Report / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

Moldova: No Quick Fix

The conflict in the Transdniestrian region of the Republic of Moldova is not as charged with ethnic hatred and ancient grievances as others in the area of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and it is more conducive to a sustainable settlement.

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Executive Summary

The conflict in the Transdniestrian region of the Republic of Moldova is not as charged with ethnic hatred and ancient grievances as others in the area of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and it is more conducive to a sustainable settlement. However, a “quick fix” in 2003, as envisaged by the Dutch Chairmanship of the OSCE, is also unlikely. To reach the sustainable agreement that is required if the forthcoming European Union (EU) enlargement is not to be compromised by a nearly open border with international crime and serious poverty, a comprehensive approach is needed that takes into account the root causes of the original conflict and the factors that have blocked the settlement process since 1992.

The Transdniestrian authorities are not recognised by any state and have been subjected to targeted sanctions such as travel bans by the EU and the U.S. but they have acquired for their small territory on the left bank of the Dniestr River with barely one-sixth as many people as Moldova some of the attributes of a state. They have gained control over local enterprises and the customs service covering their section of the Ukraine-Moldova border and their side of the internal Moldovan boundary. This enables them to profit not only from legal trade but in all likelihood also from the trafficking of other goods in transit to Moldova and beyond. Such illicit activities pose a threat to the security of the wider region. The EU, which will share a common border with Moldova after the accession of Romania in 2007, has a particular interest in settlement of the conflict and regularisation of Transdniestria’s status.

The Transdniestrian elite (and others) prefer the status quo to any negotiated agreement. An important part of a settlement process, therefore, must be to design steps that would reduce and even abolish the benefits that flow from that tainted status quo – for example, the imposition of sanctions on Transdniestrian leaders and enterprises and help for the Moldova government to establish a unified customs system along its entire border.

The vested interests of elites on either side of the river do not necessarily correspond to the interests of the broader population. Although the majority on both sides would certainly profit from increased investments and trade after settlement of the conflict, there is no general awareness of the real costs of separation and the political stalemate. Moreover, the authorities in Transdniestria hinder the development of civil society, free media and party pluralism. As a result, there is no opportunity to express views freely on the future of the region. Another important pillar of the process, accordingly, must be the fostering of an open society in Transdniestria. A settlement that merely cemented the Smirnov regime in place would be unacceptable.

At the same time, economic transformation, democratisation, rule of law, freedom of the media and human rights are also deficient on the other side of the river. The third pillar of a comprehensive approach to a final settlement, therefore, should be to make Moldova more attractive for the Transdniestrians in order to provide incentives for them to support an agreement. Joint benchmarks for legislation and its implementation in Moldova and Transdniestria should be worked out and reviewed regularly, with clear rewards for compliance and targeted punitive measures for non-compliance. For Moldova, this initially could mean not getting loans or access to aspects of the European market. For Transdniestria, it would include further visa restrictions, the freezing of individual and enterprise assets and perhaps a ban on trade with Transdniestrian companies not registered with the Moldovan authorities. Additional aims of this process would be to harmonise the legislation of Moldova and Transdniestria and reintegrate state structures that have developed in parallel for more than a decade, in order to prepare the way for reintegration.

The fourth pillar would have to be a fair proposal for a final settlement tabled by the Moldovan side. A federation – preferably asymmetric and multi-member – would be the best political system for a unified Moldova; it would not only give Transdniestria broad autonomy but also keep it in constant interaction with the central authorities. It should include a framework for a functioning dispute settlement mechanism to cope with new disputes.

Finally, any agreement would need political and military guarantees. The former should include a functioning dispute settlement mechanism. The latter are important to prevent spoilers from provoking violence, including military people on both sides until they are decommissioned, and should come in the form of an international security presence mandated by the OSCE.

Chisinau/Brussels 12 August 2003

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