Prospect of re-including Romania into Transnistrian settlement process. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



In the same way, the Chisinau-Bucharest-Kyiv trilateral will further underline the international isolation of Moscow, contributing indirectly to the pressure of the international factor on the Kremlin to look for a way out of this isolation by ending the war in Ukraine...


Anatol Țăranu

After Ukraine scores a victory in the war, a new international format for settling the Transnistrian conflict will be created, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky stated in a news conference after the European Political Community Summit that was held this year in the Republic of Moldova. Zelensky noted he considers the current format in which the aggressor state Russia acts as the “intermediary” is invalid. “Do you see life in the 5 + 2 project? Do you see the result? Why should we speak about a project that is not alive? I do not see any reason for speaking about it,” said the President of Ukraine. According to Zelensky, a fundamentally new format for resolving the Transnistrian conflict will be created “in time”, with the active participation of Ukraine.

Yeltsin-Snegur Convention was an act of surrender...

It should be noted that officially, the 5+2 format is now the only existing international format for the Transnistrian settlement. This includes Chisinau and Tiraspol as conflicting parties, Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE as mediators and the EU and the U.S. as observers. This format in time had a number of stages, the beginning being marked by the Yeltsin-Snegur Convention of July 21, 1992, which signaled the end of the military hostilities on the Nistru, but also brought to an end the quadripartite international Transnistrian settlement format, which included the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine.

The Yeltsin-Snegur Convention wasn’t only a ceasefire agreement between the belligerent sides – the army of the Republic of Moldova and the Russian army, the latter being assisted in the battles by the paramilitary forces of the separatists from Tiraspol – but also an act of surrender of the Republic of Moldova, which suffered a failure in the Nistru war for keeping its territorial integrity. The Russian Federation, as the winner of the war, dictated the conditions of the surrender to the defeated party, including the configuration of the mechanism of the so-called political conflict settlement. In fact, the settlement mechanism was conceived by Moscow as a conflict freezing one and all its subsequent adjustments by inducing the internationalization element were permitted by Moscow only on condition that the Russia side continued keeping control over the main decisions in the negotiation process.

... that eliminated Romania from international settlement mechanism

The Russian diplomacy learned well the lesson of the first stage of internationalization of the political settlement process in Transnistria, which functioned in the quadripartite formula in the period between March and July 1992 (Moldova, Romania, Russia, Ukraine) and in which the separatists from Tiraspol didn’t have the status of a party to the negotiations, while Russia, despite all the made efforts, didn’t manage to impose itself as a dominant party of the  process. The equality of the parties in the quadripartite mechanism was guaranteed by the principled position of Romani, which effectively counterbalanced the Russian side’s attempts to favor the interests of the separatist Tiraspol within the decisions adopted in the quadripartite formula. Namely for these reasons, Moscow was interested in excluding Bucharest from the Transnistrian settlement process and it succeeded in doing this after the signing of the Yeltsin-Snegur Convention, in July 1992.

At that stage, Chisinau didn’t make efforts to insist on the further presence of Romania in the international political Transnistria settlement mechanism. This was a fundamental mistake that cost Chisinau a price of 33 years of blocking by Moscow of the identification of a political solution to the separatist conflict on the left side of the Nistru, ultimately contributing to its freezing. Today, from the height of the experience of over three decades of failed settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, we can speak with certitude about the main impediments that blocked the process of finding a solution during a reasonable timeframe.

Wolf “guards” the sheepfold, but not always

The first handicap is the mistaken and  assumed appreciation by the official Chisinau of the character of the secessionist conflict in Transnistria as a prevailing internal one, diminishing the prevailing external cause. Consequently, this mistake allowed the separatist regime from Tiraspol to be an equal party with Chisinau in the negotiation process under the auspices of the international conflict mediation mechanism. This way, Moscow’s role of animator and of direct participant in the conflict was camouflaged, the Russian party’s role of international mediator and even guarantor of the future political solution being recognized. If we need to describe in ordinary terms the settlement mechanism in Transnistria, which was imposed by Moscow, we can use the formula that depicts the wolf as a guard at the sheepfold.

Elated at the Moldovan “find”, Russia tried to impose the Moldovan secessionist conflict settlement precedent on Ukraine when it insisted that the separatist administrations in Donetsk and Luhansk should be accepted by the official Kyiv as equal parties in the process of negotiating a political solution to the separatist conflicts in the east of this country. But Kyiv, learning the lesson of Moldova’s failure in settling the Transnistrian conflict, categorically refused to enter this Russian race.

Ukraine offers its services, EU shows the way

At the same time, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his conviction that the problem of the unrecognized Transnistria and the restoration of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova will be solved after Ukraine scores a victory in the war against Russia. Making reference to the future international Transnistrian settlement conflict mechanism, Zelensky made it clear that Ukraine will play a major role in the constitution of this. “We will have to talk from the position of a powerful state, a victorious state that obtained its land back... If other partners need assistance, in this situation Moldova will probably want to also connect Romania and other partner states. But Ukraine will definitely play one of the major roles as we have a common frontier,” he explained.

In this connection, the statement made by the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell is of special importance. The official said that the situation with the unrecognized Transnistria will not prevent the Republic of Moldova from joining the European Union, invoking the precedent set by Cyprus. Such a change in the EU’s view on the Transnistrian conflict is of principal value as it deprives Russia of the main argument of banking on the Transnistrian separatism as the main instrument for obstructing the European course of the Republic of Moldova. Similarly, the Western partners’ interest in the 5 + 2 format in the Transnistrian issue is no longer valid after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The non-functionality of the 5 + 2 format owing to the war in Ukraine condemns the political Transnistrian conflict settlement process to an indefinite break. At the same time, Transnistria’s inaccessibility to Russia due to the war turns this territory into a real enclave that is profoundly dependent on the neighboring states, in our case Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. It would be a big mistake not to maximally use this situation to limit the Russian influence over the Transnistrian settlement process.

Trilateral at initial stage

While waiting for a robust international format for mediating the political Transnistrian conflict settlement process, which will replace the 5 + 2 format that was discredited by the Russian aggression against Ukraine, Chisinau has the right to come with the initiative, evidently discussed and agreed beforehand with Bucharest and Kyiv, to constitute a new international trilateral settlement process Transnistria – the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Romania, the last two as states that are in the immediate vicinity of the given conflict, but also as participants in the first international quadripartite format of 1992, which was torpedoed by the diplomatic effort of Moscow. At the first stage of its activity, the international trilateral can focus mainly on the economic reintegration of the separatist enclave into the legal space of the Republic of Moldova and of international law.

The creation of such a trilateral will serve as a basis for developing a new international mediation and definitive Transnistrian settlement mechanism after the inauguration of peace in Ukraine. Russia will be in time attracted to take part in this future extended international definitive Transnistrian settlement mechanism, but without having the right of veto on final decisions. At the same time, until the extended international format for the Transnistrian problem is constituted, the EU and NATO will have a say in the trilateral through the agency of their member Romania.  

The formation of the Moldova – Romania – Ukraine trilateral would mean active involvement of the Moldovan diplomatic service in taking the opportunities that will appear in the new international conjuncture in the Transnistrian issue, to the detriment of passive waiting for the end of the war in Ukraine. In the same, the Chisinau-Bucharest-Kyiv trilateral will further underline the international isolation of Moscow, contributing indirectly to the pressure of the international factor on the Kremlin to look for a way out of this isolation by ending the war in Ukraine.

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

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.

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