Transnistria: A stumbling block or Moldova's big chance?
Robert Schwartz / ct
June 3, 2016
A new round of so-called "5+2" talks aimed at finding a solution to the crisis in Transnistria have not brought the warring parties closer together. However, the OSCE, currently chaired by Germany, remains confident.
Two years have passed since the last round of talks aimed at bringing the conflict between Moldova and the breakaway region of Transnistria to an understanding.The meetings are held in the so-called "5+2" format, with representatives from both parties holding a dialogue under the supervision of the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine, as well as observers from the EU and USA.
The most recent took place in Berlin, a success for Germany, which currently holds the presidency of the OSCE. That is, however, the only positive development to have come out of the meetings.
Despite an appeal from Germany's Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, both fronts have remained stubborn. "Only once the sides can agree to work together on a solution to the practical questions can trust be re-established and the positive dynamic necessary for working towards a settlement exist. I call on both sides to pursue this aim unflinchingly," Steinmeier said when the talks began Thursday.
Yet both Moldova and Transnistria remain far from the foreign minister's vision.
A historical weight
The historical and geopolitical makeup of the entire region on the EU's eastern borders is everything but conducive to the establishment of trust between the two parties.
The Republic of Moldova was a part of the Bessarabia Province, carved out of Romania in 1940 Hitler-Stalin Pact, initially made a part of the Soviet Union. Transnistria, a region along the Dniester river with a majority Russian and Ukrainian population, was considered a part of the Soviet Republic of Moldova at the time of its founding.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Moldova declared their sovereignty and the region of Transnistria split from it after a bloody conflict at the beginning of the 90s, founding its own separate republic which is still not recognized at the international level.
To complicate matters, the 14th Army of the former Soviet Union took the side of Transnistria and to this day, Russian troops are stationed there - in spite of the fact that Moscow has been contractually obligated to remove them since 1999.
Scenarios for a split nation
Playing out with the war in Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia in the backdrop, regional tensions are already at a high. Add to that a shift within the Republic of Moldova away from a democratic state under the rule of law; the country is plagued by never-ending crises domestically, marred by corruption and power plays between competing oligarchs.
Disappointed by the so-called pro-European government, more and more Moldavians are putting their trust in pro-Russian Socialists. The euphoria felt after the signing of the agreement of association with the EU, and the subsequent granting of visa-free travel for Moldavians within Europe has gone up in smoke.
The latest polls show that just around 30 percent of the population support the government with its pro-European course. Igor Dodon, Socialist leader, has the greatest chance at winning the presidential election in the fall according to numerous polls.
Supported by Moscow, Dodon dreams of federalizing the Republic of Moldova. This would then bring Transnistria back into the fold as part of the Moldavian state, but with relative autonomy. In doing so, a possible reunification with Romania - something which has been sought after in Bucharest as well as in Moldova's capital of Chisinua and by Unionists - would be off the table.
In Chisinua, however, another possible scenario has been making the rounds. One in which a deal between the EU and Moscow would see Transnistria ceded and in turn, the Moldavian "leftovers" would take the European path. Which of these variations would the most practical considering the political reality in the coming years has yet to be seen.
"The Republic of Moldova's pro-European path cannot come to naught because of Transnistria," German lawmaker Bernd Fabritius told DW in an interview after returning from a trip to Moldova. Fabritius is confident that the EU treaty of association can lead to a good, solid partnership with the country which can, in its "Moldavian way," also remain open to establishing and maintaining good connections with its Euro-Asian neighbors.
"In such a scenario, Transnistria would not be an obstacle," said the conservative politician.
Fabritius went on to say however that the country's European course could be negatively impacted by recent changes due to corruption and violence in the country, as well as a decline in the country's adherence to its own constitution.
Under the German presidency, the OSCE remains confident that both parties to the conflict will come together and work step by step to de-escalate the crisis. In Berlin, an agreement was signed in which the parties are held responsible for the fast implementation of concrete cooperation to improve the lives of people living on both sides of the Dniester river.
Another meeting of the 5+2 group has been called, though no date has been set for the summit.