Chisinau-Tiraspol relationship amid worsening crises: new opportunities and dangers. IPN debate

Russia’s war of aggression against neighboring Ukraine influences the relations between the constitutional authorities of Moldova and the leaders of the separatist regime in Transnistria. At this stage, the given relations are marked considerably, more than other circumstances, by the worsening energy crisis, including the dramatic insufficiency and the exorbitant price of energy resources. This war of aggression also influences national public opinion about the correctness of the relations between the official Chisinau and Tiraspol, which in an absolutely normal way for a state of war is not univocal. In this regard, at least two distinct viewpoints can be identified. According to one viewpoint, the problems in the relations between the two sides should be solved in accordance with a “soft” scenario, given the ongoing war. According to another viewpoint, exactly for the same reason related to the war, Chisinau is to apply a “hard” scenario. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Chisinau-Tiraspol relationship amid worsening crises: new opportunities and dangers” discussed the pluses and minuses, benefits and dangers of these two approaches.

Igor Boțan, the standing expert of IPN’s project, said that approximately 30 years ago, in an arbitrary way, by a rebellion, including an armed one, approximately 15% of Moldova’s territory were taken out of the control of the constitutional authorities together with the population, the economic potential, etc. “Currently, the essence of the conflict is that the Republic of Moldova considers Transnistria a component and inalienable part of our country, while the Transnistrian administration claims it is independent from the Republic of Moldova and wants this independence to be recognized internationally,” noted the expert.

On the other hand, about 90% of the population there are citizens of the Republic of Moldova and the Moldovan authorities have obligations towards them. Furthermore, the communication with the left side of the Nistru is important for offering services to the Moldovan citizens from the right side of the Nistru, such as electricity supplies. In such conditions, the Moldovan authorities are obliged to cooperate with the Transnistrian administration. Currently, the biggest problem is related to the energy crisis in the region, provoked by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which has implications for Moldova too, as regards the supply of electivity and gas, the distribution of the gas supplies between the right and left sides of the Nistru. These are pressing problems that should be solved and this is primarily within the remit of the Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration, stated Igor Boțan.

As to the interaction between the sides, the expert noted that a particular model for settling the conflict was imposed on Moldova in 1992. The agreement signed on July 23, 1992 somehow shapes cooperation between the Moldovan authorities and the unrecognized Transnistrian administration. In time, there were signed multiple bilateral protocols and agreements with the assistance of foreign partners, in different formats, such as 3+2 and 5+2. The Moldovan authorities have to respect these documents so as to keep the prospects of resolving the Transnistrian dispute in accordance with Moldova’s constitutional framework and to have a dialogue so as to identify a political solution to the conflict.

Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Oleg Serebrian said the problems that mark the relations between Tiraspol and Chisinau change from one period to another. “The energy supply is surely the central subject now given that the Transnistrian segment of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border is closed. Tiraspol has often invoked the problem of imports, particular limitations or even used the blunt word “blockade” of the Transnistrian region on the part of Chisinau. But the figures help to refute this, primarily as regards the food products,” noted the official.

According to Oleg Serebrian, a part of the old elements persist besides these new or relatively new components, such as the Romanian language schools in Transnistria. Even if the intensity of this problem is now lower than several years ago, the problem persists and reappears from time to time as all these problems are interconnected.

“The problem of farmland is also periodically reanimated. I think that after December 31, when the next extension period expires, we will have again this issue on the negotiation table – the access of farmers from five localities of Dubăsari district to their farmland. The issue of human rights is sensitive and has a number of dimensions. It remains one of the thorniest issues. We also see the criticism leveled by nongovernmental organizations, including from Chisinau, at the authorities in Tiraspol and at the authorities in Chisinau too,” stated Oleg Serebrian.

He noted that the issue of free movement is also among the serious problems persisting since 1992. Tiraspol avoids this subject with determination. Many other problems, including the access to farmland, derive from the free movement and the restrictions imposed in the Transnistrian region. Small incidents are periodically reported in the Security Zone.

Gheorghe Bălan, ex-Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration, noted that the people in the Transnistrian region are affected from socioeconomic viewpoint as all the people in the region covered by the war in Ukraine are. The supply chains and gas deliveries were disrupted. A large inflow of refugees has been witnessed. The rate of inflation grew as in any other part of Europe. Respectively, all these factors affected Moldova, including the Transnistrian region. “If we refer to the region, until recently the people there had lived in an oasis and received practically free gas at the expense of the Republic of Moldova whose debt for gas increased. The prices of electricity there were rather low, while the prices of gas were symbolical. The industry benefitted from this and worked rather efficiently compared with other business entities from the right side. The business entities in the region fully benefitted also from the preferential trade regime with the European Union,” stated the former Deputy Premier.

According to him, the situation has changed cardinally and dramatically and the population in the Transnistrian region now also faces problems in the supply of electricity and gas. The people started to wonder why the supply of water is disconnected and why problems are experienced in the supply of heat or gas. These subjects were also discussed in the meetings of chief negotiators so as to try and identify compromise solutions for the people from both sides of the Nistru.

Gheorgh Bălan noted the population in the Transnistrian region now has doubts about the stability and future prospects, the socioeconomic and energy security of the region and each resident. In the short-term, the social, economic and energy issues can be solved to a particular extent. In the long-run, the de facto administration in Tiraspol will experience difficulties in fulfilling the social commitments to the population, like the payment of salaries and pensions and the maintaining of concessions on the payment of gas and electricity.

The ex-Deputy Premier noted the fact that the Transnistrian side refused to produce electrical energy for the right side, as Chisinau proposed, will generate problems to the region’s budget, which mostly benefitted from those revenues coming from the payments for electricity made by the right side. The living conditions of the people there will be affected, as of all the other citizens are. Chisinau is ready to identify solutions for the citizens not to suffer. But this should be a compromise solution in the interests of the population, not of interest groups from the left side of the Nistru.

The public debate entitled “Chisinau-Tiraspol relationship amid worsening crises: new opportunities and dangers” was the 266th installment of IPN’s project “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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