Andrey Devyatkov: Shevchuk’s visit to Moscow: pursuing short- and long-term aims

On September 22-23 president of Transnistria Evgeny Shevchuk paid a subsequent visit to Moscow. Analytically observers just reduced this event to an attempt either to get additional financial support from Russia or to demonstrate that exactly he, Evgeny Shevchuk, will remain in power after coming presidential elections despite all socioeconomic difficulties the unrecognized republic is facing at the moment.

To deconstruct the motivation of the Transnistrian leader which was behind this two-days-visit we should consider both short- and long-term aims. Short-term purposes are surely to be analyzed in the context of the coming elections in the region itself. Firstly, it is a local tradition that the effectiveness of a Transnistrian politician, particularly in face of elections, is measured by how much support (first of all financial one) he/she manages to get from Russia. It is not surprising because Transnistria practically does not possess any more enough internal resources for development or even keeping current level of social spending. Regional economic crisis and political situation have heavily undermined the economic basis of the Transnistrian de facto statehood.

Dmitry Rogozin, the special representative of Russian president on Transnistria, stressed again during the meeting with the Transnistrian leader that due to sanctions and economic crisis Russia is not able to increase the financial transfers to Transnistria. Actually it is not surprising for Tiraspol at all. If the “humanitarian project” (aimed at constructing or renovating various social objects in the region) was financed last years by Russia with sums amounting to 3 billion rubles in total, now a project envisaged in the sphere of amelioration will cost only 30 million. What Russia is able to deliver at the moment is to send a couple of experts from Russian ministries to assist methodologically current projects in amelioration and health care.

Besides, one more issue which Evgeny Shevchuk has promised to the electorate to discuss in Moscow is the situation with Moldovan Metallurgic Plant (MMZ), one of the key industrial objects in the republic. After the Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov rejected to take care of this problematic company and gave it over to the Transnistrian government, the plant should first of all earn money on international markets to pay salaries (the budgetary subsidies cannot be constant). But the demand for the metal production has dramatically fallen. At the same time it has become much more difficult for MMZ to get crude materials from Ukraine. If the plant will not find a way out of the crisis, the dismissal of hundreds of workers threatens to become a big head ache for the Transnistrian government.

Nevertheless Moscow is continuing to sponsor the Transnistrian pension system. So at the end no new substantial achievements can be announced in terms of widening Russian support to Transnistria, but the idea is to demonstrate that the president still manages to convince Moscow of the need to be engaged in Transnistria’s fate, even if with less impressing projects.

Secondly, one more Shevchuk’s motive in the sphere of internal politics is to deter the Supreme Council. Dmitry Rogozin repeated his statement that Russia is interested first of all in stability in the break-away republic and elections organized by keeping key constitutional norms without trying to destabilize the political process by information campaigns and other methods, not always purely legal.

Another aspect here is that the party Obnovlenie managed to improve her profile as a pro-Russian force due to State Duma elections where the Transnistrian parliament substantially supported the candidates from United Russia by organizing for them a series of meetings with the electorate in various Transnistrian towns. As a result United Russia got more than 80 % of the votes in Transnistria while a total number of voters amounted to 55 000. The fact that Transnistrian voters participated in the election of 7 deputies was presented by the presidential candidate Vadim Krasnoselsky, nominated by Obnovlenie, as a prerequisite for the appearance of a “Transnistrian lobby” in the Russian parliament what will allegedly help the region to defend its interests in the future more effectively.

To arrange a press-conference in Moscow aimed at sending any political messages has become some kind of a Transnistrian political genre. This time the Transnistrian president has managed to use not only this option (on the platform of MIA “Segodnya”) but also to give a video shout-out to Transnistrians from the Russian capital. This appeal presented Shevchuk as a strong leader defending national interests, friendly relations with Russia and guaranteeing the unity of the state and society. Last month such shout-outs became regular after Shevchuk announced that he would also run for the next presidential term.

Along with short-term goals the visit of Evgeny Shevchuk contributed also to solving of some fundamental challenges the unrecognized republic has to struggle with. Firstly, during his press-conference the Transnistrian leader has stressed the point that Tiraspol is very much interested in good relations between Russia, on one side, and the EU, Ukraine and Moldova, on the other side. Transnistria is heavily dependent on the geopolitical situation in the region, so it is important for the Transnistrian government to send a political signal to Moscow that its confrontation with the neighbors damages the interests of its allies and at the end its own interests. If Moscow is not ready to fully finance Transnistrian needs, it should take care of favorable external conditions for the break-away republic, so the message. To some extent this situation is close to what Russia should have delivered to Armenia (in the context of Russian-Georgian relations) and to Kazakhstan (in the context of Russian-Turkish relations).

Besides, the Transnistrian government should now do its best to support its own producers on external markets, particularly in Russia. The story here is not only about MMZ, but also Transnistrian producers of shoes, textile, vegetables, fruits and cognac. Due to many reasons the Transnistrian export to Russia amounted last year only to 8 % of its export in total, so political initiatives and guarantees are important for widening the selling markets for Transnistrian goods. During his visit to Moscow Evgeny Shevchuk met with the head of Moscow Association of Entrepreneurs to promote the products of Transnistrian industry. If the republic will not manage to find much more clients on the Russian market, its export will further be dramatically falling.

For Moscow the visit of Shevchuk has also some importance. Firstly, as it was mentioned, Russia is interested in a balance between various political groupings in Transnistria. Local skirmishes discredit Transnistria on the international arena and are particularly damaging in current geopolitical situation when the break-away republic is to a great extent politically and logistically isolated by Moldova and Ukraine.

Secondly, it is meaningful for Moscow to demonstrate that Transnistria is on the agenda of its negotiations with Moldova on the so called “road map” which is being elaborated at the moment with the aim to rebuild Russian-Moldovan trade relations. At the beginning of October Dmitry Rogozin will pay his second visit to Chisinau to finalize the preparation of a draft document. Actually Transnistria is not a substantial issue in the framework of this “road map”, and Rogozin has only “promised” to include Transnistrian problems (blockade etc.) into the agenda of his negotiations with Chisinau. Consequently, personal meetings with Transnistrian politicians help to counterbalance somehow this turn to Moldova. Despite heated political situation in face of coming presidential elections in Chisinau, Russian-Moldovan negotiations will soon probably result in some agreements on normalization of trade relations. The recent meeting between prime-minister Pavel Filip and Vladimir Putin has sent a positive signal for that.