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Rapid “thaw” may open up “flooding”

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Igor Botan / April 15, 2008
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Voronin — Smirnov meeting

President Vladimir Voronin and Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov met in Bender on April 11, 2008, after a pause of six years and half. That was a sensational event. Judging after conduct, Smirnov would have liked to avoid that meeting, with the recognition of Transnistria’s independence by Russia being a priority for him. The Russian Federation, which fully controls the Smirnov regime, has constantly insisted that the Transnistrian conflict may be settled through negotiations only, with the participation of Transnistrian representatives as an equal party. As Moldova is preparing the March 2009 parliamentary elections, President Voronin had to breach his famous August 2004 statement that he would never meet “marionettes” again but “puppeteers” only in the conflict resolution process. The resumption of the negotiation process should be a direct result of the Voronin-Smirnov meeting.

Should Voronin continued refusing meetings with Smirnov, the latter would have speculated this refusal on background of Russia’s recent call for the “territorial integrity” of Moldova based on the statement that the “potential of the negotiation process is not yet used up.” That means that the further blocking of the negotiations would have fuelled speculations of the Transnistrian regime that Russia should recognise its independence in the “Kosovo precedent” context. In this regard, Smirnov has looked for excuses to avoid the meeting with Voronin, refusing to meet in the territory controlled by constitutional authorities. Instead, Voronin had to humiliate himself in front of who he called “bandit”, “criminal”, etc., in the past years and accept to go to Bender which is controlled by separatist forces. This detail reveals the side who was interested in this meeting the most.

However, Smirnov has also found a goal of the meeting with Voronin. He made this step after deriding what he described as fanciful statements released by Voronin in a March interview with the Moscow-based newspaper “Kommersant” regarding actions he was ready to take forward settling the Transnistrian conflict. Voronin said in that interview that he was ready to meet Smirnov in order to make a progress in resuming the negotiation process.

Smirnov has severely and clearly explained why he accepted to meet Voronin — to discuss the recognition of Transnistria’s independence. Indeed, Smirnov was obliged to meet instructions by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who told him “nado” (must) and to accept a telephone conversation with President Voronin and then the proper meeting. As he has stated after the April 7 telephone conversation, Smirnov accepted to meet Voronin in order to hand in “the friendship agreement between Transnsitria and the Republic of Moldova”; that means an agreement between two sovereign states.

More than that, the Transnistrian propaganda-making machine has held a mad campaign on background of the Voronin-Smirnov meeting in order to stress negative attitudes toward Moldova, noting that Voronin is not credible in eyes of the Tiraspol administration. The public opinion was recalled the March 2005 case of former defence minister; Voronin’s refusal to sign the Kozak Memorandum in 2003; the “economic blockade” introduced in 2006 on the background of recent unprecedented cases of trafficking in drugs in Moldova; other evidence that makes Transnistria unwilling anything in common with Moldova, so that it will regulate its relations through a “friendship agreement” only.

Following the meeting that lasted an hour and half, Voronin and Smirnov have shown themselves up in front of cameras to comment their talks. The two screwed faces were a very eloquent proof of reciprocal feelings of the two persons, as well as of the fact that the circumstances alone have pushed them to a private meeting. Smirnov seized the occasion to stress that Voronin was his guest in Bender and, given this quality, he generously allowed him to address journalists the first. Also, Smirnov noted that he has handed in the “friendship agreement” to Voronin and the “two equal parties” should sign and ratify this document as sovereign and independent states. Finally, Smirnov emphasised that he is expecting constitutional authorities of Moldova to ensure an equal-footing treatment; to withdraw all economic and commercial obstacles faced by Transnsitria. In spite of the manner in which Smirnov tried to lay the emphasis, President Voronin has ostentatiously avoided comments on Smirnov’s provocative initiatives, focussing on matters he was particularly interested in — actions to build confidence between the two banks of the Dniester River; that means measures directly recommended by his October 2007 initiatives.

The only yielding Voronin has reportedly accepted while meeting Smirnov was the promise to ask the European Union (EU) and the United States to withdraw the travel interdiction on 17 Transnistrian dignitaries, but in turn the Transnistrian side shall withdraw the travel ban against a number of Moldovan officials. Instead, Voronin has assured himself a significant support of participants in the “5+2” negotiation process. Thus, the EU special representative to Moldova, Kalman Mizei, has appreciated Voronin’s efforts and his meeting with Smirnov. Voronin’s meeting with Smirnov was synchronised with a meeting between U.S. and UK ambassador Michael Kirby and John Meyer and Transnistrian speaker Evgeni Shevchyuk, who discussed the possibility of implementing infrastructural projects recommended by Voronin’s October 2007 initiatives. Even more, the projects concerned are part of the National Development Strategy (NDS) for 2008–2011 and the programme of the new Greceanii Cabinet of Ministers.

All the facts above have been arranged so that to give the impression that Voronin’s meeting with Smirnov was necessary to restart a wide conflict settlement plan which is not ready yet, though this event was unpleasant for the president of Moldova.

Reiterated attitude of President Voronin towards Transnistrian problem

On April 3, 2008, just one week before the meeting with Smirnov, President Voronin reiterated Moldova’s stance on Transnistrian conflict at the Bucharest NATO Summit:

By handing in the so-called “friendship agreement” to Voronin at the April 11 meeting, Smirnov wanted to stress his diametrically opposite point of view regarding the Transnistria settlement. Indeed, Smirnov’s “friendship agreement” is also a response to Voronin’s “October initiatives”. Voronin stressed after meeting Smirnov that no groundless yielding to the “separatist regime” is envisaged in the Transnistria settlement process and the process of searching a valid solution to the Transnistrian conflict in the “5+2” format does not stipulate the federalisation of Moldova.

Reactions to Voronin-Smirnov meeting

The Chisinau media has controversially commented the Voronin-Smirnov meeting. As a rule, the media affiliated to the ruling party has praised the courage of the chief of state. On the other hand, the independent media and that supporting the opposition said that:

The viewpoints above underline the opposition’s logic that President Voronin is wrongly approaching the Transnistrian problem in terms of principle. A number of opposition parties and local experts consider that the right solution for Moldova is to make a common front with Georgia and Ukraine in favour of a pro-NATO application, rather than to insist on Moldova’s neutrality. According to a part of opposition focussing on neutrality idea is a condition imposed by Russia and it reflects the Russian interests. It is supposed that ceding to Russia with regard to the neutrality problem just opens up the “Pandora’s box”. In this respect, President Voronin is accused of promoting obscure interests and non-transparent negotiations.

It is worth to mention that the viewpoints above make abstraction of the new context, which is absolutely unlike the one in which the Voronin-Smirnov meeting took place:

Transnistria — Russia’s handle-free suitcase?

Separatist elites in Tiraspol were also very unsatisfied with Russia’s behaviour. But being fully dependent on Moscow’s benevolence, they had to accept the new conjuncture. The Transnistrian leaders are demoralised because they have been encouraged in the past three years to hold propagandistic campaigns round o’clock to assure citizens that Russia will use the “universality of the Kosovo precedent” in order to recognise Transnistria’s independence, while now they have to look for a compromise solution with the Republic of Moldova.

The March hearings and Declaration by the Russian State Duma concerning the unrecognised republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria revealed that Russia’s threats to treat the “Kosovo case” as a universal precedent was a banal bluffness. In this regard, a number of Transnistrian lawmakers had to accuse Russia of unwillingness to honour its promises and to blame it for sufferings of Transnistrians, who have to live in an extremely bad material condition and face shortages because of the pro-Russia orientation which proves to be sterile.

These attitudes emerged into a first political scandal between members of the separatist “old guard” in Tiraspol, who started searching those to blame for Moscow’s new attitude towards the separatist enclave. The Supreme Soviet has even accused foreign minister Valeri Litskai of professional incapacity. Trying to defend himself, Litskai had to recall everybody Russia’s inflexible stance to settle the Transnistrian conflict on the basis of Moldova’s territorial integrity and by granting a guaranteed status to Transnistria. He indicated confederative relations between Moldova and Transnistria, hinting that a federative solution would be the best one. The “solution” recommended by Litskai seems to be intermediary between those publicly promoted by Voronin and Smirnov.

However, Russia’s conduct has profound explanations. Russian experts tried to argue why Russia had to act contrarily to own threats to regard the “Kosovo case” as a universal precedent:


The Action Plan is dead. Long live the Plan! Things go wrong…