.
Fourthly, the former presidential adviser launches suppositions regarding the European integration, but he does not know how the EU will understand them. He makes abstraction of the years-long efforts of Moldovan authorities to internationalise the conflict resolution, including by attracting the EU to observe the negotiation process and to monitor the Transdnistrian segment of the Moldova-Ukraine border via EUBAM. The EU-Moldova Action Plan, as an updated document on implementation of CPA, stipulates the settlement of the Transdnistrian conflict via negotiations as one of major goals. Even more, a similar clause outlined in the summary of this document persists in the EU-Ukraine Action Plan. We know the huge inertia of EU decisions, how much time some countries like Moldova need to persuade the EU to make such decisions. Under these circumstances, what would be the impact of the rigorous delimitation of the border across the Dniester without a beforehand consent of the EU? Would this initiative be interpreted as an occasion to invoke the danger of an eventual “humanitarian catastrophe” in Transdnistria, so that Russia be able to accuse the EU of co-participation in it through EUBAM? Invited by separatist leaders, the 100,000 Russian citizens and 65,000 Ukrainian citizens who reside Transdnistria would invoke this argument for sure, demanding these states to help them. Believing that they will obediently wait Moldova’s accession to the EU and its attractiveness is an illusion. What could stop Russia and Ukraine from helping their citizens who are threatened to be isolated? Perhaps the same fear to break up the diplomatic relations with Moldova, isn’t it?
Fifthly, it seems that the “strategy” does not care about the fate of 300,000 Moldovan citizens who reside Transdnistria when its author argues the need of “rigorously” demarking the border across the Dniester with the fact that the Moldovan authorities cannot control the “clean” criminal records submitted while applying for a passport for travelling abroad. Does this mean that the “strategy” calls for the refusal to issue Moldovan passports for travelling abroad to Moldovan citizens from Transdnistria? It is unclear.
Sixthly, it seems that the author of this “strategy” does not imagine what arguments give to Transdnistrian authorities for “asymmetrical” responses, as for example, when announcing the introduction of a visa regime with Moldova after the “rigorous” marking of the border. Of course, Transdnistria would have to obtain the open support of Russia and Ukraine and the finalisation of Transdnistria’s passport issuance by the two states.
In general, the non-estimation of possible reactions and actions of Russia, Ukraine, EU and separatist regime to the eventual implementation of the “strategy” is the main shortcoming of the document by the former presidential advisor. It is a fact that the influence of foreign factors in Moldova is bigger than of internal factors. Perhaps one believes that those around will be stony, fascinated by this “strategy”? This is impossible because former advisors of Moldovan president know and understand all these facts well for sure.
For this reason, the way the “strategy” claims that the declared goals of Moldova must be formulated and accomplished in the order of priorities – the EU integration and then the country reintegration – the “intellectual exercise” must make clear the priorities of the initiative group. This is the conclusion: the initiative group aims to reintroduce the former presidential advisor in politics by creating the own political party to participate in the 2009 parliamentary elections. The Transdnistrian problem is the ground of the new party, while the proposals seeking the “rigorous” marking of the border across the Dniester is the main point of attraction aimed to create the shock wave. In this regard, the “strategy” perfectly fits the perceptions of citizens revealed by the CBS AXA survey in September. Thus, 44.5 percent vs. 26.3 percent of the citizens would oppose the recognition of Transdnistria’s independence, if this would be the price to continue the European integration process. On the other hand, 53 percent vs. 22.8 percent would oppose the European integration goal, if Transdnistria would want this. The survey shows that keeping the status quo of the European integration and country reintegration priorities is the optimal solution so far.
It is unknown if the author of the “strategy” took into account the findings of the survey, but his offer comes to polarise the attitudes and it does not pass the limit of preferences of the majority of citizens. The “strategy” would not bring any added value to the status quo situation without this contraposition of the European integration and country reintegration goals, but this way it calls minimum for an “intellectual exercise” and maximum for a “people’s action” to build a new political party. Indeed, the desire of the “strategy” developer to succeed first to the Parliament in order to promote his initiatives is normal. Arguments to justify the impossibility of fulfilling the promises will be found later.
The “strategy” by former presidential adviser produces reverberations inside of the initiative group of the future Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (LDPM), which invoked the need of holding a national referendum on Transdnistrian problem, when he was launched on October 1, 2007, avoiding any details about questions or area of an eventual referendum.
The favourable circumstances invoked by President Voronin for his recent initiatives are incomplete, omitting a series of important factors. The Russian Federation has started the electoral campaign for parliamentary elections followed by presidential campaign. A new configuration of all state power will be built in Russia later. This process will probably last until May 2008. Of course, these events will eclipse any other political events the next half a year, especially outside. For this reason, the Russian authorities will unlikely deal with the Transdnistria settlement by summer 2008. They will be rather interested to maintain the status quo in the region.
If this supposition is true, the new administration (the partially renewed one) of Russia will come back to resolve the problems involving Russia including the Transdnistrian conflict when President Vladimir Voronin will be a real “lame duck” concerned with own succession to the governing, with whom nobody seriously discusses future projects. From this viewpoint, the probability that President Voronin’s initiatives will have an immediate impact on settlement of the Transdnistrian conflict before the 2009 parliamentary elections is minimal.
The negative attitudes of the Tiraspol leaders towards initiatives and credibility of President Voronin dramatically reduce the chances of the presidential initiatives to be implemented. Truly, the personal animosities between leaders from the two banks of the Dniester River have become proverbial and their communication via interviews with the Russian media is one more proof that progresses in settling the conflict are actually impossible during the concomitant governance of trimmings from the two banks of the Dniester River. The way the Chisinau Ministry of Reintegration has proposed Tiraspol to take measures in order to implement President Voronin’s initiatives, inviting the Transdnistrian authorities to read the interview published by Komsomolskaya Pravda, reveals that Chisinau wanted a refusal indeed, so that to accuse Tiraspol of intransigency.
President Voronin had grounds to launch his most “humanistic and pacifying” initiatives on Transdnistria settlement in October 2007. The rapid settlement of the Transdnistrian conflict was one of his main promises when he took over the unlimited power in February 2001. The conflict was not settled so far after more than six years and there are signs that President Voronin will fail the resolution during his second presidential mandate. In fact, the rule of President Voronin meant the complete coverage of the vicious circle, so that he proposes actions coordinated with the Transdnistrian administration which he had given up six years ago. However, the searching of a solution was “internationalised” and the only lever of Chisinau to influence the situation in Transdnistria – cooperation with EU and introduction of EUBAM – was fond in the period concerned. In this situation, President Voronin can only “bequeath” a set of principles to his successor which would establish the reference points of the Transdnistria settlement. Interviews with Vladimir Voronin aimed to formulate these reference points, making the impression of a “political testament”. Even more, the chief of state warned that the eventual opposition of his party in2009 does not mean the renunciation to these principles. On the contrary, the Party of Communists will fight to keep them.
The advantages of President Voronin’s initiatives are clear in this situation, and they are capable to attenuate somehow the criticism for failing one of his electoral promises. Firstly, the proposals will be accepted and even commended by mediators and observers of the “5+2” negotiation format, of course except for Transdnistria. But the arguments of Transdnistrian leaders regarding the non-confidence toward President Voronin are weaker than the arguments in favour of an immediate resolution of problems of citizens from the left bank of the Dniester River as long as mediators and observers are looking for solutions to the status of Transdnistria in the “3+2” format, that means without Moldova and Transdnistria. Secondly, President Voronin’s initiatives are more realistic and acceptable for participants in the “3+2” format than the proposals of the Moldovan opposition, which either deprive or envisage impossible actions. Thirdly, the initiatives of President Voronin will be needed to prevent Russia’s threats to recognise Transdnistria’s independence, if the West eventually recognises Kosovo’s independence. Probably, it would be inconvenient to Russia to accomplish its threats. Finally, Russia could accept the argument that the situation in Transdnistria and the solutions proposed by Moldova’s authorities are unlike those in Kosovo.
The Moldovan political class should reconsider very carefully the “inheritance” of President Voronin not only as regards the Transdnistrian conflict. The modality of tackling the problems – from accepting and unexpected signing of some documents of principle to unexpected renunciation to fulfil the promises – should be avoided. For example: a) the signing of protocols with Transdnistria in 2001 and further renunciation; b) the invitation of very important foreign players (EU, USA, OSCE) to participate in a joint effort to draft documents of principle and the parallel calling “behind Europe” on services of one of them – Russia, like in case of the Kozak Memorandum; c) the calling on support of regional organisations in moments of crisis and even the proposal to reanimate them by organising some summits, the way it happened with GUAM before the March 2005 elections (perhaps to regain the ruined credibility in relations with the Russian Federation) ant the unexplained refusal to participate in its summits later on (2007 GUAM’s summits in Baku and Vilnius). All these actions cannot have another effect but reduction of Moldova’s credibility.
Promoting a predictable, transparent and coordinated policy of principle even in details with main strategic partners, particularly with the EU, is the best strategy for condition and potential of Moldova. This is necessary particularly after the entire political class has undersigned the statement on political partnership for implementation of the European integration goal.