In the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, the MPs gave two readings to amendments to the Penal Code, which introduce imprisonment for such offenses as separatism, separatism financing, inciting of separatism, plotting against the Republic of Moldova, collection and obtaining of information that can cause damage to the sovereignty, independence and integrity of the state. The current legislation on espionage or high treason does not stipulate legal responsibility for such deeds on the part of the unconstitutional bodies of the separatist regime in Transnistria or other potential separatist actions and covers only the subversive actions against the Republic of Moldova by bodies or citizens of a sovereign state recognized at international level. This way, the so-called Ministry of Security in Tiraspol, which does not legally represent a foreign state, does not fall under the law on espionage. The amendments to the Code that were recently adopted by Parliament bring the actions of separatism on the left side of the Nistru into the zone of liability.
Direct and permanent threats
As it is known, the Republic of Moldova has been a territorially divided state since the declaring of its independence. The constitutional bodies of the state do not extend their control over the districts from the left side of the Nistru, which creates direct and permanent threats to the security of the state. The amendment and supplementing of the Penal Code by introducing such concepts as “unconstitutional organizations” and “illegal information bodies” into this will enable to regulate the actions of the unconstitutional paramilitary bodies, which encroach on the interests and security of the Republic of Moldova. In practical terms, the new articles of the Code, in the authors’ view, come to cover offenses related to espionage and high treason committed by separatist bodies. At the same time, the criminal punishment applies also to persons who learned about sabotage, but didn’t report it to the security agencies. The separatist actions or actions taken to separate a part of the territory of the Republic of Moldova or to finance these actions can be punished with long jail terms.
Reactions in tandem
These changes caused a mixt reaction inside Moldovan society and also outside the country. Tiraspol was the first that reacted, accusing Chisinau of destroying the current negotiation mechanism for settling the conflict. “The Moldovan side continues using the administrative-bureaucratic methods of pressure. We see clear legal reasons for destroying all the foundations of the negotiation process,” insinuated the representative of the so-called Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Transnistria Vitaly Ignatiev. Not at all surprisingly, Moscow reacted in unison with Tiraspol, declaring, through the official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia Maria Zakharova, that these changes will affect the basic principles of the Transnistrian settlement process and will not add mutual understanding between Chisinau and Tiraspol against the deterioration of the dialogue between the two sides of the Nistru and a hiatus in the 5+2 format”.
If the reaction of the separatist bodies in Tiraspol was absolutely predictable, these being extremely concerned about the end of the period of full impunity before the law for criminal separatism, the official position of Moscow was expected to be more flexible. Russia actually signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Moldova in 2002 and article 5 of this provides that: “Each of the high Contracting Parties will refrain from any action that can cause damage to the other high Contracting Party, to its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. The parties condemn separatism in all its forms of manifestation and undertake not to support separatist movements”.
Hypocrisy and cynicism
Furthermore, Russia’s legislation contains similar penalties for actions of separatism on its territory. If we remember the cruelty with which the Russian army in two consecutive wars suppressed the Chechen separatism, razing to the ground Groznyy city and mercilessly massacring thousands of innocent civilians, Russian officials’ lamentations about the necessity of Chisinau respecting the conditions of excessive tolerance of the separatist regime in Tiraspol reach the proportions of hypocrisy and cynicism. In this case, Moscow showed once again its full disregard for its obligations stipulated in international treaties, especially with regard to the small states that are not protected from participation in international political and defense coalitions, such as the Republic of Moldova. During the over 30 years of existence of the separatist Transnistrian regime, Moscow has invariably supported this politically and economically, finalizing this way the territorial split of the Moldovan state.
It is more than evident that the amendments planned to the Penal Code are extremely late. During the separatist Transnistrian regime’s 30 years of confortable existence in the Moldova legal space, multiple behavioral stereotypes appeared in the relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, which de-facto equal semi-recognition of the anti-constitutional separatist regime. The breaking of these stereotypes will be extremely painful and full of conflict escalation dangers. However, Chisinau cannot endlessly delay the political settlement of the Transnistrian conflict whose unsolved character condemns the Republic of Moldova to its role of failed state. Moreover, the end of the war in Ukraine will bring the fate of the separatist Transnistrian in the spotlight. Consequently, the current anti-separatist legislation in Moldova can be regarded as a step taken by Chisinau to prepare for the approaching final phase of the definitive Transnistrian settlement process.
Nevertheless, the feeling of apprehension about the perspective of applying the anti-separatism legation in relation to the unionist movement appeared and develops in the pro-Romanian part of Moldovan society. The causal commenting by sponsors of the anti-separatism bill that was given a final reading, concerning the idea that the unionist political concept cannot be interpreted as separatist action, implies a lot of subjectivism and leaves too much room for a broad application of the planned new provisions of the Penal Code. These suspicions that seem to be reasonable can be eliminated by more accurate determination of the application area of the new norms of the anti-separatism legislation in the text of the law. Concomitantly, the actions that fall under the new articles of the Penal Code should be clearly stipulated so as to avoid the imminent risk of extended and voluntary application of the punitive potential of the new legislation. A solution in this regard is to urgently design a special law on the status of the current separatist Transnistrian region as a component part of the Republic of Moldova, which will set down red lines for the legal communication with the so-called officials in Tiraspol, beyond which legal responsibility for separatism is borne. Otherwise, the new provisions of the anti-separatism legislation risks turning nonfunctional, compromising this way Moldovan lawmakers’ efforts to incorporate the districts from the left side of the Nistru into the legal framework of the Republic of Moldova when there is a separatist political regime in Tiraspol.
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