Moldova and Pridnestrovie: Ukraine Must Respond to Protracted Dysfunction Next Door

January 19, 2011
James George Jatras
Deputy Director, American Institute in Ukraine

News reports indicate that Moldova now faces the least productive of all possible outcomes from its 28 November 2010 elections: a virtual replay of the dysfunctional government that was in power prior to the elections. Unless the re-congealed alliance of three “pro-western” parties in the Alliance for European Integration (AEI) can pull in two Communist deputies needed to elect a president, we now can (as AIU earlier suggested) “wait a few months until Moldova holds its [next] election, with possibly the same pointless outcome.”

Despite prompt efforts by Moscow to encourage a coalition between Vladimir Voronin’s Communists and the Democratic Party headed by Marian Lupu, it appears that western coaxing of Lupu back into the “pro-western” camp has succeeded. The western pitch initially was spearheaded, without apparent effect, by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and his Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski, reputedly among the EU’s most anti-Russian figures, in the name of the EU’s insubstantial “Eastern Partnership.” Their inducement is Moldova’s EU accession (however improbable for many years) and even joining NATO (unfortunately, a more proximate prospect given recent admission of Croatia and Albania, two countries with possibly even less to offer than Moldova). But what appears to have nudged the AEI reconsolidation over the top was the intervention of the EU’s heavyweight, Germany, in the form of the 21 December visit to Kishinev of State Minister for Foreign Affairs Werner Hoyer. If so, that development may represent unwelcome news for regional stability, and for Ukraine in particular.

To start with, Kiev’s current orientation, based on a balance of regional interests that rejects the extreme pro-western – and anti-Russian – agenda of the defunct Orange regime, finds its best advantage in a broader context of western rapprochement with Russia: not only Poland-Russia and U.S.-Russia, but especially Germany-Russia. If Germany now has decided to contest Russian influence in a former Soviet republic (for no obvious purpose beneficial to either Germany or the EU) this may signal, as noted by one U.S.-based analyst, that “the Moldovan arena will be one of the most significant tests of the ongoing German-Russian dynamic in the upcoming year.”

Potentially more destabilizing, extreme nationalist elements in Moldova – notably those centered around the Liberal Party of Mihai Ghimpu – may read German support for a “pro-western” AEI government as a green light for their pro-Romanian irredentism. The expansionist program for so-called “Great Romania” (Romania mare), emanating from the administration of President Traian Băsescu in Bucharest, encompasses designs on Ukraine’s territory as well as Moldova’s “reintegration” of Pridnestrovie, which was a thoroughly Ukrainian area even prior to 1940. If so, it would be an unwelcome lease on life to a dangerous agenda that had appeared to be on its last legs. It is therefore unfortunate – and inexplicable – that there is no evidence that the Yanukovich administration exerted any serious effort to influence figures in Kishinev in favor of a more constructive outcome.

It is now incumbent on Kiev belatedly to undertake a more active role towards Moldova, and particularly towards Pridnestrovie. It needs to be made crystal clear that Ukraine will not tolerate any force or pressure on Tiraspol to accept rule by Kishinev. Among the steps that should be taken is a comprehensive review of Ukraine’s policies toward Pridnestrovie, and in particular customs and border processes and shipping on the Dniester. Procedures should be implemented to allow Pridnestrovien imports and exports maximum free access through Ukraine. Consideration also should be given to Ukrainian-flagging of commercial traffic on the Dniester between Pridnestrovie and the Black Sea. In any case, Kiev needs to ensure that there is no mistake and no miscalculation in Kishinev or Bucharest: Pridnestrovie’s status cannot be resolved without the agreement of Ukraine, as well as of Russia.

In the focus on Moldova’s elections, little attention has been paid to 12 December 2010 parliamentary elections in Pridnestrovie, and which received virtually no reportage in the western media. The opposition “Renewal” (Обновление) party increased its majority in the parliament (Верховный Совет Приднестровской Молдавской Республики), with Renewal’s leader Anatoliy Kaminskiy (Анатолий Каминский) returned as Speaker. As Pridnestrovie continues to consolidate its constitutional structures in complete independence from those of Moldova, we will see whether Kaminskiy or another figure from Renewal emerges later this year as a strong prospective opponent to current president Igor Smirnov (who is not expected to announce for several months whether he intends to seek another term). That eventuality may be influenced by the fact that Renewal’s enhanced strength gives it a near constitutional majority, which may seek to enact constitutional changes to curtail Smirnov’s current sweeping presidential powers.

To use an American sports expression, in recent weeks Kiev dropped the ball in failing to try to influence political developments to Ukraine’s vital – and vulnerable – southwest. In light of Ukraine’s own experience, that error now should be corrected with a reenergized diplomacy in favor of Moldova’s non-alignment and non-aggression towards Pridnestrovie. In point of comparison, we should keep in mind earlier efforts by Washington and NATO to pressure Ukraine into an unnecessary and provocative “Euro-Atlantic” (translation: anti-Russian) orientation, which collapsed with the accession of Viktor Yanukovich to the presidency. Similarly, implicit in EU machinations in Kishinev is re-creation of an analogous unnecessary and provocative “Euro-Atlantic” orientation of Moldova, in a manner detrimental to Ukraine’s interests and territorial integrity. Especially if, as seems likely, Moldova is about to re-enter a protected period of pointless and unproductive dysfunction under an AEI coalition including Romanian chauvinists, Kiev’s reengagement in defense of Ukraine’s legitimate interests will benefit the entire Black Sea/Danubian region.