Moldova`s newly elected president Igor Dodon paid his first official visit to Transnistria and held talks with Vadim Krasnoselsky, the head of the breakaway region, on January 4. The information was provided by Dodon on his Facebook account.
According to Moldovan leader, he congratulated Vadim Krasnoselsky on his win in the December Presidential election, discussed a wide range of various issues, including simplifying the movement of population between Moldova and Transnistria. He also wrote about installing good contacts, emphasized the readiness of the parties for compromises and set the target to produce tangible results during 2017. Dodon did not forget to mention the religious factor (Orthodox faith), which, according to him, “alongside the common history, unites our citizens on both banks of the Dniester.”
Although Moldova`s official contacts and negotiations with Transnistrian authorities were held also during the presidencies of Petru Lucinschi (for example, “Memorandum on the principles of normalization of the relations between the Republic of Moldova and Transnistria” signed in 1997) and Vladimir Voronin (Voronin-Smirnov meetings), and within the framework “5+2 Talks” (Transnistria, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia and OSCE, plus the US and the EU as external observers) that took place in 2011, Igor Dodon`s recent visit and relative statements seem to open a new chapter for frozen conflicts in post-Soviet space in the light of sharpening geostrategic struggle in Eastern Europe.
Moldova is one of the four countries (the others being Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan) that established GUAM, a pro-Western organization with an aspiration to leave Russian sphere of influence, at the turn of millennium. Interestingly, all the member-states have experienced ethnic conflicts and loss of territorial integrity since their independence in 1991. Those conflicts referred to as “frozen” for their non-resolution and uncertain future.
One of the GUAM members, Azerbaijan became the first republic within the Soviet Union to fall victim to such a territorial conflict. An ethnic turmoil, which broke out as local clashes in 1988 in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan`s mountainous province, soon escalated into a bloody war (1991-1994), as a result of which the Armenian separatists strongly backed by the Republic of Armenia occupied both the region and adjacent districts. Although Nagorno-Karabakh was declared an independent republic, its puppet government is controlled by Yerevan, while the region itself is run as one of the provinces of Armenia. Azerbaijan does not recognize a separatist regime in Nagorno-Karabakh and prefers to negotiate with officials of the Republic of Armenia, albeit without results. Despite the 1994 formal cease-fire, shooting is frequent along the contact line, taking dozens of lives every year and regularly developing into full-scale hostilities: the most recent one, the so-called “four-day war” did occur in April 2016, when Azerbaijani forces could regain some of the occupied territories.
Georgia seems more unfortunate in terms of territorial losses. Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two provinces, which were autonomies during the Soviet time, seceded from Georgia during the wars in early 1990s. The tensions, which continued between Georgia on one side and Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the other, reached their climax in August 2008, when Georgia`s pro-Western leader Mikheil Saakashvili strove to restore his country`s territorial union. The attempt failed as Russian forces became involved in the conflict. The 2008 war further pushed the breakaway regions from Georgia, while Russia recognized the independence of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the aftermath. The Kremlin`s freely issuing passports to all Abkhaz and Ossetian residents complicates the situation as it enables Russia to be directly engaged in the conflict in order to protect its citizens. The situation does not seem to be resolved very soon also because Georgia has opted for European integration, which is conflicting with the interests of Russian authorities, who, through their influence in both breakaway provinces try to remain in the region and manipulate the situation.
Although Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova faced territorial problem in early 1990s, Ukraine could skip those turbulent years with less troubles. But current history shows that the problems in Ukraine simply waited relevant time to unfold: the country underwent similar processes in the second decade of the 21st century. Firstly, Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation in 2014. Simultaneously, Russia-supported forces launched a separatist movement in Donetsk and Luhansk. Despite constant fighting and shelling along the contact line, no territorial changes occurred. The agreement labeled as Minsk II seems to cement the current state rather than bringing any solution. Such a stalemate and lack of any prospective solution makes this conflict also frozen and is likely to craft another black hole on European map.
As seen, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Georgia reject to recognize the separatist regimes installed in their breakaway regions (despite some contacts). The situation in Moldova has always been different: there were direct contacts between Chișinău and Tiraspol in the past. Yet, the election of Igor Dodon opens a new chapter, while his visit to Tiraspol may bring mutual sympathy and trust between the conflict sides.
A Russia sympathizer, Igor Dodon called Crimea “a Russian territory” and writes posts not only in Romanian/Moldovan, but also in Russian on his Facebook account. He offers federalization for Moldova and granting favored status to Transnistrian region (In a parallel conflict, Russian authorities also insist Ukraine ought to federalize and grant wider autonomy to Donetsk and Luhansk). According to some experts, he will divert Moldova`s European course and seeks for integration with Eurasian Customs Union.
But it is highly unlikely that Russia will allow Transnistria again back into Moldova even if the latter accepts closer cooperation with Russia and/or integration with Russia-led organizations. However, actions of Moldovan side could generate a precedent for other similar conflicts: refraining from military solution, installing direct contacts between the conflict parties (without mediators), and more importantly, establishing goodwill and mutual trust between the population on both sides of contact lines. At a geostrategic level, Dodon`s politics may strengthen Russia in the region (in one of his recent interviews, Dodon noted it would be impossible to solve the conflict without Russia) and put the Kremlin in a more advantageous position, especially in the light of President-Elect Donald Trump`s statements to diminish America`s position in Eastern Europe and the weakening of the European Union following the Brexit.