Nina Shtanski: “In negotiations it is high time to move from words to deeds”


Interview of Deputy Prime Minister of the PMR for International Cooperation, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nina Shtanski specifically for the media centre “Evraziyskoie Pridnestrovie”.

Nina Viktorovna, intensive 2015 passed the “six months” mark. With what results Pridnestrovie has come to the new half year, how the current foreign policy situation looks like – this I would like to talk about.

We certainly begin with the most acute problem – with the Ukrainian direction. Journalists, experts, all with one voice predict an escalation of tensions, at least, strengthening of the blockade of the republic. How have events unfolded with the economic blockade this year? There is information that the actual restrictions of turnover has begun last year.

Indeed, imports of excisable products were stopped in autumn of 2014, that is, long before the relevant resolution was adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. We informed the participants of the negotiations in the “5 + 2” format and provided them with copies, which we had, of letters by Ukrainian authorities of different levels, instructing customs not to let pass Pridnestrovian cargoes. Of course, we were in contact with the Ukrainian diplomacy. In response to our questions we heard very different explanations, many of them were absurd, there is no other way of putting it. The most common version, as indeed has already happened many times before, was called the fight against smuggling.

In this context, it is interesting that the European mission EUBAM, located on the border with Ukraine since 2005, has not provided facts of smuggling to the international community yet. But it is noteworthy that when Ukraine legalized the ban on the import of excise goods in Pridnestrovie, the Mission reported immediately, that now the smuggling was stopped. It turns out that the thing that has never existed has been stopped?

When in discussions with foreign partners, we cited facts, statistics, one of the interlocutors at the meeting in the Foreign Ministry of the PMR acknowledged that the actions taken did not fit into the framework of healthy logic. He said: “Yes, it appears that with such a ban, we killed a mosquito with a bazooka”.

Unfortunately, our partners have not stopped there. In fact, all imports into the country is blocked. Only a Pridnestrovian economic entity, registered in Moldova, can receive the goods on the Ukrainian border. In other words, the obligation to register in Moldova now spreads on enterprises engaged in exports, but also to those who work, for the purposes of discussion, solely in the domestic market of Pridnestrovie. This aspect cannot help worrying us, as it seriously affects not only the issues of freedom of foreign trade, but also food security of the country.

I emphasize that the customs and excise duties in an environment where, unlike the neighbours, we do not have VAT, form almost a third of all revenues to the budget.

No need to be an economist to imagine what consequences these actions will have, which deprive Pridnestrovie of this source of revenue to the state treasury.

So, does it turn out that international partners of Pridnestrovie turn a blind eye to this situation?

No, not at all. We systematically carry out consultations with our partners in the “5+2” format and other international actors. Perhaps all, except for Ukraine, in a varying degree recognize that the actions of this country towards Pridnestrovie are disastrous to the socio-economic stability in the republic. A similar view seems to be shared by our Moldovan partners. My colleague Victor Osipov in a recent interview shared details of his visit to Kiev, where, according to him, the Moldovan side urged Kiev to reconsider the approaches in this regard.

Recently, we studied the research of German experts from the Berlin Economics, who worked on the report on the liberalization of trade in Pridnestrovie. According to the report, these experts also state deteriorating economic indicators related to the actions by Ukrainian authorities.

You have mentioned Moldovan partners. But do not they say that there is no blockade? And it turns out that the current blockade is even more serious than the blockade in 2006?

With the practice of denying the obvious no one yet has come close to solving the problems. I remember, in 2006 both Moldova and Ukraine preferred to call the economic blockade a “new customs regime”. New requirements for our companies, which has been put forward now in Moldova, are again called a “new trade regime”, and Pridnestrovie’s disagreement to build the trade and economic relations with Moldova on the principles of blackmail, pressure and coercion is immediately tagged “self-isolation”. I must say that the blockade is called “artificial self-isolation” in Ukraine, not forgetting to specify that the problem supposedly can be solved adopting the European choice, which is offered to citizens on both banks of the Dniester and which presupposes “freedom of movement”, “economic modernization”, “European standards of security and well-being”. Such a choice without a choice is offered.

International relations and international law have generally accepted definitions, however, like someone it or not, sooner or later, things have to be called by their names. International law defines the essence of the term “blockade” as a system of events of political, economic or military nature, aimed at violation of the foreign relations of the blocked object and its insulation in order to force the object to implement certain requirements.

No matter how long there will be disputes about what to call these “regimes”: “blockade”, “sanctions”, or “embargo”, it is clear that the overall objective of such measures is the isolation and coercion.

Has the blockade tightened up after 2006? Yes, unfortunately, it is a fact. Former blockade problems are not solved: our international freight road transportation is completely paralyzed, the banking sector is locked, and exports are made dependent on the ever-changing rules of the game in Moldova. But now the blockade applies to exports and imports, and imports are the raw material, which means production, production means jobs, etc.

In this case, the question arises: in 2006, as we remember, there were demonstrations, humanitarian convoys, the problem had a wide resonance. Why now there are not, and as a result, today, many simply do not believe in this blockade?

Let me not agree with your words that there is no resonance. It is enough to switch on the television, including the Russian ... Apparently, the Moldovan bans, faced by many Russian TV channels, including “Russia 1”, “Zvezda”, “TV Center” and others, are intended to “hush up” the theme of the blockade of Pridnestrovie. Their journalists are simply not allowed, “weeded out” at the airport. So, in neighbouring Moldova someone does not want to face the bitter truth.

Official Moscow also in a dialogue with international partners urges people not to allow deterioration of the situation and speaks of the need to abandon blockades. Such appeals are heard at the highest level. In the West this issue is perceived rather passive. Apparently, the right time was chosen to tighten the blockade. In 2014 in Eastern Europe and worldwide such events took place, against which many others pale, so the blockade has successfully been carried out, on one hand, “on the quiet” (based on the fact that Russia and the rest have enough worries of their own), on the other hand, the blockade was easy to justify by a “Pridnestrovian threat”. Someone may have thought that the time is well chosen to make Pridnestrovie compliant.

It should be understood that nothing depends on “I believe” or “I do not believe” – there is a blockade and it is catastrophic. Budget revenues in figures are public information. At the latest special meeting of “5+2” participants we made an extensive presentation on the blockade and its consequences once again. In figures, graphs, facts we showed our partners what is happening. By the way, we do it every year. We also inform the international community about the situation by sending the information to the representatives of the accredited diplomatic corps in Moldova.

And when such presentations are made in the international arena, what is the reaction of the Moldovan side? As to deny anything the facts and figures must also be given. What are they like? Or you cannot talk about it?

I can, but we have heard no facts and figures for three and a half years. My colleague Mr. Osipov, by the way, as well as earlier Mr. Karpov promises to analyze, summarize and give an alternative picture ... But months pass, and it never happens. We have not had a chance to hear any alternative report so far. Sometimes in the media we see some fragmentary attempts to operate with economic categories. For example, recently our Moldovan partners, reiterating that there is no blockade in Pridnestrovie, “strengthened” that thesis with the fact that the trade turnover between Pridnestrovie and Moldova increased. Curiously enough why in this case there is not a word about the trade turnover with other countries, is there? Or why is not it said exactly how it increased in trade with Moldova?

In fact, everything is simple. It is not said because the Moldovan side knows well that during the five months of this year the trade between Pridnestrovie and Moldova has increased by 4%. In general, the trade turnover of Pridnestrovie for the same period fell by 24%. These are the facts. They speak for themselves. Therefore they are hushed up.

Commenting on a meeting with your counterpart Victor Osipov, you said that Moldova changes the approach to Pridnestrovian enterprises. What does it mean?

Yes, such a disappointing conclusion was drawn by me and my government colleagues who were present at that meeting in Kishinev ​​from the statements made by the Moldovan partners. Their content, as well as the ultimate, uncompromising tone which made the atmosphere of the meeting unfriendly, forced us to complete it before the scheduled time.

I will explain. In 2006, when in the guise of ‘a new customs regime’ Moldova and Ukraine imposed a blockade against Pridnestrovie, suddenly all of our exporting enterprises turned out to be on the verge of withdrawal of production, they were no longer able to send their products to the markets. Long business interruption only then cost Pridnestrovie almost half a billion dollars. Moldova offered Pridnestrovian enterprises to obtain temporary registration, and those who agreed were given the opportunity to preferential trade with the European Union as a bonus. The mechanisms proposed by Moldova contained a number of guarantees as well. For instance, the Pridnestrovian economic agents had a guarantee that they would not be Moldova’s subject of taxation, they would not be charged customs and other payments, and they would have a special status. The status meant that in contrast to the Moldovan enterprises they would not be in a relationship with revenue bodies and the budget of the Republic of Moldova. Moldova adopted relevant regulations enshrining that regime.

In fact, Moldova did not respect many of those guarantees what was always a subject for discussion in the negotiations. For example, only in 2014 we managed to achieve the abolition of the environmental tax and export-import customs clearance fees for our enterprises. We also managed to achieve the abolition of the discriminatory excise duties imposed by Moldova on imports. The decisions lifted about 5 % of the blockade burden from Pridnestrovie. A little bit, but nevertheless, it was a positive step forward.

In the current year, Moldova has required to apply its license legislation on Pridnestrovian enterprises, to provide access for its revenue bodies to productions and also has announced a number of other measures. The first “victims” were winery and distillery enterprises. There were threats in the media made by Moldovan officials to block the issuance of licenses for another 60 economic agents.

We paid our Moldovan partners’ attention at the negotiations that with such requirements they not only violated the already fragile status quo in the outlined pragmatic cooperation between us in the socio-economic issues, but also the documents of the negotiation process. In addition, this is about the violation in fact of the Moldovan legislation enshrined a special status for Pridnestrovian enterprises. We are told in response that approaches has changed now.

We hope that this position will be soberly assessed and reconsidered. Under the growing crisis across the macro-region it should be in everyone’s interest to strengthen the existing trade and economic relations and create favourable conditions for trade. Some recent statements by Moldovan partners give cause for cautious optimism. We are hoping to continue very soon finding solutions at the negotiating table at the level of expert groups and political representatives.

The question arises regarding the already hackneyed situation with the publication of your letter to the international partners. You have mentioned about it a little earlier. The content of the letter was interpreted in different ways in the media, we know, the Foreign Ministry in its comments clearly outlined the causes that could induce Pridnestrovie to develop responses. The question is: what did the Moldovan side try to achieve publishing diplomatic correspondence?

You should ask the Moldovan side, of course. Such a “leak” was advantageous to someone. It does not strengthen confidence between the parties. The diplomacy has its unwritten laws as well. This is unacceptable in our environment.

As for the essence of the address, in the letter we informed the international community about what the existing situation. We informed our partners that Pridnestrovie cannot be endlessly pressed, because it is known what happens with the spring, if all the time to compress it. Most likely, someone attempted using so openly ‘dirty’ technique to shift the responsibility for the deterioration of the situation in Pridnestrovie. There were many interpretations on threats allegedly voiced by Pridnestrovie. However, there were not any threats in the document. There were predictive concerns about what steps Pridnestrovie would have to develop, if the pressure continued, what responses would be considered as possible. I stress that no one in Pridnestrovie is interested in this scenario. It is not our choice. And we would not want to see the forecasts mentioned in the documents to become a reality. Therefore, the document is a call for a dialogue without threats and blockades, as the latter will not lead to anything good and friendly. The impression is that our call has been heard and understood by international partners.

Does it mean that you are ready to negotiate?

We are constantly in favour of negotiations. It is for the negotiations, rather than imitating them. The negotiation process is absolutely not only the Vienna meetings of the “5+2” participants every few months. This is an integrated and difficult work between rounds: meetings of experts and preparation of decisions by them, meetings of political representatives in the so-called “1+1” format in the course of which we often managed to find efficient and needed solutions or to develop preliminary draft documents, meetings of the leadership of the parties, bilateral consultations of the parties with international partners, correspondence, etc. No one has stopped this work. It should be effective. I cannot share the approach of my Moldovan counterpart who believes that the main result of the negotiations is the negotiations themselves. I think it is high time to move from words to deeds.

Last week, Russian representative in the “5+2” format, Ambassador-at-Large of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation Sergei Gubarev called on the parties to move towards a resumption of the “5+2” meetings. He said in his interview for the “TASS” that one of the fundamental conditions for negotiations on Pridnestrovian settlement is a commitment not to take steps that worsen the position of a partner, because otherwise it is not a negotiation, but the pressure and blackmail. According to our Russian partner, today Pridnestrovie has become a target for such overt pressure and have been living in conditions of blockade.

Just the other day Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Radojko Bogojevic visited us and met with me and the president. The Head of State reiterated that the conditions for holding the meeting in the “5+2” format were not created. Let me remind you, in 2014 the reason of the pause was originally criminal cases initiated against officials of Pridnestrovie. Alas, criminal cases continue to be initiated. A month ago, according to our data, including those confirmed by Moldovan colleagues, they amounted to little more than a hundred. We have learned from an interview with Mr. Osipov given last week that there are more than two hundred of them! In addition, criminal cases are now opened against businessmen of the republic. The pressure on the economy has increased, there are problems with licenses - a package of new unfriendly steps against Pridnestrovie. But the Moldovan side continues to declare that it is ready to negotiate, that it is necessary to meet, however, there are not any practical positive actions. I hope, with the participation of our partners in the “5+2” format the tools will be found to relieve the tension and solve the extremely sensitive issues, thereby creating the preconditions for meeting in the broader format, than it is currently.

But your Moldovan counterpart Victor Osipov, to put it mildly, has spoken very toughly publicly against your statements. Will it hinder your communication?

It will not. I do not think his statements are hysterical, I do not take them with irony (laughing ...). I am a diplomat, and I can appreciate them as inappropriate for the diplomatic profession. Nothing more. The Moldovan side’s rhetoric, in addition to personal passages, abounds in bellicose statements and military terms. It bothers me much more. As for the negotiations, we need to understand that this is not Shtanski and Osipov who communicate at the negotiating table, who under other circumstances might have sympathy or antipathy. There are the Pridnetrovian and Moldovan sides at the negotiating table, each of which represents the position of its country, its leadership, is based on the interests of its people. It’s cannot be personal. The parties have to respect each other as partners, even when the contradictions lead to misunderstandings.

Why then will not the meeting of political representatives take place now?

There are several reasons. We expect developments of the expert group on the economy, in order to still try to find solutions in this area. Also, my Moldovan counterpart has notified us that he is on leave.

Why does Pridnestrovie participate in the negotiations the main purpose of which is contrary to the course toward the independence?

Very interesting statement... There are no such purposes in the Pridnestrovian settlement which would be contrary to our course as well as to any other. There are different irresponsible interpretations, there is wishful thinking. It is so. However, the basic documents of the negotiation process conducted in the format of the “Permanent Conference ...” is an agreement “On organization of the negotiating process on the Pridnestrovian settlement” of 20 February 2002 and “Principles and Procedures for the Conduct of Negotiations...” of April 18, 2012 which are freely available, including on the website of the  Foreign Ministry of Pridnestrovie. Purposes and objectives of the negotiation process are documented and cannot be individually changed by any of the participants unilaterally. The purposes and objectives were formulated in international documents as follows: working out, coordinating and fixing as a written agreements to report the political leadership of the parties for the approval of the specific parameters of the final document on the comprehensive resolution of the Pridnestrovian problem. That’s that. As you can see, this goal does not match your concerns. The principles and procedures of the negotiation process do not give the right to one of the participants to predict neither the outcome of the settlement, nor a formula of that very comprehensive solution, to which the parties to the conflict themselves should come by negotiations.

Everything else - the interpretations that do not honour those who voice them.

Thank you for the interview!

Specifically for the media center “Evraziyskoie Pridnestrovie” (Eurasian Pridnestrovie)

Interview conducted by Yevgeny Mishin