Andrey Devyatkov: “Package of eight” is off the table: Hard Luck of 5+2 Negotiation Process under Austrian OSCE Presidency

In Tiraspol political passions are now rising. The leader of the Transnistrian Communist Party Oleg Horzhan participated a week ago in a meeting with Moldovan president Igor Dodon, which was organized to promote the idea of creating a platform for the dialogue between civil societies of the two banks of the Dniester river. As demonstrated even by photos published by the Dodon’s Administration, Horzhan was from the Transnistrian side the key organizer of this meeting, which was at the same time not attended by other public figures from Tiraspol, usually associated with current authorities of the break-away republic. Later the Transnistrian oppositional politician even had a private meeting with the Moldovan president. Besides, Oleg Horzhan made some statements during the interview at NTV-Moldova (a media loyal to Igor Dodon): for instance, he attacked the Transnistrian government for monopolizing the political landscape in Tiraspol, whitewashing of people guilty of death of 15-years-old schoolgirl at the end of September and supported the idea of the Moldovan parliament to grant quotas to deputies from the left bank in the framework of the Moldovan mixed electoral system.

For obvious reasons it caused a very negative reaction of the Transnistrian authorities. Like in the case with the former president Evgeny Shevchuk (whose close associate Oleg Horzhan used to be before), it is not possible now to figure out, whether there were any real threats for life of Oleg Horzhan or his statements about such threats were just an instrument in the political race. Nevertheless, some other conclusions could be drawn from this situation. For instance, it can hardly be anticipated that Transnistrian authorities would have reacted in any other manner on this meeting than they did. So, this seems to suggest that Igor Dodon was interested in organizing any event, which could demonstrate some progress in the dialogue between two banks of the Dniester river. Even if it was clear that such initiative would be perceived as a provocation in Tiraspol.

This fact is telling by itself. Since springtime there has been no progress in Moldovan-Transnistrian negotiations. The parliamentary majority and the government in Chisinau have not tried to be a benevolent partner for Tiraspol. Their actions like initiating discussions in NATO Parliamentary Assembly or UN General Assembly about withdrawal of Russian forces and statements about the necessity to replace Russian peacekeepers were not at all aimed at creating a positive atmosphere for any substantial dialogue. So, president Dodon was meant as the only one channel for having a dialogue with Tiraspol. Since January 2017 he took the initiative and met twice his Transnistrian colleague Vadim Krasnoselsky. In coordination with the Moldovan government Igor Dodon proposed to Tiraspol the so called “package of eight”, the agenda for negotiations which includes subjects not only envisaged by the Berlin protocol in 2016 (like finding solutions for recognizing Transnistrian diplomas and vehicle plate numbers as well as lifting the mutual blockade in the telecommunication sector), but also issues like usage of land by the Moldovan farmers on the left bank and free functioning of schools with Moldovan educational standards. All foreign partners – Russia, US, EU and OSCE – have expressed their support for this initiative.   

 “Package of eight” is not simply about technical issues. Both sides should deliver here their political will and find a compromise at the intersection of their perceptions about own political sovereignty. Now it seems that it is not happening at all. For instance, the Transnistrian side is ready to accept “neutral” vehicle plate numbers without its own symbolics, but the Moldovan side is insisting on registering these numbers in its own information system Registru. Probably if the political will would be present, one more issue – recognition of Transnistrian diplomas – could be solved very quickly. But at the last session of the working group on education on October, 11 the Moldovan side announced that Tiraspol was trying to link this issue to other subjects on the agenda.

The stalemate at the negotiations is evident. That’s why the Austrian OSCE Presidency remains skeptical about organizing just another meeting in the 5+2 format, demanding the presence of substantial agreements before any official meetings. Moscow and Tiraspol openly criticized the Austrian diplomacy, referring to the idea that 5+2 format should be used also as a negotiation platform and not just as a mechanism for confirming the existent semi-official arrangements. During his visit to Moldova at the beginning of September the Special Representative of the Austrian OSCE Presidency Wolf Dietrich Heim admitted that the meeting within 5+2 format could be organized in October, but now it is obvious that any meetings remain doubtful in this year.  

Against this background the initiative of Igor Dodon to meet with some representatives of Transnistrian political community seems to be aimed at simulating the real progress in the negotiations. The reason, why the Moldovan president is doing this, is understandable: he made the Transnistrian issue to one of the key items of his political agenda in face of the coming parliamentary elections, so he should deliver something to his electorate.

The sabotage of the dialogue from the Democratic Party, which tries to demonstrate its own commitment to Moldova’s national interests, is not the only one factor preventing the initiatives of Dodon toward Transnistria from being successful. The Transnistrian authorities began to be skeptical about Dodon after he agreed with the establishment of Ukrainian-Moldovan common control at the Transnistrian segment of the border and practically supported the idea that Transnistrian should gain within the Moldovan state the same model of autonomy as Gagauzia. But Transnistrian authorities participated in the dialogue, because they were interested in using all opportunities for preventing any initiatives with anti-Transnistrian background and because Moscow insisted on it in face of Russia’s hope to support Dodon politically. But now the situation changed: Dodon has not still dared to really attack the government in Chisinau and seems now to have fully lost the political initiative. He is trying to get more concessions during his meetings with Vladimir Putin but within Moldova he fails to be the main leader of the opposition and is further loosing his powers due to decisions of the Moldovan parliament and Constitutional Court. In this situation Moscow is hardly willing to motivate Tiraspol further to be a benevolent partner for Igor Dodon and Moldovan authorities in general.          

While being not able to achieve a real progress in the negotiations with Tiraspol, Igor Dodon will use the traditional geopolitical and anti-Romanian discourse. Traian Băsescu gave him a good opportunity for that, also in the context of his statements about the unification with Romania as the only one way to the EU for Moldova and the possibility for recognition of Transnistrian independence if the unification with Romania will come true.  

To sum up, we see that all stakes in face of the parliamentary elections in Moldova seem to be done, also in the Transnistrian issue. “Package of eight” is off the table, because the Moldovan ruling party is interested now in producing conflict situations in relations with Moscow and Tiraspol and because Igor Dodon does not seem to be ready to be the real opposition to the current Moldovan authorities, also in the Transnistrian issue. The right-wing opposition is also not able to deliver something in terms of creating a positive atmosphere in the dialogue with Tiraspol: right politicians either refrain from having any position in this issue, which is quite sensible for their electorate, or promote the same idea about Transnistria as a zone of instability, “shady schemes” or Russian occupation.