Vienna, January 27 -- Moldovans in Moldova proper and in the breakaway unrecognized republic of Transdniestria are taking dual citizenship and acquiring Romanian passports, a trend one Moscow analyst says is accelerating the decline of Moscow’s influence in Chisinau even as the roles of Bucharest, Brussels and Washington there continue to expand.
In the current issue of “Novaya politika,” Maksim Artemyev points to a demand by acting Moldovan President Mihai Ghimpu for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Transdniestria and the denunciation by that country’s vice premier, Viktor Osipov, of an earlier accord about that region as evidence of this shift (novopol.ru/text80784.html).
For 18 years, the conflict between Tiraspol and Chisinau has truly been “frozen,” Artemyev notes, the reflection of “the weakness of Moldova and the strength of Transdniestria, backed up by Russian forces.” As a result, “a political compromise, just as in Nagorno-Karabakh and in Abkhazia and south Ossetia, was impossible.”
Both sides, he continues, “have played for time,” with the Moldovans hoping that more favorable foreign policy circumstances will help them, and the Transdniestria regime convinced that the longer it lasted, the less inclined Chisinau and the international community would be to challenge its right to exist.
In the 1990s, Moldova was “in a deep economic and political crisis” and its foreign political situation was equally unfavorable: Moscow supported Tiraspol, Artemyev notes, and Chisinau could not find a common language with Bucharest as it tried to solidify Moldova as an independent country.
After some twists and turns under President Vladimir Voronin, power in Moldova is “again in the hands of those elements which at the start of the 1990s attempted to resolve the problem of Transdniestria by crude force.” The difference is they know they cannot afford to risk “a new war,” but that does not mean that they are not intensifying their efforts to recover control.
Under Voronin, Artemyev points out, relations between Moldova and Romania were so bad that “both countries withdrew their ambassadors.” But now, “on the contrary, a rapprochement is going at full speed,” including simplified border crossing and what is more measures that allow Moldovans to take dual Romanian citizenship quite easily.
Romanian President Traian Basescu, who was recently re-elected, has never accepted the territorial changes brought about by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and “denies the existence of a separate Moldovan nation.” Moreover, his foreign minister, Teodor Baconschi recently said that “Moldovanism” is “an artificial ethnic and geopolitical construct.”
Moreover, Artemyev continues, Baconschi “for the first time in the last eight years, at an official meeting calling Moldova Bessarabia.” And Bucharest has now appointed a new ambassador, Marius Lazurca, whose job includes handing out Romanian passports to residents of Moldova.
Because Romania is a member of the European Union, such citizenship is especially attractive for Moldovans not only because Romania has a much higher standard of living than Moldova, unlike in Soviet times but also because “several hundred thousand citizens of Moldova” living in Transdniestria could take Romanian citizenship.
Indeed, Artemyev says, it is “completely” possible that “after a few years, the majority of residents of Moldova will have dual citizenship and on the order of the day will arise the question about the fusion of the two states,” something with enormous geopolitical consequences for Tiraspol more or less immediately and Moscow longer term.
Such dual citizenship poses a real challenge to Tiraspol because “it will not be able to propose a more attractive alternative” to its residents not only because it is unrecognized but also because it is poor. Indeed, under the circumstances, it appears likely to fall ever further behind Moldova and Romania and thus lose support.
At present, Transdnestria head Igor Smirnov is still able to play on “contradictions between Chisinau and Kyiv and between Bucharest and Kyiv, use the support of Moscow, and use the political struggle within Moldova to promote its own interests.” But now if faces problems inside its own borders.
In March, local elections are scheduled, and opposition forces under Yevgeny Shevchuk’s Renewal [Obnovleniye] Party appear to be gaining strength. But it is not only domestically that Tiraspol is in trouble. Its foreign political situation “is also getting worse,” Artemyev says.
Kalman Mizsei, the EU’s special representative for Moldova, said last week that “Transdniestria must be an inalienable part of Moldova and that Europe “welcomes the desire of the new Moldovan leadership to give a new impulse” to negotiations to recover that breakaway region.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stressed that the US supports the 5+2 negotiating arrangements, thus undercutting Moscow’s efforts to mediate between Chisinau and Tiraspol. Moreover, and in a signal of all these shifts, Washington has indicated that it will provide more aid to Chisinau.
While Bucharest, Brussels and Washington are strengthening their positions in Moldova, “Russia’s positions have weakened.” It bet on Vladimir Voronin and the Communist Party in the last election, and this mistake -- they lost -- led the political elite in Chisinau to view Moscow in a more negative light, something that intensified after Moscow backed Marian Lupu for president.
Tragically, Artemyev continues, Moscow may be making another and possibly “fatal” mistake by sticking with Tiraspol’s Smirnov. He is 69, and “one must not exclude attempts at his replacement in the near future.” The situation in that part of the former Soviet space would then change dramatically, “but what role Russia will play is still unknown.”