At the 28th OSCE Ministerial Council that was convened in the capital of Sweden, Stockholm, on December 2-3 under the aegis of the Swedish OSCE Chairpersonship, there was adopted a new statement on the Transnistrian settlement talks in the “5+2” format. In a an already established formula, the ministers of foreign affairs of the 57 OSCE participating states reiterated their firm determination to reach a comprehensive, peaceful and sustainable settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, based on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, within its internationally recognized borders, with the offering of a special status to the localities of the Transnistrian region, and urged to ensure rhythmic cooperation at all the levels of the settlement process so as to continue the results-oriented approach and with active involvement also during the Polish OSCE Chairpersonship in 2022, by marking concrete progress in all the baskets of the agenda of the talks (socioeconomic, humanitarian, comprehensive settlement). The political formulas used in the given Statement are stereotypes and they have migrated during a number of years, with particular anodyne changes, from one document to another of the OSCE ministerial meetings. In fact, behind these assertions, there is a frozen conflict with uncertain settlement prospects during a predictable period of time.
Separatism left by inheritance
The first pages of the Transnistrian file started to be written during the existence of the USSR. Separatism in Transnistria started as a reaction, primarily of the Russian-speaking part of the population, to the élan of the national renaissance movement of the Romanian Moldovans, which was awakened by Gorbachev’s restructuring policy. From the very beginning, the territorial separatism in Moldova eastward the Prut enjoyed political support in Moscow, which hence started to stop the Republic of Moldova’s separation from the USSR. But the Soviet multinational empire could not be saved. As the USSR disappeared, the separatism in the Republic of Moldova swiftly reoriented on the platform of ensuring the geopolitical interests of the Russian Federation in this part of Europe, benefitting this way from the multilateral support of Moscow in new historical conditions. In such a way, the young European state Republic of Moldova from the first day of its existence was condemned to territorial disintegration without clear prospects of overcoming this situation. The involvement of the international factor in the settlement of the separatist conflict in the Republic of Moldova only contributed to its freezing and perpetuation.
Umbrella for strengthening separatism...
During 30 years, the settlement of the secessionist conflict in the Republic of Moldova has been dominated by and guided by the Russian Federation, which appears in this process as international mediator and guarantor of the future agreements that are to be reached. At the same time, the Russian Federation maintains its military presence in Transnistria that is legally a component part of the Republic of Moldova, without the consent of the host country. After the stage of military confrontations of the conflict of 1992 ended, the Russian Federation imposed a format that is unique in the international practice on the peacekeeping mission in the area. This consists of military units of the participants in the conflict and the Russian military contingent. In fact, the security zone of the conflict is dominated by Russian and Transnistrian soldiers who form part of an undeclared alliance, being disguised as peacekeepers and being opposed to the military contingent in numerical inferiority of the Moldovan peacekeeping mission. Under the cover of this incidental peacekeeping mechanism, the separatist regime in Tiraspol strengthened its presence and control in the zone, developing a military potential comparable to that the Republic of Moldova’s, if not higher.
...guarantee of Russian military presence in Moldova and in the region
The frozen Transnistrian conflict is the guarantee of the maintaining of the Russian military presence in the Republic of Moldova. Even if the Russian military contingent consists of only 2,000 people, combined with the over 10,000 Transnistrian paramilitaries, they represent a reputable force. The airdrome in Tiraspol is extremely important from operational viewpoint as this guarantees, if need be, the swift mobilization of the armed forces from inside. The repeated attempts by Moscow to introduce the Tiraspol airdrome in the list of functional international air traffic airports by an agreement with Chisinau derive from here.
The Russian military presence in Transnistria is a guarantee that the Transnistrian conflict will not be solved and the Republic of Moldova will not be eligible to join NATO and the EU. If the Russian-Ukrainian relations degenerate into a military conflict, the breakaway Transnistria becomes a Russian bayonet thrust in Ukraine’s back. This way, beyond the pacifist demagogic rhetoric of Moscow in the political Transnistrian settlement process, the objective interests of Russia do not match the conflict resolution in terms of restoration of the full sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova. The current international Transnistrian conflict mediation mechanism in the 5+2 format fully suits Russia, which wants the conflict to remain frozen, and does not match the sustainable conflict settlement objective.
Ambiguity of actions of Chisinau
The approach to the Transnistrian file adopted by the official Chisinau have long suffered from chronic retroactivity and usually falls under the initiatives of Moscow. Over 100 documents signed by Chisinau and Tiraspol in the Transnistrian settlement process on different areas didn’t substantially contribute to its political resolution. Moreover, the multiple provisions of the signed documents hamper the achieving of a political solution for restoring the territorial integrity of the Moldovan state. A ridiculous situation was reached. The current status of the rebellious separatist region from the left of the Nistru does not have a clear-cut juridical definition in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Moldova. The ambiguity of the policies pursued by Chisinau in relation to the separatist authorities derives from here, contributing this way to the transformation of the breakaway region of Transnistria into a paradise for smuggling and different illegal economic schemes that permanently cross the Nistru, contaminating irremediably the economic and business environment in the Republic of Moldova.
In the Transnistrian file, the Republic of Moldova enjoys the support of the Western partners and now also of Ukraine. It would be yet naïve to expect that other players will risk deteriorating their relations with Russia owing to the Republic of Moldova when Chisinau does not show sufficient initiative in the promotion of the own political conflict settlement agenda. In such a situation, the actions of the international 5+2 mechanism in the Transnistrian file amount only to measures to maintain the conflict in a nonviolent state. No one will fight for Moldova with the risk of sacrificing the own interests, especially when Chisinau itself does not show initiative and combative spirit.
Risks of frozen state of conflict and eventual solutions
The continuous perpetuation of the Transition conflict in a frozen state compromises the European integration process of the Republic of Moldova and keeps our state in the area of geopolitical influence of Moscow, with all the consequences of the affiliation to the Eurasian civilization area. The sudden escalation of the danger of the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine contains palpable risks of transferring the war to the territory of the Republic of Moldova. Our state is unable to cope with these risks itself. Massive support from outside is necessary, but such support cannot muster itself.
A necessary step in this direction is for Parliament to design and adopt a law on the current status of Transnistria in the composition of the Republic of Moldova, as a territory that is temporarily occupied by a separatist regime whose mission is to de-facto ensure the illegal foreign military presence on the territory of our state. Another step with content of affiliation to the European civilization area is the approval by law of the status of the second Romanian state for the Republic of Moldova. Such a law would open up the way for close Moldovan-Romanian political and military cooperation and would enable Bucharest to urgently start consultations at NATO level concerning security guarantees for the Republic of Moldova. In 1918, the Romanian Army saved Bessarabia from the devastating anarchy of the dismembering Russian army and later from the atrocities of the civil war from Russia. We must be ready for a historical repeat.
On which side of Moscow’s “red lines”?
One of the key points of the security concept of Russia says the extension of the NATO infrastructure to the East should be stopped at any cost. President Putin recently introduced the notion of “red line” in the political-diplomatic vocabulary, which, in Moscow’s perception, should not be crossed by NATO in Europe. The Republic of Moldova is placed by Russian geo-strategists inside the area delimited by the red lines and over which the influence of the West cannot extend. Under such a security paradigm, the European integration course of the Moldovan state is perceived by Moscow as a threat to Russia’s security that should be counteracted.
The purpose of the Transnistrian separatist region, which is legally a component part of the state Republic of Moldova, is to keep the Moldovan state anchored in the Eurasian space. At ideological-identity level, the Transnistrian separatism propagates Romanophobia together with the concept of vulgar Moldovenism, trying this way to discredit the European integration of the Republic of Moldova. So, the concept of anti-Romanian Moldovenism, dressed in anti-European clothes, contributes to the perpetuation of the degradation of the Republic of Moldova as a state and as society in terms of the civilizational choice. The overcoming of this situation is impossible when there is a shortage of consistency in the policy concerning the identity construction of the Moldovan state.
If the identity policies are based on the false principles of the vulgar and anti-Romanian Moldovenism or they are deficient in character, volens-nolens this leads to the acceptance of the ideological position of the Transnistrian separatism and contributes to the enrolling of the Republic of Moldova in the Eurasian civilization area, blocking the European integration course. In other words, without a distinct identity, you cannot form part of the European concept, while the non-friends of the Republic of Moldova fuel with a lot of zeal the predispositions of anti-Romanian Moldovenism in Moldovan society, justly perceiving them as the safest way for jeopardizing the European integration course.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.