There was no such pressure before


On the situation around Pridnestrovie in the interview to Expert – Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of unrecognized republic Vitaly Ignatiev.

Integration a-la Moldova

Relations between Moldova and Pridnestrovie have always been complex. Why current situation is called almost the most serious over the last 20 years?

If you would decide to look through the history of Moldova-Pridnestrovie relations, you would see that Pridnestrovie has been under pressure during all 25 years of our independent development: in 1989, when different social processes against oppression of Russian-speaking population were initiated; in 1990, when we proclaimed independence. In 1992 Pridnestrovie faced serious military aggression with air and artillery bombardment from the side of Moldova, including the assault and an attempt to seize second largest Pridnestrovian city – Bendery.

Along with this the negotiation process constantly alternated with periods of stagnation of negotiations, their suspension and further bursts of pressure on Pridnestrovie. In this respect multiannual period of absence of full-scaled negotiations due to unilateral leaving of negotiation process by Moldova in 2006-2011 is demonstrative. At the same time on March 3, 2006 the full-scaled economic blockade of Pridnestrovie by means of adoption of intergovernmental agreement between Moldova and Ukraine and introduction of new rules of transportation of goods through the border (cargoes must pass customs registration in the RM) was organized. Pridnestrovian export was totally blocked, most of the enterprises stopped, lost their markets, incurred considerable losses. Due to efforts of Moldova and Ukraine Pridnestrovie was close to downfall. It was possible to prevent full-scale humanitarian catastrophe only owing to timely assistance of the Russian Federation.

The peculiarity of current turn of aggravation of complex pressure on Pridnestrovie is characterized by toughening of position of Kiev. Ukraine, which was traditionally friendly with Pridnestrovie, during the period of Moldovan aggression of 1992 received tens of thousands of our refugees (they lived on the territory of sanitary camps, were received by Ukrainian families), unfortunately takes restrictive measures in respect of Pridnestrovie. Now Kiev authorities close the border and hinder the trade. As early as last spring the restrictions on crossing the border by citizens of the Russian Federation were introduced. In March, 2015, Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers adopted the Decree No.117 on prohibition of transportation of excise group of goods on the territory of Pridnestrovie. Such actions of Ukrainian partners additionally aggravate the position of economic agents of the PMR and lead to considerable budget losses in Pridnestrovie.

Ukraine is the third biggest trade partner of Pridnestrovie. At the same time, total instability in this neighbour state and a number of ungrounded restrictive measures led to the decrease of commodity turnover (during January-August 2015 it decreased almost by 20%). This politics is strange, because more than 80 thousand citizens of Ukraine live on the territory of Pridnestrovie, besides around one-third of Pridnestrovian population is presented by ethnical Ukrainians. As a result contemporary Pridnestrovie does not have the possibility of normal communication from East and West. There have never been such conditions of total restrictions before.

It should be noted that actions of the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine directed on blocking of the potential of Pridnestrovie are synchronous. In particular, during the last one-and-a-half year Kishinev has not only strengthened the restrictive measures in respect of Pridnestrovian enterprises, constantly toughening the conditions and making new discrimination requirements, but also has launched the mechanism of politically motivated criminal prosecution of the representatives of organs of state power of Pridnestrovie, of Pridnestrovian entrepreneurs.

But in the whole it is possible to understand Ukraine – Petro Poroshenko found a sore spot of Russia and keeps pressing it. But why is Moldova doing the same? Kishinev does not understand that it is making Russia take extreme measures in order to save Pridnestrovie?

The conclusions about the reasons of the present blockade could be drawn from the declarations of some Moldovan and Ukrainian politicians. They think that it is just the time for resolution of Moldova-Pridnestrovie conflict; the term “resolution” is understood by them in their own way. They must have seen it as absorption of Pridnestrovie by means of destroying the independence of our state under the mask of some kind of “broad autonomy”. This pressure is aimed at doing maximum damage to Pridnestrovie, at destroying our social and economic potential, at making us abandon the idea of statehood and at making people leave this territory (in order to work or to live abroad due to negative circumstances).

The lesson is not learned?

Seven years ago Russia must have shown its reaction to those who were trying to change status-quo in frozen conflicts without the consideration of position of Moscow. Does anybody want this situation to repeat?

During the last seven years the situation changed. In the first place, Moscow found itself in a very difficult situation. In the second place, the level of interaction of Kiev and Kishinev with NATO, with the United States of America, and some other states of the EU increased totally. In 2014 Moldova and Ukraine signed The Association Agreement with the EU. This agreement stipulates signing of Free Trade Area Agreement as an element of comprehensive economic integration. The economic integration in its turn is a constituent part of common political integration. It is not an accident that on the territory of Moldova several kilometers away from the Security Zone (the border with Pridnestrovie - Expert Online), tactical exercises with the participation of Romanian, American and the EU military men are held on a regular basis.

So, you think, that Moldavia and its friends are ready to give Russia strict response?

There is no linearity, but there is a wide range of regional and external factors. We may suppose, that with certain support of the USA and the EU the Republic of Moldova uses the whole arsenal of methods of political, economic, transport, logistic, informational and other kinds of pressure in order to achieve its goals. The sides may also have different levels of interests. Moldovan leadership sees the pressure as a method of implementation of its own tasks; at higher level the interests of western actors, which are not limited by Pridnestrovie, but embrace the whole Black Sea region, may be pursued. Partially that is the reason they are ready deliberately not to notice the violation by Kishinev of certain agreements, reached in the framework of the negotiation process, and, as a result, the violation of inalienable rights of the inhabitants of Pridnestrovie.

But it is possible to find some decisions not at state, but at personal level. For example, just right after the Maidan Ukraine took a course towards the blockade of Pridnestrovie; however it was possible to reach agreements with former governor Palitsa on some measures to bypass the blockade in order to achieve benefits for both Odessa and Pridnestrovie. Is it possible to find common language with the team of the new governor?

We have not seen distinct signals from them yet; but here one must understand that political line is finally defined not by certain governor but by the leadership of the country. As we see, official Kiev continues systematic policy of pressure and restriction of the potential of Pridnestrovie, because these decisions are made not at regional, but at state level. That is why I would like not to make considerable accent on the role of regional leadership.

What is the way out from this double, systematic, long-term blockade?

There is an international negotiation ground “5+2” and levels and formats, connected with it, used by us. Besides, negotiation mechanism has its guarantors, Russia is one of them. If follows consistent position; I think that Moscow can assist solving problematic situation in the framework of construction of political dialogue, stipulated by the necessity of strict observance of the regulations of non-use of pressure against any parties of the negotiation process.

Pridnestrovie has open and constructive position in the negotiation process; we always declared the intention to build good-neighbour relations both with Moldova and Ukraine. For example, there are incidents on the border between Pridnestrovie and Ukraine connected with construction of ditch many kilometers long, some weapon emplacements, with strengthening of National Guard contingent near our border, with severe gunshot wound of a citizen of Pridnestrovie. However, notwithstanding these dissocial actions, Pridnestrovie intends to build normal relations based on mutual respect with neighbours. We have many years’ considerable experience of good-neighbour relations and the possibility to build such relations today.

Do you feel some sort of change of attitude on the part of Russia due to the escalation of the situation in Ukraine? In terms of the attention that is currently paid to Pridnestrovie. For example, several years ago representatives of the Pridnestrovian Foreign Ministry said that there were problems with the issuance of Russian passports.

We are grateful to the Russian Federation for the return to the previous regulations, operated until summer 2011, which simplifies the process of issuing citizenship to residents of Pridnestrovie on the basis of those documents, which the Pridnestrovian side provides. This is a serious step forward, but in Pridnestrovie there is a good number of those who want to get Russian citizenship, problems of another level have emerged - the technical resources of the on-site consular department in Tiraspol are not sufficient. Now the list of people waiting for citizenship has expanded for several months. That is why Pridnestrovie provides assistance in the issue on expaning of the volume of work of the consular department.

There are also more systemic problems connected with the lack of a common border between Pridnestrovie and Russia what is cynically used by official Kishinev, implementing hostile, often derisive measures: preventing rotation of peacekeepers and the delivery of goods, prohibiting en masse Russian citizens to enter the territory of Moldova, deporting them.

Where to go from the European market?

The period during which Pridnestrovie can trade with the EU on preferential terms are coming to a close from the first January 2016. As a result, the authorities of the republic have two options: either to accept the loss of the European market or to re-register their companies in Moldova. Is there a third option? Whether constructive talks with the EU are being conducted about extension of the regime or the search for new markets?

I would not limit the scenarios by only two options. Indeed, the situation is difficult now, as you know the regime of the Autonomous Trade Preferences (ATP) must expire after December 31, 2015, and provisions of the Agreement on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) between Moldova and the EU must enter into force. The document has been signed without the slightest regard to the position of Pridnestrovie and ignores both economic and political interests of the country.

Thereby, Pridnestrovie immediately announced that it would not participate in the DCFTA and this position remains unchanged. At the same time, understanding that the unilateral cancellation of ATP leads to worsening of the already difficult economic situation, the Pridnestrovian side addressed a proposal to the European Union to develop a special formula of the trade regime, which could be enshrined by a separate protocol or in any other way.

The impression is that initially the European Union did not consider all the complexity of the situation, regional distinctiveness, and they did not reflect for a long time at all on how to include Pridnestrovie in those new rules. Now Pridnestrovie is conducting direct bilateral negotiations with the EU to find a way out of the situation by developing a special mechanism and providing guarantees. Clear immutable rules are one of key issues, as Moldova is not a reliable partner, it has long been clear to everyone.

The reality is that the Republic of Moldova regularly introduces new restrictions against Pridnestrovie, often making such actions conditional on their international obligations. The agreement on DCFTA, in our view, should not become another lever of pressure on Pridnestrovie.

We reckon on that logic and common sense will eventually prevail and the European Union will apply a special approach to Pridnestrovie, realizing utmost undesirability of destabilization of the situation in the region for all international actors. In our view, it will also bear witness to maturity and responsibility of Brussels, what is of particular importance in the context of the forthcoming chairmanship of Germany and Austria in the OSCE and the role that Germany traditionally plays in the “Eastern policy” of the EU.

Certainly, Pridnestrovie’s government calculates different variants of how the situation may develop, including the option of abolition of the ATP. We are in constant contact with Russian counterparts, studying ways to reorient our goods turnover to Russia’s market.

Are any negotiations with countries of the Eurasian integration underway concerning conclusion of any specific export contracts? Perhaps, the Russian authorities are ready to help the country with the share of their market?

First of all, it should be noted that the market of the Russian Federation is one of the traditional markets for products made in Pridnestrovie. Hundreds of commercial contracts are concluded each year between Pridnestrovian and Russian counterparties, whose proportion in the total structure of Pridnestrovian foreign trade is not yet as great as we would like, given the Eurasian orientation of foreign policy of the republic.

Pridnestrovie is working intensively with our Russian counterparts towards development of trade and economic cooperation. Although the results of this work are not always widely covered in media, they are very significant. Due to the signing of a number of inter-departmental agreements in 2014-2015 we were able to give more impetus to strategic partnership and reach concrete and practical agreements with the Russian side.

Contracts for the supply of Pridnestrovian agricultural products to large Russian federal and regional trade networks have been concluded and are executed successfully. We have managed to establish a high level of cooperation with the Arkhangelsk Oblast, where Pridnestrovian fruit and vegetable products are also sent to. A number of overriding decisions were adopted by the Rosselkhoznadzor (Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance) regarding permits and simplification of supplies of certain products from Pridnestrovie to the Russian market.

Along with this, it should be understood that the decision about at which market to sell their own products is taken by economic agents themselves on the basis of commercial, logistic and other considerations. Nevertheless, Pridnestrovie’s government makes significant efforts on this track.

We will continue to work in order to develop stable positive dynamics of bilateral trade-economic cooperation with our Russian partners.

Immodest friends

As reported, Pridnestrovie has received from the Moldovan side the assurance that obstacles would not be put to Abkhazian and South Ossetian delegations arrived to celebrate the 25th anniversary of independence of Pridnestrovie. However, when departing home from Kishinev they were detained, were denied access aboard, and forcibly deported with a ban on entry to Moldova for 10 years. How do Moldovan authorities have explained these incidents?

The issue of the unjustified deportation and ban on entry to Moldova for 10 years for representative delegations of the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia which had taken part in festivities in Pridnestrovie, was discussed at the meeting of the representatives on political issues held in Tiraspol on September 10, 2015. The Pridnestrovian side demanded clarifications on incidents that arisen due to Moldova’s violation of reached agreements on unhindered movement of international delegations.

Representative on political issues of the Republic of Moldova Victor Osipov said that he hoped that delegations would be all right, so, in fact, he had taken on such obligations. According to him, representatives of the Caucasian delegations had allegedly behaved not enough “modestly”, which caused a corresponding reaction of Moldovan secret services, as it turned out, closely following the events in Pridnestrovie. The Moldovan secret services were allegedly guided by the opinion that the stay of international delegations in Pridnestrovie at the festive events, as well as statements of their representatives, “undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova.” No clearer and detailed comments could be obtained at that meeting, hence Pridnestrovie requested written explanations. However, the Moldovan side has not provided them to date.

We believe that Moldova’s attempt to exercise diplomatic and informational blockade of Pridnestrovie shows, first of all, uncertainty of Moldovan authorities in their own abilities, an assumption likely existing in Moldova that discriminatory tools can prevent dissemination of objective and truthful information about the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic and strengthening relations of friendship and cooperation with the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia. We are convinced that this conclusion of Moldovan colleagues is totally illusory and deceptive, since like-mindedness, coincidence of historical interests and the fate are much more powerful unifying factor than these ridiculous attempts to impede communication.

We are grateful to friends in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, because, on the one hand they gave their rigid assessment of the discriminatory actions of Moldova, on the other hand they were understanding about inconveniences that emerged. Our colleagues repeatedly faced with similar stories performed by neighbouring Georgia, so they know well how to behave in these situations and not to give in to provocations. Moreover, during these interrogations, according to Abkhazian and South Ossetian friends, the staff of the RSI of the RM got some additional opportunity to be somewhat educated about the real situation in Pridnestrovie and the extent of friendship, partnership and consolidation between the two brotherly countries.