Andrey Devyatkov: Kiev – Chisinau: a new edition of “regional solidarity”

On February, 13 the official Moldovan delegation headed by the prime-minister Pavel Filip, paid a visit to Ukraine. Moldovan-Ukrainian relations were burdened in the past with territorial disputes and sometimes trade conflicts but now it seems that the relations have got a new dynamic. To understand why it has happened we need to analyze the agenda of both actors engaging in a “strategic partnership”.

Both Kiev and Chisinau have some intercrossing interests. Firstly, they should keep their common (predominantly technical) obligations towards the European Union taken within the Association Agreements and under the regime of visa liberalization. The first aspect is to demarcate all the boundaries. This aim is almost achieved: 36 meetings of a special intergovernmental working group have already taken place, so more than 1200 km of boundaries were settled. The territorial dispute around Palanca was solved in 2012. Actually only 5 km of boundaries remain to be demarcated. Secondly, Ukraine and Moldova should increase transparency at the borders, as well as efficiency of border control what would both improve conditions of border crossing for ordinary people and economic agents and at the same time provide more security. The European Union assists here technically and financially in the framework of Eastern Partnership Integrated Border Management flagship initiative. It is argued that the border police and customs services of each country will control the incoming stream of people and goods using the infrastructure of common checkpoints. In the short-term the opening of three common checkpoints is planned, including at the Transnistrian section of the border („Pervomaisk-Cuciurgan”). It is no coincidence that Ukrainian president Poroshenko and Moldovan prime-minister Filip met for the first time at the checkpoint Palanca-Maiaki-Udobnoe on October, 7, 2016.

Exactly the common border management at „Pervomaisk-Cuciurgan” is the most sensible issue. Tiraspol used to claim that such initiatives mean a new round of “economic blockade” against the region. The truth is here somewhere in the middle: technically neither people nor goods will face any restrictions. On the contrary they will also benefit from a more comfortable and time-saving border control. But politically Chisinau, Brussels and Kiev are pressuring Tiraspol towards a settlement by depriving it of its “foreign economic sovereignty”. Brussels obviously tries here not to hasten taking into consideration possible negative emotions on the Transnistrian side (which are already expressed by denouncing the idea of including Transnistrian officers into the common border management). The EU Action Document on EaP Integration Border Management flagship initiative says that “the EU see this also as an opportunity to contribute positively to the Transnistrian settlement if this project is properly implemented through a phased approach that will take into account the developments in and around Transnistria (including the dynamics of the 5+2 talks)”. This phased approach of the EU can be seen in the fact that the common border management at „Pervomaisk-Cuciurgan” foresees at this stage only the police control (without customs control). Actually Brussels finances the project, so it has all instruments for influencing the situation on the ground. Nevertheless, the next step (which is not envisaged by the EU yet) could be the installation of full control of Moldovan customs over the Transnistrian import coming from Ukraine.

The second group of interests of the Moldovan and Ukrainian government is of more political nature. One of the key subjects for negotiations among Poroshenko and Filip was the cooperation within 5+2 format. As the visit of OSCE Chairman Sebastian Kurz to Moldova has demonstrated, Moldova took a quite offensive position in the Transnistrian settlement demanding to extend the agenda of 5+2 talks (defined earlier within the Berlin protocol) by its own list of bullet points. The visit of the Moldovan delegation to Kiev is the next step in realizing this approach. Moldova is obviously seeking opportunities to avoid international diplomatic pressure in the Transnistrian settlement (coming from OSCE, EU, US and Russia). While being full-fledged participant of 5+2 format and having its own experience in avoiding the implementation of Minsk agreements Kiev is a good partner here. President Poroshenko argued in this regard: “We are observing today some attempts to impose on Moldova and Ukraine those formats of reintegration which would allow to decide the fate of our people from outside. I would like to stress that these attempts are doomed to fail”. In return the Moldovan prime-minister expressed his full support toward the territorial integrity of Ukraine and highlighted the existing “regional solidarity” between Chisinau and Kiev.

Ukraine also has a political motivation in cooperation with Chisinau. On March, 27 the Ukrainian government is organizing a meeting of GUAM – Organization for Democracy and Economic Development. The participation of heads of the governments from Azerbaijan and Georgia is awaited. Pavel Filip reconfirmed his commitment to attend this meeting. In spite of the fact that GUAM had not brought out any substantial results (while trying to establish a common free trade area and develop energy corridors), this ad hoc structure plays an important role for Ukraine now in promoting its interests not unilaterally, but in a group of countries from the region which suffers from secessionist conflicts and Russian assertive policy. But it is hardly possible that Baku and Tbilisi are very much interested in using GUAM for any political statements as it is in the Ukrainian case. So in this context Chisinau seems to be an important partner.

Ukraine obviously has some economic interests in relations with Chisinau. In April 2016 the Moldovan government introduced quotas on Ukrainian meat and dairy products as well as cement in order to defend the local producers. It threatened to cut significantly Ukrainian import to Moldova which is of strategic importance for Ukraine in face of deteriorating economic situation in the country and loss of the Russian market. In November 2016 the countries agreed on lifting up all trade restrictions. The personal meeting between two prime-ministers was a good opportunity for Volodymyr Groysman to express gratitude to Pavel Filip in order to make this decision sustainable.

The second aspect of Ukrainian economic interest is the export of Ukrainian electricity to Moldova which was fully stopped at the end of 2015. It happened due to the coal deficit which Kiev should import from Donbass. At the press-conference with Pavel Filip the Ukrainian prime-minister confessed that this year energy deficit could become even more severe. But it was argued that “in the mid-term perspective” Ukraine would find an alternative (eventually in the US), even if it would be a more expensive option. Now it is important for Ukraine to demonstrate in this issue its commitment to be a reliable supplier. This issue is also politically sensible for Chisinau which is willing to diversify its electricity supply through future imports of Ukrainian and Romanian electricity.

Ukraine and Moldova also have divergent interests. The key issue here is the construction of hydro-electric power plants at the Nistru river scheduled by Ukraine. The realization of these plans could damage the water supply for Chisinau and some other Moldovan settlements. Kiev formally committed itself to behave in a constructive manner and to establish an intergovernmental dialogue between scientists. But Chisinau is also willing to address the European Commission for having an international mediator. So the ecology of Nistru river threatens to burden the bilateral agenda in the foreseeable future.

To sum up, Moldova and Ukraine have lots of more intercrossing than common interests. Nevertheless it creates a basis for intensified political cooperation between them, at least for this year.


Articolul este publicat în cadrul proiectului „Dosarele conflictului transnistrean. Soluții pentru dezvoltarea societății pe cele două maluri ale Nistrului” este finanțat de către Ministerul Afacerilor Externe (MAE) prin programul României de cooperare pentru dezvoltare (RoAid) și implementat cu sprijinul Programului Națiunilor Unite pentru Dezvoltare (UNDP) – Centrul Regional pentru Europa și Asia Centrală.