Photo: The president-in-office special representative at OSCE for regulating Transnistria, Franco Frattini and DPM president, Vladimir Plahotniuc
In the ‘70s there was a succesful American movie called Bewitched. The story was based on a husband’s social fears who kept asking always worried, what surprises did his witch-wife, to whom he swore eternal love, preprared for him.
That is how those who today are stubborn enough must feel, with guilty iresponsability, to continue to vouch for the Dodon-Plahotniuc regime in Chisinau. Despite, Bucharest’s irresponsible and improbable availabity which lasts, explicitly, for more than two years, the regime in Chisinau crosses all the red lines, which some considered, in their naivete that they would never cross. We no longer talk about the obvious signs about the Plahotniuc-Dodon binomial alliance about which we at LARICS continued to write about since 2017: naming the director for ISS (Information Security Service of the Republic of Moldova) by the Parliament, joint appointments of ambassadors and judges, covering the stolen billion, joint voting a new electoral legislation despite Western warnings, revoking the elections in Chisinau, defying the EU and the US, empowering the Russian presence in R. Moldova etc.
The most recent line crossed is Vladimir Plahotniuc and Igor Dodon’s explicit and almost simultaneous declarations, the first confirming the abandonment of the Pro-European project and rhetoric and the second requesting a referendum about Transnistria. This synchronicity is obvious; the steps are mirrored. The show is finally over in Chisinau. It can now be seen, without a curtain, that what LARICS wrote for a long time about Plahotniuc-Dodon binomial’s goal is a geopolitical/strategic one. In particular, we are talking about fading the “European project” out and preparing the “patriotic” DPM coalition (Plahotniuc) – Socialist Party (Dodon) – “independent” after the parliamentary elections on 24th of February 2019, under the perspective for “resolving” the Transnistrian issue in Russian terms, more precisely the “special statute” for Transnistria. In simple terms, the goal is to transnistrize R. Moldova and explicitly move the Russian influence at Romania’s, NATO’s and UE’s border.
Before going into a detailed discussion about the two synchronized declarations in Chisinau, part of the Binomial’s strategy that we were talking about, we remind the LARICS readers that a recent “spell” done by our “wife” from the left bank of Prut, which worked really fast, was defying the US and tacitly including the country on its list for international terrorism.
Chisinau includes the US on its list for international terrorism
Photo: President DPM, Vladimir Plahotniuc and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
We will not insist too much because LARICS already tackled this subject. The story is about the government’s decision on 6th of September 2018 to arrest and send to Turkey seven proffesors from the Orizont Highschool in Chisinau, one of the best schools in R. Moldova, linked to the so-called “Gullinist network”. The accusations were connected to terrorist structures. Even though the authorities had some ridiculous attempts to justify these gestures, but obviously no one was convinced, things being clear internal and external: financing through Turkey (the president’s building, the national arena and many other unpublic funds) in addition to Erdogan’s visit in Chisinau had to be compensated somehow. Chisianu joined Pristine – there are two entities in the world, except Turkey, who would support this approach – in condemning and sanctioning Gullinist terrorism (Kosovo expelled on 29th of March 2018 six Turks who activated in the Gullinist school network). Just FYI, in Kosovo (a Mulsim entity), Turkey manages the only airport in the region, the electricity infrastructure and built two highways valued at 2 billion dollars. What’s the price in Chisinau?
Mimicking astonishment, Chisinau’s pro-European decor came forward – prime minister Filip – Minister Leanca – speaker Candu rolling thier eyes: requesting investigation committees, boards, explanations etc. As if the ISS could have acted on thier own, autonomously, giving itself political orders and acting in collaboration with the government. Obviously, a cheap stunt. Just a reminder that the ISS is not even under the president’s control, naming the institution’s director is the Parliament’s prerogative, more precisely the parliamentary majority, obviously to DPM party led by Vladimir Plahotniuc. (In fact this is the first obvious deal between Plahotniuc and Dodon, given that the latter did not even blink when becoming president, the parliament changed the legislation taking the president’s prerogative to choose the ISS director and offering it to none other than… Vladimir Plahotniuc.)
One thing is becoming clearer for everyone. If Chisinau has put the professors linked to the Orizont educational network and with Fethullah Gülen on the international terrorist list, and the leader Fethullah Gülen is still living in the US, and not extradated to Turkey, even though Anakara urges this, that means that we won’t have to wait too long until R. Moldova will put on its international terrorist list … the United States of America. This would be the immediate logic result for expulsing the “terrorist” professors.
If anyone thinks that Chisinau’s gesture did not raise a red flag in Washington, they are profoundly wrong. It is not clear if they raised one in Romania. It is beyond any doubt that actions like the Ministry of Defence from RM’s absence at the NATO Summit in Bruxelles, lack of reaction to the fact that Russian armored cars and unmarked trucks are moving freely on the Dniester’s left bank (August 2018) or the “Güllenist terrorists” expulsion from RM raises any strategic questions which had and will be asked including the Moldavian government’s consistent guarantor and partner. Meaning Bucharest.
After this preamble, very well linked with our subject, let us move on to the latest “spells” done by Chisinau.
Signals for the East: the governing party is no longer “pro-European” – becomes “pro-Moldova”
Photo: The Democrat Party’s symbol in Moldova
On 14th September 2018, in Chisinau Moldavian Democratic Party’s (DPM – the governing party) National Political Council met. In a press release, the DPM leader Vlad Plahotniuc submitted a set of extremely suggestive amendments from a strategic standpoint. The most important change is an “action plan through which DPM to categorically define itself as a pro-Moldova party”. Not pro-European, nor pro-Western or any other geopolitical adhesion. Not with the East, nor the West. Just “pro-Moldova”!
The “arguments”: “DPM will go through some changes in reference to how it operates on a political scene. Until now, citizens got a wrong impression to be pro-European, pro-Russian etc. to move in a direction. No party has ever acted for Moldova, creating the false impression that someone from outside will take care of us… I discussed with my colleagues an action plan through which DPM will start today to define a pro-Moldova party, that will act for the citizens and the issues they are having”. Also: “We want to make sure that DPM will act in the name of the people. The whole DPM team will work to collect proposals from citizens from all the countries’ districts”, said Vlad Plahotniuc. “The Government will adapt to the population’s needs. DPM will come up with a set of proposals and projects as a result of consulting with the people living across the country”.
If the situation was not serious, it would make for a good laugh:
- DPM starts to “consult with the people”, says Vladimir Plahotniuc. Maybe they will start asking around about the stolen billion dollars, who stole it and if someone has any information about it? Mr. Plahotniuc should have started discussions with the competent institutions to identify the culprits who “made the theft of the centurary” and eventually, recover the money?
- DPM is no longer “pro-European”. After collecting the proposals from the people, who will finance the projects? From whom will R. Moldova get money? If it isn’t “pro-European”, but pro-Moldavian, where will the government ask for money? Frankly from whom?
- And finally we reach the DPM’s real goals. In fact, it is not that important that the governing party took the “pro-Moldova” title, but the fact that it gave up the “pro-European” statute. Also that RM did not have any chance to a European integration with the current governmental formation is obvious for everybody. Another important aspect is the signal sent to the East. Vladimir Plahotniuc and his party have sent a clear message to Transnistria and also Russia. The European idea is systematically closing in Chisinau for strategic and geopolitic reasons. Through this, Chisinau is preparing for “resolving” the Transnistrian issue. Changing the rethoric, the symbols and emphasis is the strategic, political preparation, while developing the so-called small steps is preparing the political-administrative process. The process, which we will see further on, is the primary goal for the parliamentary elections in 2019. Let us keep this aspect in mind. There will be other steps, in the same tone. For Tiraspol – Moscow, y compris – does not like to hear about the “pro-European” idea, because it would be contrary to the regime’s nature there to “reintegrate” with a Chisinau engaged discoursively and effectively towards Europe. That is the reason Chisinau chose to ajust on all levels in relation to a “reintegration” perspective. The same goes for the concessions made in the “small steps” politics, and accepted to make these concessions in ideological aspects and strategic view. So, the transnistrian head is barried in the pro-European sand.
- Vladimir Plahotniuc’s message “consulting the people across the country” containes, undoubtably, yet another ingredient. Consulting the people could be nothing else than… a referendum. Including the Transnistrian issue! This was at the tip of Vladimir Plahotniuc’s tongue. He was going to say it clearly, but problably realised that this is the ideological domain claimed by his bionomial colleague, Igor Dodon. President Dodon is in charge lately (at Russia’s suggestion?) with public communication, political messages, ideology, about the Transnistrian issue (in the background the real issues being negotiated by Vladimir Plahotniuc – Victor Gusan, president of the Sheriff group). Igor Dodon took this movement and came up with the referendum proposal, perfectly synchronized with the DPM initiative to become now “pro-Moldova” and discuss with citizens. Igor Dodon’s idea in connection with the referendum for resolving the Transnistrian issue is the natural and logical result of the DPM leader’s “pro-Moldova” message.
Dodon translates Plahotniuc and throws the referendum test. The Government is strategically silent
Five days later after the vector change from “pro-European” with DPM’s “pro-Moldova”, on 19th of September 2018, predisent Igor Dodon streinghtens the pro-Moldova option by unraveling its strategic goal at a local broadcasting station in Chisinau.
Igor Dodon explicitly says that “after the parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova, a referendum could take place for reintegrating the Transnistrian separatist region”. There is no other solution than reintegration, so the idea will be about the “freedom of movement on the two banks of the Dniester and a political dialogue must advance”: “After the parliamentary elections we will discuss solid scenarions in reference to how this reintegration can take place, but a very important aspect – any form of reintegration, cohabitation together will be discussed with all R. Moldova’s citizens in a referendum.”
After a mutually agreed solution is reached internally, “a reintegration option will be proposed to the international community”.
Let it be clear that Dodon, even if he is not saying it, he is speaking about the solutioning the political conflict, which should be preceded by a military one (the Russian soldiers and munition from Cobasna, illegal presence). Only after the political solutioning, meaning a “special statute” for Transnistria, Dodon declares “the military troops located on Dniester’s left bank must leave the region, with the weapons.”
Photo: The president-in-office special representative at OSCE for regulating Transnistria, Franco Frattini issues on the 10th of September 2018, in Tiraspol, the new “neutral” registration plates for Transnistrian cars which enables them to travel outside R. Moldova(!). Next to him – The PMR Ministry of Foreign Affairs Vitali Ignatiev (left) – other diplomats from Chisinau, and the US Ambassador, James Pettite (right).
President Igor Dodon’s messages are clear as daylight:
- The simple fact that the question arises as to the political regulation concerning the Russian troops withdrawal leads Chisinau’s negotiations lower than the famous “sincronicity” principle issued since Primakov Memorandum (1997), which suggested that the retreat of the Russian troops and political solutioning (federalization or special statute for Transnistria) should be made simultaneously (syncronized). Today, Chisinau goes even lower with their concessions: accepts to define “a special statute” for a region before the troops leave with their military equipment from the left bank of Dniester.
- In reality, what the authorities in Chisinau, including president Igor Dodon, are actually doing is in contradiction with the RM’s constitution voted unanimously in the Parliament (Law 173 of 22.07.2005), which clearly states that only after “demilitarization and decriminalizing the region” will there be a discussion and negotiation for its political statute. Igor Dodon knows this very well, but threw the issue aside only to relativize the republic’s constitution and to open a new set of discussions: including preparations to modify that law, for a future “patriotic coalition” (Dodon-Plahotniuc- “independent”) which will need three fifths of the votes in the parliament.
- The government’s response to Igor Dodon’s initiative is zero. Total silence. Nothing is random and it is not surprising. It is obviously a common scenario, in which the two actors will govern together after the parliamentary election in 2019 are testing the internal and external profile including Romania. In reference to Romania, an actor which interests Chisinau because it is the only Western actor which vouches and unconditionally finances the republic, here the reactions to the wife’s “spells” from Chisinau are shinning every time through absence. This also is happening right now.
Transnistria’s message. In fact, Russia’s
Photo: “The Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic Minister of Foreign Affairs” (Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublika)
Tiraspol is in front, diplomatically speaking. Chisinau is making massive, systematic concessions on all fronts. Even the so-called UN request made by Chisinau for the withdrawal of Russia’s troops stationed inside RM is played in Russia’s favour, because it does not refer to the so-called peace-maintaining troops. Their role is becoming legitimate, through Chisinau’s UN request (Chisinau’s request at UN strictly refers to the Operativer Group of the Russian Troops, the second component located of the Russian troops in the region).
The “small steps” politics undeniably favors them in this context when Tiraspol obtained from Chisinau the right for cars to travel freely outside the separatist region with their own “neutral” plates. These plates are not produced on Chisinau’s controlled territory, like it would be normal, given the fact that they are vouching and equalizing the registration numbers, but … in Tiraspol and in Râbnița. People in Transnistria can now go anywhere in the world with their personal cars, without any official plates from Chisinau, but with the “neutral” ones. Why would they even need a “reintegration” with RM?
On 19th September 2018 MRN’s Minister of Foreign Affairs promptly comments on president Dodon’s proposals in reference to the referendum.
Without surprise, the message revolves around the same lines which Tiraspol, under Moscow’s consent, have always promoted: there is a single solution for which Transnistria is preparing internally and internationally, more precisely, an independent and internationally recognized country (the only aspect which is not said is that Moscow does not want this and had never rushed, in any circumstance, to make even a slight step to recognize “MRN”).
The message rejects Igor Dodon’s proposal: in essence the Transnistrian region considers itself a “country”, a custodian of the people’s sovereignity which is the only element that can offer a meaningful statement about the future of the region. To recall the seven referendums in Transnistria, tha last on 17th of September 2006, when it was almost unanimously decided for “independence and free accession to the Russian Federation”.
It is a strategic rejection, with the doors left open:
- Everything is diplomatic, decent, attentively, nothing said bluntly. Tiraspol is not harsh with Chisinau because, under no circumstances, it does not want to break off or block the negotiations with Chisinau. (Moscow, obviously does not want this, being the primary sponsor and beneficiary of this dialogue.)
- The arguments are complex, which shows that Tiraspol is taking Chisinau serious. They comment, bring arguments to the table and express their opinions.
- In attitude, Transnistria is a bit ironic at times, when admitting that a referendum “would be something new for the Moldavian politics”, observing – correctly – that any of Chisinau’s decisions about “MRN” were not made through a referendum and, given the protests organized lately in Chisinau, it could be applied on other subjects in reference to the future of the republic.
- The order of the pragraphs is highly important. In Tiraspol’s communication the emphasis on MRN’s sovereignity is after the paragraph that refers to referendums, similar to a game which suggests that, even the previous referendums are not the last word. So, if other referendums could be organized in the left bank of the Dniester…Well then like Stalin would say, we know who counts the votes!
- At the end of the press release, Tiraspol recalls that “MRN” is against the withdrawal of “the Russian Federation’s peacekeeping troops from the region”. The explicit disregard for the Operative Group of Russian Troops (OGRT) is either a strange or surprisingly clear element. The way in which Tiraspol expressed this decision shows clearly the full concensus with Chisianu. We previously had shown that Chisinau did not request to ONU the withdrawal of the Russian Federation peacekeeping troops, only the operative ones. In general, Tiraspol would not make a difference between the two types of troops, but it is important that in the MRN Minister of Foreign Affairs’ communication as a reply to Igor Dodon’s initiative makes this distinction and speakes only about “the Russian Federation peacekeeping troops”.
All in all, Tiraspol’s communication is perfectly coherent with the entire context. Tiraspol/Moscow negociate hard. But… they are negociating! The subtleties found in the response to Igor Dodon’s proposal must also be highlighted.
Let us not forget that in 2018, 27 (!!!) meetings took place between Chisinau’s representatives and Tiraspol’s, under the Russian Federation’s supervision. The purpose was the negotiations for the implementation of the “small steps” policy. Meanwhile, Tiraspol started on 10th of September to issue registration plates and to prepare for the next “5 plus 2” meeting, where the “MRN” representative will discuss the issue of Telecommunications and some lawsuits open by the court in Chisinau against some leaders in Tiraspol (which they would like to be closed). Want is happening is only in the unrecognized republic’s favour.
Tiraspol is playing hard, because Moscow is negociating. For now, everything is going well, given the massive, irreversible concessions that Chisinau is making. And not only them. Why would Tiraspol make any concessions if everything is going well so far? Isn’t it clear that the higher the stakes the more one can cut from its demands?
Photo: Example of registration plates recognized by Chisinau which allows cars from Transnistria to move freely anywhere in the world
We are far from any clarification, but the tendencies are obvious. This is why:
- The Plahotniuc-Dodon binomial’s concessions in reference to Tiraspol are more striking and Chisinau, day after day, is more explicit in the direction they are heading. The Russian Federation clearly does not want to withdraw its troops before political regulation. But still, RM gives in on all levels, practically breaking its own law.
- Chisinau is playing a very different game with Russia, unlike Ukraine, becoming the regional vulnerability even for Ukraine. RM’s cession will be a pressure for Ukraine. The last understood the circumstances and reacts accordingly. Ukraine’s ambassador in RM was not present in Tiraspol on the “historical” occasion for handing the registration plates by Franco Frattini on the 10th of September 2018. FYI, in the end, the in “5+2” group Ukraine is a member, so Kiev will play a roll in this regulation.
- The concessions made by Chisinau will not lead to the Transnistrian independence, unless radical changes take place in the international and regional context. They have to effects though. The first, it streinghtens Tiraspol’s the power of negociations, because the current cessions in the “small steps” politics can never be taken back. The second, refers to the fundamental observation that “small steps” are not just socio-economic movements, they are the political steps in constructing the future political statute in a possible federation. So Tiraspol wins anyway. If a solution for the conflict is not reached, the citizen’s life in the region will improve anyway, the Trasnistrian elites will be more independent from Chisinau and finally they win legitimacy. And even if the conflict will be solutioned, the terms will be for a “special statute”. By the time it will negociate its political statute, Tiraspol will have obtainted many of its prerogatives through these “small steps”. The only loser is: RM’s pro-European project, which is not longer a priority, after Vladimir Plahotniuc clearly stated through his “pro-Moldova” project (with the exception in which private or public money would be wired in the republic or to its leaders, either from Bruxelles or Bucharest).
- Russia is playing hard its Transnistrian card, snatching as many concessions as possible from Chisinau before the final step. Which is not imminent, taking into consideration the international context. Moscow’s purpose is obvious, a “special statute” for Transnistria in RM where the part controls the whole, or more graphically “the tail to wag the dog”. Re-sending Dmitri Kozak, the author of the Memoranum with the same name, to manage the process is peremptory and this time he won’t allow himself to make mistakes like in 2013.
- Obviously, a major part of negotiations on Transnistria is made by Russia looking at Ukraine. A solution obtained there, read as Chisinau’s surrender, will be transposed also in Ukraine, so the pressure on the neighouring country for a similar “special staute” for Donbas will grow geometrically.
- The international context is cloudy, with more answers than questions. Russia is waiting for the elections in US in November to know with whom it will speak and if there is something to discuss. Now, it’s preparing the field, the Transnistrian case being an element for negociation, including its connection with Ukraine. Like always, there is a set of European countries, especially Germany, that is opened to dialog and concessions. It is not clear what Donald Trump’s America will do and how will the power configuration look there, that is why the elections in November are crucial.
- Let it be clear for every one: For Romania, transnistrizing RM would mean, on a medium to longer term, neighboring with Russia. What will Bucharest do in that situation? What will be the crossed red line by the Plahotniuc-Dodon binomial when they will no longer react and vouch against Europe? Which is the red line when, like in Hungary, the partnership with RM will no longer be considered “strategic”? Questions, now with no answer.
 Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic official name for Transnistria
*Dan Dungaciu is a member in the LARICS Expert Council.