By Hanna Shelest
The most recent round of official “5+2” format negations on the settlement of Moldova’s breakaway territory of Transnistria took place in Brussels on October 3 and became the fourth such negotiation session in 2013 (http://trm.md/en/politic/la-bruxelles-incepe-o-noua-runda-de-negocieri-in-formatul-5-2/). Ukraine’s success as a mediator in the Transnistrian conflict appears limited to date, even though many experts expected a real breakthrough since Kyiv holds the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) this year. In addition to Moldova and Transnistria, the 5+2 talks involve Ukraine and the other two permanent mediators, Russia and the OSCE (the “5”), while the United States and the European Union are officially observers (the “+2”). Significant agreements in the 5+2 talks have yet to be reached. At the same time, however, Ukraine’s OSCE chairmanship has managed to maintain a stable dialogue and has achieved some of the most frequent series of official negotiations meetings. The next round is scheduled to take place on November 25–26, in Kyiv. It is further worth noting that three of the five rounds of 5+2 talks held in 2013 will take place in Ukraine, thus improving this mediator’s position compared with the other parties involved in the process (first of all Russia and the EU).
Negotiations between Moldova and Transnistria were resumed in November 2011 following a hiatus of almost six years (see EDM, November 29, 2011). By that time, Ukraine almost entirely lost its stance in the negotiations, remaining in the shadow of the Russian Federation’s more active role in the talks. Until then, the so-called Yushchenko Plan of 2005 (put forth by then-president of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko), which introduced the European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) and greater EU involvement in the conflict resolution process, represented the only major result of Ukraine’s participation in the 5+2 format (RFE/RL, July 15, 2005).
Yet, in 2013, Ukraine has managed to concentrate the attention of the conflicting parties on “technical” issues, such as dismantling the old industrial cable car near the town of Rybnitsa, renewed navigation of the Dniester River, environmental cooperation, the revival of traffic along some bridges, freedom of movement, etc. This politics of “small steps” has continued.
Ukraine spent a long time trying to bring the leaders of Moldova and Transnistria back to the negotiating table. The last round of talks was expected to take place in February 2013; however, the Ukrainian announcement of both sides’ readiness to move to the third negotiation package (political status, institutions, security) proved premature and resulted in a cancelation of the talks by Chisinau and Tiraspol. This October’s round of talks followed a recent high-level meeting between Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca and Transnistrian leader Yevgeniy Shevchuk in Tiraspol on September 23. At this meeting, the two sides signed a protocol decision on the prolongation of freight rail traffic through the Transnistrian region until 2015. According to the OSCE Chair’s Special Representative for Conflicts, Ambassador Andrii Deshchytsia, the Tiraspol meeting paved the way for a productive discussion in Brussels (http://www.osce.org/cio/106614).
Freedom of movement is one of the priorities of the Ukrainian OSCE Chairmanship agenda for Transnistria, as it reflects the interests not only of Moldova and Transnistria but also of Ukraine, which has a 400-kilometer border with the breakaway Moldovan region. Indeed, until recently, there were no direct train connection between the Odessa region in Ukraine and Chisinau in Moldova, as the rail line crossed the territory of Transnistria. It was not until 2011, thanks to the EUBAM’s mediation efforts, that train service linking the two areas was renewed.
Meanwhile, administrative barriers are the main issue of conflict dividing Moldova and Transnistria. In particular, as breakaway Transnistria’s Foreign Minister Nina Shtanski noted, Tiraspol particularly sees Moldova’s customs posts along the Dniester River as efforts by Chisinau to re-demarcate the shared border (http://www.moldnews.md/rus/news/63198). Moreover, local representatives are afraid that since many Transnistrians hold Russian or Ukrainian passports and do not have Moldovan permanent residency documents, they will be forced to pay a fine at the Moldovan customs posts every time they cross the border (http://www.km.ru/world/2013/10/04/situatsiya-vokrug-pridnestrovya/722189-ukraina-i-moldaviya-zadushat-pridnestrove). Many residents of the Transnistrian city of Bendery work in Chisinau, which is just one hour away by car. Therefore, the introduction of a customs regime along the de facto border has the potential to become a significant economic and social problem. Yet, Moldova defends its action by citing the need to secure the border in order to fight against illegal migration—an important requirement made by the European Union before Moldova is granted a visa liberalization regime (http://president.gospmr.ru/ru/news/brifing-po-itogam-vstrechi-prezidenta-pmr-evgeniya-shevchuka-i-premer-ministra-rm-yuriya-lyanke). After the Brussels negotiations, however, Moldova announced that its parliament would consider removing travel restrictions on Transnistrians with Russian or Ukrainian passports (http://blogs.wsj.com/brussels/2013/10/04/talks-on-transnistria-come-to-brussels-but-where-next/?KEYWORDS=Russia).