“This summit wasn’t about NATO, but I raised this issue,” Volodymyr Zelensky stated in a crowded conference hall at the Mimi Castle complex of the Republic of Moldova, where the summit that involved 50 European leaders had just ended. Indeed, this meeting shouldn’t have been at all about the Alliance, but particular statements made there actually brought Ukraine half a step closer to NATO. The same thing can be said about the security problem of the Republic of Moldova, which wasn’t announced expressly in the summit’s agenda, but relevant statements were made on this dimension, with evident practical consequences.
Moldova’s security is guaranteed by Ukrainian Army
First of all, both President Sandu and other European officials admitted that the security of the Republic of Moldova is primarily guaranteed by Ukraine. Without the heroic resistance of the Ukrainian Army before the Russian aggressor, the Republic of Moldova could have stopped existing as a state. In particular, this special role of Ukraine in guaranteeing the security of the Moldovan state was the reason why Volodymyr Zelensky was so warmly welcomed in Bulboaka. President Sandu met the Ukrainian leader the first and went out to meet other invitees of the summit only after she finished the separate negotiations with Volodymyr Zelensky.
These negotiations between two leaders were short, of only 15-20 minutes, but had a powerful informational impact supplemented with special political symbolism. It should be noted that Volodymyr Zelensky made long awaited statements as a result of the summit, which officially closed the page of particular ambiguities between Ukraine and Moldova concerning the pressing problem of Transnistria. They ultimately stated that Transnistria is a land under Russian occupation and this was consequently for the first time that the key states of the West started to publicly admit this. The value of such acknowledgement of the character of the Transnistrian conflict is amplified by the fact that the summit itself was symbolically held on the border of the occupation zone, which is Transnistria.
Russian fake news denied on warm trails
Towards the end of the summit day, the tête-à-tête meeting of the Moldovan and Ukrainian leaders produced a real explosion in the Russian information space where it was literally announced that Maia Sandu agreed to allow the Armed Forces of Ukraine to enter Moldova for “cleaning” Transnistria. This fake news appeared on the Telegram channels for disseminating the Russian narrative about the war in Ukraine and was then massively circulated by the Russian propaganda media and Russian politicians and, regrettably, was believed by the Ukrainian Telegram channels and even by some of the media outlets that didn’t bother about verifying the facts.
In reality, this news was fully invented information. President Sandu didn’t make at all statements on this issue! The advertising turned out to be of such a nature that the presidential administration in Chisinau had to swiftly issue a statement to deny this fake news, while Zelensky had to answer in a surprised way journalists’ relevant questions, assuring that Ukraine will not conduct a military operation in Transnistria if Chisinau does not ask for this.
Aggressor in the role of peacekeeper?
This statement by the Ukrainian President brought to an end the discussions about the possibility of unilateral actions by Kyiv against the group of Russian troops from the left side of the Nistru even if earlier there were indeed thoughts about the possibility of military actions by Kyiv in Transnistria for annihilating the military danger for Ukraine in this region. It is enough to make reference to the suggestive name of a detailed article from Euro Pravda: “Time has come to liquidate Transnistria. How should Ukraine act in this regard and how it cannot act”. But at the summit it became clear that the Ukrainian army will not intervene in Transnistria without the consent of Chisinau and Zelensky’s relevant promise became public.
Another border statement of the Ukrainian President at the summit refers to the international format of the so-called Transnistrian settlement. Zelensky announced the death of the current 5+2 format and this statement can be interpreted only as a call to cardinally reform the international mechanism for mediating the political settlement of the conflict in Moldovan Transnistria, by diminishing the decisive role of Russia in this process. The main thing is that the opinions of Kyiv and Chisinau about the Transnistrian issue coincide in both of the positions formulated by Volodymyr Zelensky at the summit in Bulboaca.
A pan-European security summit
Nevertheless, the main security problem for Moldova was related not to the fake news about Transnistria, but to the real and urgent needs of Ukraine in the war with Russia. The impenetrability of the Ukrainian shield is the most powerful guarantee of Moldova’s security. Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time came with the idea that the Western allies should start to create a “patriotic coalition”, which is a unity of states that will work to supply Ukraine with armament and to offer it political support for entry into NATO. It is noteworthy that this idea of Ukraine found support at the summit immediately after it was formulated. In particular, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands stated that Ukraine needs more “Patriot” systems, while Romania signed a document by which it undertook to support Ukraine in the process of joining the Alliance. However, the “coalition” asked by Zelensky is still at the formation stage and Kyiv has yet to work to implement this idea that was publicly expressed for the first time at the summit in Moldova.
In short, the European Political Community Summit held in Bulboaca normally turned into a pan-European security summit. As it always happens in security issues, the meeting left several open questions. For example, after Zelensky officially presented the position on the possibility of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ participation in the freeing of Transnistria from Russians and ultimately officially “killed” the 5+2 format of the Transnistrian conflict settlement talks, there are questions as to the new formula for settling the separatist conflict on the left side of the Nistru. For now, there is no detailed agreement on the new international Transnistrian conflict settlement format.
Nevertheless, it is more than evident that the future mechanism for resolving the dispute in Transnistria will no longer be dominated by Moscow. The war that is being waged by Putin’s Russia against Ukraine turned separatist Transnistria into a real enclave that is clearly isolated from the until recently decisive military and economic protection of Russia. The fact that President Zelensky excluded Ukraine’s military involvement in Transnistria in the absence of Chisinau’s consent does not mean at all that this variant cannot be applied in principle. The most relevant thing in this situation is Moscow’s more than limited capacity to militarily protect the separatist Tiraspol.
Transnistrian conflict under new geopolitical realities
The new geopolitical realities in which the Transnistrian conflict in the Republic of Moldova is now, with these realities being shaped at the European summit in Bulboaca, are yet to be fully realized and acknowledged by Chisinau. The traditional perceptions of the Transnistrian conflict and the methods of resolving it, formed in the period before the launch of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, are no longer relevant. Chisinau should get ready for the institution of a new international format for the political settlement in Transnistria, actively contributing at diplomatic level to its establishment.
The fact that the separatist leader in Tiraspol, Krasnoselsky, immediately after the summit stated that the 5+2 format of the talks should be restored reveals Moscow’s interest in this settlement format that actually served the cause of conflict freezing. Chisinau is obliged to learn the lesson of the delay in the Transnistrian settlement imposed by Moscow and to avoid this scenario in the future. The first conclusion of the learned lesson dictates the condition of admission of the separatist Transnistrian regime as a party to the talks within the new international settlement format only if the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, in whose composition Transnistria will have a special status in accordance with the Constitution and the laws adopted by Chisinau, is recognized. The debates held on the sidelines of the European summit in Bulboaca shaped the platform for political support for such a conflict settlement scenario and for strengthening the Republic of Moldova’s security this way.
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.