Vitaly Ignatiev: Moldavia and Ukraine deal a blow by blow to Pridnestrovie


“The view is widely held in Russia that the Pridnestrovian conflict is frozen, the situation does not change, there's no hurry. In fact, the situation is rapidly regressing, Moldavia and Ukraine are actively drifting toward the West, while dealing a blow by blow to Pridnestrovie, head of the Foreign Ministry of Pridnestrovie Vitaly Ignatiev told about it to the VZGLYAD newspaper (the “View”). According to him, such actions fit into the logic of “hybrid wars”.

 The foreign policy crisis may soon begin against the background of acute internal crisis in Pridnestrovie that the Vzglyad newspaper wrote about the previous day. “Russia is losing influence on Pridnestrovie” – the newspaper “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” (the “Independent newspaper”) was published under that title on Thursday, for example. Some of the experts talked about the fact that the mood changes in the Pridnestrovian society that since the beginning of the 90s was monolithically oriented towards Moscow.

As you know, Pridnestrovie’s foreign trade has reoriented from the CIS towards the European Union over the last 10 years, Brussels attracts the republic economically stronger. Experts also remind that the Russian origin of politicians alone is not a guarantee of loyalty to Moscow and cite the example of Ukraine. However, while Russian troops protect Pridnerstrovie, it is needless to talk about the rapid change of orienting points.

Acting Foreign Minister of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) Vitaly Ignatiev told in an interview to the Vzglyad newspaper, while visiting Moscow this week, whether Pridnestrovie still considers itself as part of the “Russian world”.

The VZGLYAD: Vitaly Viktorovich, in Moldavia in late March supporters of unification with Romania made a proposal to “give” Pridnestrovie to Ukraine in exchange for the south of Bessarabia and part of Bukovina that are part of the Odessa and Chernivtsi Oblasts. Do you think it is still a marginal idea or it may infect the ruling circles?

Vitaly Ignatiev: In general, unionists’ ideas are quite popular in Moldavia. People vote for them, they are represented in the parliament, we see unionist marches. This call is not by any means new. It is kind of an ultranationalist idea within the concept of geopolitical expansion of Romania, which, in fact, led to the armed aggression of Moldova against Pridnestrovie in 1992. The Moldovan elite declared themselves Romanian at that time and considered all who live in Pridnestrovie as second-class people, including, by the way, the ethnic Moldovans themselves who represent one third of the population of Pridnestrovie.

We have a conceptually different understanding of identity. Pridnestrovians are people who live within a multicultural society, who gravitate to the “Russian world”, develop in the Russian educational space and link their future with the integration eastward. The vector of Eurasian integration is one of the most important and desired for the Pridnestrovian people.

As for the unionism, there are different ideas there, including the extremist ones. Obviously these are destructive elements. I think that Moldavian citizens should define themselves the country's course. For example, in Pridnestrovie there were seven referendums, including selection of the strategic course of the state. No referendum on the foreign policy course has been held in Moldavia.

Our neighbours seem to be completely independent and able to deal themselves with the so-called “unirea” and other plans. But what is important here is not to forget one thing - no one has the right to decide for the people of Pridnestrovie, how and what country it should live. Such adventures always end badly, this is an objective reality. Any plan to unify Pridnestrovie with Moldavia against the will of the PMR’s people is certainly a failure and may lead to unpredictable consequences.

The VZGLYAD: Kiev announced the transference of anti-aircraft missile system S-300PS in March from the center of the country to Odessa. According to the official version, with a view to defending against “the threat in the south direction”. Military experts did not exclude that in fact the anti-aircraft guns are needed there to prepare a complete blockade of Pridnestrovie - land and air. Do you think this version is plausible?

V.I.: This information must be supported by facts and that is the sphere of military men. But, indeed, Kiev sharply increased negative rhetoric against Pridnestrovie over the past year and a half, which sometimes was very bellilgerent. The high-ranking Ukrainian officials, including those from the Defense Ministry, stated about a “military threat” from Pridnestrovie, although it is nonsense, in my opinion. By the way, the third part of the population in Pridnestrovie is ethnic Ukrainians, about 100 thousand of them have citizenship of Ukraine.

Unfortunately, Ukrainian security forces continue to increase military infrastructure at the border, including through installation of new positions. They dug a “moat” for unclear reasons, however, according to our data, not throughout the length of the 450-kilometer border yet. The number of National Guard has been expanded - up to several thousand troops are now deployed near our border. About a year ago there was a provocation - border guards shot to kill Pridnestrovians, our citizen was seriously injured. Fortunately, such incidents did not recur.

I hope common sense will prevail. Pridnestrovie did not threaten anybody, but we will be able to ensure the security of our state. There should be no illusions here too.

The VZGLYAD: To start the full blockade against Pridnestrovie – it was the call of Odessa Governor Mikhail Saakashvili a year ago. Activists of nationalist organizations even declared blockade on the road to Tiraspol at his instigation – by the example of the blockade of the Crimea...

V.I.: In fact, there were all sorts of demonstrations, attempts of activists to block the border, they lasted several hours. As for Saakashvili's statements, we do not hear anything new in them, which there would not be in the statements of official Kiev. For us there is no difference, what surname of the Odessa governor is. Pridnestrovie has always been open to constructive and reasonable interaction. We do not see positive steps from the leadership of Odessa yet. We only urge not to worsen the situation.

These measures affects negatively citizens of Ukraine too, ethnic Ukrainians who live in Pridnestrovie, many are state employees, receive salaries, allowances, have social benefits and so on. By the way, the standard of living in Pridnestrovie has always been higher than in Moldova and Ukraine, and, even now. Pensions are significantly higher here - by 30-40 percent. Obviously this also increases the irritation of Kishinev.

The VZGLYAD: You were received by Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin that week in Moscow. Is any change of tone in the dialogue with our diplomats? How was the discussion about “unilateral steps” of Moldavia?

V.I.: The situation has greatly deteriorated for the last two years. Moldova received an ally in Ukraine, which is ready to support the course towards destruction of the statehood of Pridnestrovie. This moment has become a turning point. Kishinev chose the paradigm of unilateral pressure in relations with Pridnestrovie - the systematic strangulation of the economy, the social sphere, the initiation of about 200 criminal cases against the representatives of state authorities of the republic, the restriction of transport capacity, the breaking of the format of rail freight transportation and many other aspects.

This strategy is no different from the armed conflict in its results, but allows Kishinev to imitate the appearance of a dialogue with Pridnestrovie to international partners, to talk about its alleged constructive position.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has clearly stated recently that the intention to establish joint Moldovan-Ukrainian control on our border is contrary to the agreements of the negotiation process. In addition, Kiev actually negates its status of mediator and guarantor in the negotiations through these steps. Thus, it should be noted that the unilateral decision taken outside the framework of the international negotiation structure could torpedo the negotiation process and lead to unpredictable consequences.

The VZGLYAD: Receiving Karasin in Kishinev in late March, Deputy Prime Minister of Moldavia Gheorghe Balan said that his government decided to normalize relations with Moscow. Have you felt it? Has the threat of blockade by Moldova decreased?

V.I.: I think between Kishinev’s declaration to “normalize” relations with Moscow and its materialization into real results there is a gap.

By the way, it is noteworthy that Mr. Balan openly stated in an interview then that due to Ukraine’s recent actions the socio-economic situation in the “breakaway region” deteriorated significantly. It means that a person who is a party to the negotiation process, according to his position is responsible as a political representative of Kishinev, publicly admits that Moldova and Ukraine conduct a “hybrid war” against us. It is a mauvais ton. I do not remember that there have been such cynical statements.

It seems that there is widespread belief in the Russian expert community that the Moldovan-Pridnestrovian conflict is frozen, the situation does not change, and there is no hurry. In fact, the regional situation is rapidly regressing, Moldavia and Ukraine are actively drifting toward the West, simultaneously dealing a blow by blow to Pridnestrovie. All this is intended to restrict our economic opportunities, to provoke humanitarian catastrophe, and to engender people’s discontent. The only state that can help us is Russia. Therefore we are looking for reasonable mechanisms to optimize the economic cooperation with Russia.

If Ukraine will introduce dual control on the border, as it has already promised, it could call our security into question, because Moldovan security forces appear on our border that have never been before. How then can Kiev remain as a mediator in the negotiation process, if it took the side of Kishinev in fact? This is nonsense.

According to our calculations, if our economic agents and citizens will fill the additional customs declarations, they will pay up to $ 2 million a year only for this one procedure. It turns out a triple control – the customs-border and migration control. Moreover, the ours, Moldovan and Ukrainian. The whole sphere of individual entrepreneurship can then die here at all. That is, such control will turn into a “needle's hole” through which our business will not go through simply.

The VZGLYAD: Why has the economic situation of the PMR deteriorated sharply? Because of the crisis in Russia, where many Pridnestrovians work, or yet because of the hidden strangulation attempts made by Kishinev and Kiev? What is the exit strategy from the crisis of the republic?

V.I.: I cannot agree with the first thesis. That is Moldavia that mainly lives off by transferring migrant workers from Russia. Pridnestrovie is a completely different state. Our economy is open export-oriented. More than half of exports went to Russia and the CIS in general before 2006. Then the EU with the help of Moldova and Ukraine affected the change in the mechanism of customs clearance unilaterally, Ukraine stopped to let goods without Moldovan registration in. The profile of our economic basis changed after that. In fact, ten years ago, our economy was forcibly reoriented, gradually trying to impose the EU’s rules and standards on us.

So the situation deteriorated gradually, but not abruptly. We were systematically cornered. The only positive result was the fact that at the end of last year after years of difficult negotiations we managed to agree with Brussels on a special mechanism for trade with Europe, which strongly differs from the Moldovan one. We did not make any Moldovan commitments under the DCFTA. This is a unique solution in many ways that made it possible to avoid a sharp fall in GDP and humanitarian catastrophe in Pridnestrovie in overall.

The task for us is to return to Russian markets at least, to even out the imbalance and to return the export performance to Russia to the level existed before the blockade (before 3 March 2006). We believe that the economic sovereignty under the rapidly changing geopolitical situation is a priority today. Taking into account the PMR’s strategic course towards the integration with Russia and Eurasian associations, our task is to integrate the economy of Pridnestrovie as much as possible in the economic complex of Russia.

The VZGLYAD: Vice-speaker of the Parliament Galina Antyufeeva accused president Shevchuk of corruption and embezzlement of state funds. She gave examples, mentioned some firms. These reproaches, certainly, are not included in the sphere of the Foreign Ministry’s activities, but you’d agree, they sully the reputation of the republic abroad.

V.I.: You're right, this affects the image of the republic very negatively. Any arguments must be supported by facts. The meeting of the Parliament is not the trial. As in any country, we have the Investigative Committee, the Prosecutor's Office, the Audit Chamber, which should be involved in order to really understand the situation. These instructions have been given by the president. The check is underway.

To make sense of the message and core of proposals from such “critics”, including the country's foreign policy is often difficult due to the lack of their specific content. It is clear that artificial attempts made by some political forces in the framework of the pre-election logic to call into question the modern foreign policy course of Pridnestrovie pose a serious threat to the stability of the country's position in the international arena. I don’t think that they will succeed in achieving political heft through such declarations, but it is easy to harm the PMR’s interests.

Source: the Vzglyad newspaper