Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has warned Moldova that signing an association agreement with the European Union would have “serious consequences” for the country’s future, echoing similar threats levelled at Ukraine.
In an interview for Rossiya-24, published ahead of his visit to the Moldovan capital Chișinău yesterday (2 September), Rogozin said that such a move would jeopardise the future of Transnistria, a breakaway territory unrecognised by the international community located on the border between Moldova and Ukraine.
Russians make up almost of third of Transnistria's population and Moscow has a strong military presence in the region, which the Kremlin refers to as the “Pridnestrovian Republic”.
Rogozin warned that the pact's signature would also have serious consequences for the free movement of Moldovan workers in Russia as well as on the export of Moldovan goods to the Russian market.
Rogozin, the uncompromising former representative of Russia to Nato, said that the agreement in question was an “anteroom” where Moldova “may be kept rather long and twisted around the EU’s little finger”.
Similar messages were voiced last week by the leader of the unrecognised Pridnestrovian Republic, Yevgeny Shevchuk, who warned both Moldova and Ukraine that the region could be destabilised by a potential EU association process.
Discussions over the pact's signature will take place at the next Eastern Partnership Summit organised by the Lithuanian Presidency in Vilnius on 28-29 November.
The Transnistrian conflict is one of the four “frozen conflicts” in post-Soviet Russia. The breakaway province de facto functions as a state with an elected government, but gained very limited recognition internationally.
This is not the first time that Moscow has threatened neighbouring countries who want closer ties with the European Union. Last month, Russia tightened customs controls against Ukraine, imposing time-consuming border checks and even banning some goods, in reaction to the free-trade and association agreement negotiations between Kiev and Brussels.
A leaked document published last month, the authenticity of which could not be verified, indicated that Russia would deploy all efforts to prevent Ukraine from signing the EU pact and would back pro-Russian candidate at the next 2015 elections.
Russia has set up its own Customs Union, joined by Belarus and Kazakhstan, which the EU officials made clear was incompatible with EU association status.
Moscow’s methods are often seen as attempts to jeopardise the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit. The summit is expected to herald association agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia, and possibly the signature of one with Ukraine. These agreements include comprehensive free trade deals and aim at gradually liberalising the visa barrier between the two blocs.
However, Russian pressure may turn out to be counter-productive, analysts say. Speaking in Brussels last week, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a Ukrainian opposition leader, said Putin “deserves a medal for boosting Kiev’s chances of signing its association agreement with the EU”.
Peter Stano, the spokesperson of the Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Füle, told EurActiv that "the Association Agreements with our partners will not be at the expense of their relations with Russia or any other neighbour. There is no valid reason to assume, however, that the legal harmonisation induced by the Association Agreement should have by itself any negative impact, for instance on the flows of workers between Russia and the Republic of Moldova".
He added that "certain circles in Russia hold the view that high-quality EU goods would squeeze out Moldovan products from Moldova and that these would then flood the Russian market. This is assuming that a substitution is possible between EU imports to Moldova and Moldovan exports to Russia, which is unlikely as the products are differently priced and also because the DCFTA will increase Moldovan export possibilities to the EU. There is in fact no reason to believe that the application of the Association Agreement should lead by itself to a deterioration in Moldova-Russia trade relations. of Moldova".
The European Commission also reacts to the threats regarding Transnistria, saying that it "will have the opportunity to continue benefitting from the current generous Autonomous Trade Preferences until their expiry in 2015, which gives it the opportunity to prepare for participation in the DCFTA. This could bring to the region the economic growth it needs to alleviate the consequences of lasting isolation".
Asked by journalists on 4 September about Rogozin's remarks, the President of Moldova Nicolae Timofti replied:
"Moldova's course of European integration will continue. The statements by a functionary of another state are his private affair. We have a program of European integration which we will enact irrespective of any such statements."