How Short Professional Memory Hampers the Negotiations


The press service of the Foreign Ministry of Pridnestrovie commented in detail on Moldova's recent statements on the transport problem

On September 1, at Moldova's numerous requests, Ukraine banned the entry of vehicles with Pridnestrovian-type state license plates, thereby violating human rights and agreements of the negotiation process. As a result, the already difficult situation in the Moldovan-Pridnestrovian settlement has been further complicated.

However, alongside the diplomatic implications, the ban has hurt hundreds of thousands of citizens and the economy. Not only owners of private vehicles but also Pridnestrovian companies carrying out cargo-and-passenger transportation were affected.

Since September 1, nine passenger companies are no longer able to serve more than 30 international routes to Russia and Ukraine. Behind these statistics are the fate of drivers who have lost their jobs and livelihoods, the problems of passengers forced to cross the border on foot to switch over to Ukrainian minibuses, and also difficulties faced by the management of the companies themselves. Given the fact that domestic interregional transportation is unprofitable and subsidized by the state, it is not entirely clear how long the country's transport industry will be able to hold out, having lost international runs.

The normal functioning of dozens of companies and individual entrepreneurs engaged in the delivery of goods from Ukraine for small-scale trade has been blocked. At some point, individual entrepreneurs of Pridnestrovie might face a shortage of goods, and some of us will not be able to buy equipment or repair materials at the Limanny market or cosmetics in a favorite store. Not to mention the fact that sellers and owners of such businesses, who are active participants in the economy today, will end up on the labor exchange.

Large industrial enterprises of the country, which have trucks for the delivery of small consignments of goods and raw materials from Ukraine, also suffer from the ban.

The Pridnestrovian side continues to raise this issue every day at all levels of the negotiation process, which causes discomfort to the political representative from the Republic of Moldova. Therefore, in his interviews and other public statements, V. Kulminski propagates blatant disinformation, trying to “save his face”. However, these attempts turn out to be unconvincing due to the dubious quality of the given arguments. Another example of the Moldovan negotiator’s illogical position can be found in the press release following the meeting with the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.

The message immediately begins with the self-accusatory confession of the political representative of the Republic of Moldova V. Kulminski, who, contrary to his previous statements, admits that Moldova, as it turns out, had not even asked Ukraine not to apply restrictions on passenger vehicles, that make up the vast majority of Pridnestrovian cars, “Chisinau stands fully open and willing to find a solution to the problem that cargo and passenger vehicles face... Firstly, Chisinau has made attempts to delay the entry into force of a decision for these categories of vehicles in order to find a sustainable solution.”

There is no need to mention that the declared openness and, in fact, the refusal to discuss the issue of passenger and cargo transport at a meeting of expert (working) groups due to the lack of a mandate have nothing in common. Another interesting thing is that Chisinau admitted not having asked Ukraine to postpone the restrictions at all. Although at every meeting in September and in public statements V. Kulminski stated the opposite, as though Kiev remained indifferent to Chisinau’s notes with a request to postpone the date of the ban. That is, the Moldovan negotiator deliberately misled the population and international partners, but at some point got confused and let it slip.

Now it is clear why he so stubbornly refused Pridnestrovie's proposal to send a joint appeal to Ukraine with a request to reconsider the ban.

But now none of the Pridnestrovian drivers should have any doubt that the “September 1 issue” has a specific contractor.

At a meeting with his American counterpart, the political representative from the Republic of Moldova also stated that there were no obligations in the documents of the negotiation process to provide neutral license plates to cargo and passenger vehicles. This is untrue, one can easily make sure of it by reading the documents listed below.

V. Kulminski cannot be unaware of the active phase of negotiations on neutral-design license plates for passenger and cargo vehicles in 2013. At that time, he worked as an adviser to the Prime Minister of Moldova on strategic planning and conflict resolution, i.e. he was professionally involved in the decision-making process in the Moldovan-Pridnestrovian dialogue. Therefore, he must’ve heard about what was happening in the settlement process, or even advised the then political representative from the Republic of Moldova. Why lie or demonstrate professional amnesia now? Apparently, everything inconvenient for the Moldovan side at the moment is recognized as something that never happened - a convenient world view.

The sides not only agreed on the possibility of using neutral-design license plates issued in Pridnestrovie, but even developed and approved their design. The agreement thereon contains the signature of the authorized Moldovan representatives. The neutral-design license plate agreed by the parties in 2013 was even manufactured.

The very idea of issuing neutral-design license plates for Pridnestrovian cargo and passenger carriers was proposed by the Moldovan side. V. Kulminski could easily check it by talking to one of his predecessors or the Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, in whose presence this idea was first announced in 2012.

The Protocol Decision of April 24, 2018, which does not apply to vehicles owned by Pridnestrovian cargo and passenger carriers, contains a special clause that the parties initiate the development of a mechanism for such vehicles immediately after signing the Protocol Decision. The Pridnestrovian side presented its draft, and at the meetings of expert (working) groups in 2019-2020 Chisinau repeatedly assured of its readiness to discuss the issue. But with the introduction of the ban on travel through Ukraine, they changed their mind, apparently hoping to subdue Pridnestrovian carriers who were faced with a stark choice: either to do what Moldova illegally demands or not to work at all.

In its press release, the Moldovan side makes a bold statement about the alleged agreement of international mediators and observers that there is no solution for passenger and cargo vehicles within the existing mechanism. Bad manners as a norm in Moldovan diplomacy does not surprise anyone. Chisinau is very fond of speaking on behalf of mediators and observers, but do Russia or the OSCE agree when Chisinau spreads obviously false information on their behalf?

For example, the Russian Foreign Ministry officially disapproved the September 1 ban calling it outrageous. The Russian representative in the “5+2” format, Vitaly Tryapitsyn, warned back in April that “this situation will have the most negative impact on traffic flows and the daily life of Pridnestrovians”.

One can easily find in the archives the working documents of the OSCE, in which the interim agreements of the parties on cargo and passenger carriers are recorded, including the formula for neutral numbers.

The fact that the words and deeds of the respected mediators are seriously at odds with V. Kulminski's interpretation does not seem to bother the Moldovan negotiator too much. But what about the fact that the position he voiced does not coincide with the approaches of the Moldovan side itself, as was the case quite recently? Indeed, the draft Protocol Decision, sent by Chisinau a month after the 5+2 meeting in Berlin in the summer of 2016, clearly indicates the possibility of issuing neutral license plates for cargo and passenger transport in Pridnestrovie.

This is an official proposal of the Moldovan side. V. Kulminski cannot be unaware of this, since a copy of this document was handed over to him by the Pridnestrovian side at a September 20 meeting.

The RM press release mentions there allegedly exists some “immediate”, “urgent” solution, “so as not to create problems for people and their well-being.” The thesis is mocking, if we take into account the fact that during official meetings V. Kulminski did not offer such a decision to Pridnestrovie, but only tried to persuade to submit some shortlist of vehicles for which the mechanism would be applied, refusing to talk about its meaning and content.

The Moldovan negotiator refers to a decision “not provided for in protocols or agreements.” However, there are signed agreements and official drafts on the negotiating table, on the basis of which the VRO mechanism is already operating. It is in this logic that the problem is proposed to be resolved based on the negotiating table agreements.

The Moldovan side is making attempts to politically and economically complicate any future agreement on cargo and passenger transport. For example, V. Kulminski mentions “tariffs, competitive environment, excise rates and related issues.” It's hard to know what he means. He is probably not familiar with this agreement of the negotiation process and the nature of the discussions that preceded its signing.

This is regarding the excise taxes. How and why the tariffs set by private companies in the system of market relations should be addressed is not clear at all.

As for competition, the Moldovan side's concerns do not stand up to scrutiny. They say, transport companies from Pridnestrovie will receive neutral numbers to enter the EU transportation market, which has long been captured by Moldovan transport agents. Yet, using administrative levers to ban the exit has nothing to do with competition. And these concerns do not give the Moldovan side the right to bar people from working. Where would the negotiation process be now if the Pridnestrovian side resorted to the same methods?

The sad outcome of Moldovan bans and unwillingness to sign and implement agreements is that specific problems remain unresolved and therefore mission of the negotiation process cannot be fulfilled. Such experiments on the part of Chisinau definitely bode ill.