In June 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched the Meseberg process. Under the plan, Russia would be included in European security policy-making through a joint committee with the European Union. The price was concrete progress towards the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict in Moldova.
For almost two years, Russia showed little interest in the exchange and very little progress was made. But in 2012, the conflict settlement process received a boost with the election in Transnistria of a new leader, Evgeny Shevchuk. Moldova finally managed to elect a president after a three-year constitutional deadlock, removing the cloud of political uncertainty that hung over the Moldovan political elite. And Russia appointed a political heavyweight, Dmitry Rogozin, as Putin’s special representative on Transnistria.
Merkel sought to re-energise the conflict-settlement process through a visit to Chisinau in August 2012. These new developments create the conditions for potential progress on the Transnistria conflict. But they also mean that new policy choices are needed, not least from the EU.
Europe is already heavily invested diplomatically in conflict settlement in Transnistria. It has a 100-person strong EU border assistance mission in the region, deployed in Ukraine and Moldova. And it has allocated substantial funds to confidence-building measures. The EU also has a significant regional trade presence. It is the largest trading partner both of Moldova and of the secessionist region of Transnistria.
What the EU does not have is a strategic framework into which to integrate its substantial but scattered actions on Moldova and Transnistria.
Transnistria has long been seen as the most “solvable” of all the post-Soviet secessionist conflicts. There is little ethnic hatred and most stakeholders accept in principle the need to reintegrate Transnistria into Moldova.
The EU and Ukraine both want to help solve a conflict right next to their borders. Russia might accept a settlement that gives Transnistria a significant degree of power and influence in the potentially reintegrated Moldova. Transnistria itself might prefer independence or being part of Russia, but is not completely averse to re-joining Moldova under the right circumstances, if prodded, nudged, or pressed to do so, especially by Russia.
But in practice the interests of all parties have never aligned properly and it is not clear whether and when they would.
Thus a rapid settlement is neither realistic nor desirable. A top-down solution is unlikely to be accepted by the societies on either bank of the river Dniester; while a rushed solution could impair Moldova’s reform and its integration into the EU.
Instead, the EU should help Moldova slowly to resolve the conflict from below by pursuing de facto reintegration between Moldova and Transnistria through confidence-building, joint economic projects, and a greater EU presence in Transnistria. The EU should aim to consolidate Moldova’s democracy, prosperity, and integration with the EU and to boost Moldova-Transnistria links and the EU’s presence and leverage on Transnistria.
It will take several years of such measures – perhaps even a decade – before Moldova and Transnistria can realistically hope to achieve a sustainable constitutional arrangement for conflict settlement.
(The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is the first pan-European think-tank. Read the full policy brief on ecfr.eu (PDF). Photo of street sign with Transnistria’s flag and coat of arms – based on the designs of the Moldovan Soviet republic, in Transnistrian capital Tiraspol, by Guttorm Flatabø/flickr.com.)