Vitaly Ignatiev: Pridnestrovie Is Open for Dialogue


The Pridnestrovian Foreign Minister gave an exclusive interview about the negotiation process, association with the EU and the supply of products and medications to the republic.

Exclusive interview: Pridnestrovian Foreign Minister Vitaly Ignatiev answers questions from Sputnik Moldova.

– What is your assessment of the status of the negotiation process with Chisinau?

– The negotiation process is at its lowest point. Official Chisinau has not only refused to fulfill its earlier obligations, not only blocked the execution of the Berlin+ agreements, but also deliberately created a whole complex of new social and humanitarian problems, grossly violating the rights and interests of Pridnestrovian citizens. This destructive approach has been exercised for decades, which allows us to conclude that various generations of political elites of the Republic of Moldova are systematically unwilling to reach a real compromise settlement of relations with Pridnestrovie.

Chisinau’s inability to negotiate results in constant difficulties in resolving vital issues – restrictions on the delivery of medications and goods to Pridnestrovie, blocking the movement of vehicles, banking and financial restrictions, politically motivated criminal prosecution of our citizens, and so on.

A crisis in dialogue is always perilous. Following the example of other conflicts in the post-Soviet space, we can clearly see that where a negotiation deadlock is imposed, sooner or later there are prerequisites for non-negotiable methods of eliminating contradictions.

Pridnestrovie stands against such scenarios. As early as June 29, the PMR Supreme Council adopted a statement on the situation around Pridnestrovie, which said that the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic is an exclusively peaceful state, committed to the principles of neutrality and to resolving all conflicts at the negotiating table.

In the current challenging climate, Pridnestrovie is open to a dialogue with Moldova and expects it to find a grain of reason. This is evidenced by the extension of the mechanism for land use in the Dubossary district of Pridnestrovie until 31 August. We trust that the Moldovan side is capable of adequately assessing constructive steps by Pridnestrovie and will begin to move towards it in order to restore an atmosphere of trust.

– How functional is the 5+2 format, given that its two participants, namely Russia and Ukraine, are now in violent conflict? Does this negotiating format have any prospects?

– The 5+2 format was in a critical situation back in 2019. We are talking about direct sabotage by the Moldovan leadership of the international mechanism’s activity. I am sure that all the international participants to the dialogue realized this, watching the stumbles of the Moldovan political representative during the Bratislava round, which ended in a rather loud failure. Then Chisinau actively came up with excuses to avoid participation in the format’s meetings in 2020-2021. Now the situation has objectively aggravated in connection with the Ukrainian conflict.

We cannot ignore the OSCE’s passive position during these years. We could have preserved the effectiveness of the format by simply observing the principles and procedures of the negotiations within the Permanent Conference providing for meetings at least five or six times a year. But something constantly prevented one of the co-mediators from being consistent and persistent. As a result, each subsequent year the OSCE Chairmanships-in-Office were more in sync with the sentiments of Chisinau than with the objectives of maintaining a functional negotiation mechanism.

Now the prospects for the 5+2 format are highly uncertain. Nevertheless, the Pridnestrovian side is guided by the agreements reached and respects this dialogue platform where the parties can express their positions on the basis of equal rights and discuss approaches, taking into account the opinions of international partners.

The question is not whether the format should be changed, but whether it has an alternative, when there is no communication between the leaders of Pridnestrovie and Moldova.

The Permanent Conference was originally created as an additional contour of permanent communication between the parties amid Chisinau’s refusal of interaction between the presidents of the PMR and Moldova. Today there is no high level interaction between the parties, the Permanent Conference does not work, contacts at the level of political representatives and expert working groups do not bring results because of the lack of Moldova’s political will to solve the problems they themselves generate. The parties have to move ‘by touch’, which is a direct consequence of Chisinau’s irresponsible approach.

– Moldova recently obtained candidate status for EU membership. Is Pridnestrovie ready to move toward EU membership?

– Moldova’s application for EU membership makes any speculation about so-called ‘reintegration’ illusory.

It is well known that EU membership is impossible without resolving territorial and legal issues. Today we see it in Serbia or in Northern Macedonia. Thus, Moldova will inevitably have to sit down at the negotiating table and resolve the conflict with Pridnestrovie through dialogue. We hope that the Moldovan leadership does not nurture suicidal plans to use force.

As for the negotiation option, in light of Moldova’s European prospects contradicting the will of the Pridnestrovian residents, it is impossible to peacefully and non-violently in one state mechanically combine completely different identities of the Moldovan (or Romanian) and multinational Pridnestrovian peoples, their different values, different heroes and the choice of opposing vectors of development. This is a dangerous utopia that could lead to a new conflict outbreak.

In Pridnestrovie, the results of the referendum of September 17, 2006 rule out deviations from the independence path, followed by a free accession to Russia. The foreign policy concept, the development strategy until 2026 and other doctrinal documents formulate the national idea.

There is only one realistic and peaceful way – a civilized separation, recognition of Moldova’s legal personality and building good-neighborly relations with Pridnestrovie. Pridnestrovie has all the necessary legal and political grounds.

I want to stress that Moldova’s gaining its independence became possible due to the political and legal decisions that justified the legal return of the situation before August 2, 1940, that is, before the annexation of Bessarabia to the MASSR, to the historical Pridnestrovie.

Moreover, the state-forming legal acts, including decisions of the Parliament and Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Moldova of 1991 fixed not only illegal character of creation of MSSR but also invalidity of all political and legal consequences of that decision. The Moldovan leadership undertook legal obligations on liquidation of all consequences which means the obligation of separate political existence of Moldova as a successor of Bessarabia with Pridnestrovie – the legal successor of MASSR. But in reality, for more than 30 years, we have seen just the opposite – attempts by Chisinau to recreate the Soviet republic of the MSSR, which it recognized as illegitimate, and to keep Pridnestrovie by force within its borders.

Thus, Chisinau has more than enough domestic legal grounds to conclude an interstate treaty on mutual recognition with Pridnestrovie. The Moldovan authorities only need to start executing their own state-forming decrees.

– Can we expect that Chisinau will take into account the interests of Tiraspol by starting EU accession negotiations? Were Pridnestrovian representatives invited to such negotiations at all, e.g. when the Association Agreement with the EU was adopted?

– Representatives of Pridnestrovie participated in the negotiations about the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area as independent observers, which allowed to subsequently agree on a mutually acceptable mechanism of trade cooperation, taking into account the interests of the Pridnestrovian exporters. This time no such invitations were received.

The opinion of the people of Pridnestrovie was not taken into account when submitting the application, and no consultations were held. I believe that such key issues should be determined through a referendum.

Memorandum on the Basis for Normalization of Relations between the Republic of Moldova and Pridnestrovie of May 8, 1997 says that Pridnestrovie participates in the implementation of foreign policy of the Republic of Moldova on issues that affect its interests, and the decision on these issues is made by agreement of the parties. In this sense, the PMR leadership has repeatedly expressed the view that the application is a sovereign choice of Moldova that does not affect the interests of Pridnestrovie, which is not part of it.

If Chisinau considered the territory of Pridnestrovie to be its integral part, it would have been obliged in advance to initiate broad and open consultations with the Pridnestrovian side, including discussions in the international negotiation process. The Moldovan authorities did not do this, which means that they do not intend to build a common state with Pridnestrovie. But, apparently, they are still shy or afraid to openly admit this fact.

This reminds me of a peculiar form of leaving without saying good-bye: we went to the EU (in reality, to Romania), and Pridnestrovie can do what it wants. Well, that, too, is quite a concrete political position. We heard them.

Thus, the further trajectory of the settlement process can only lead to the legal recognition of the already existing de facto statehood of Pridnestrovie.

– The problem of medication imports to Pridnestrovie: what is the current state of affairs? Representatives of the Moldovan Health Ministry said that Pridnestrovian companies simply need to comply with the procedures adopted in Moldova, and that this is the reason for the delays. What do you think of it?

– Six months of non-stop promises from the Moldovan side have not solved the urgent problem of medication imports. The mechanism agreed at the expert level back in mid-spring has not been implemented by the Moldovan side yet.

It is supposed to allow, on a temporary basis, to import to Pridnestrovie medications from in the lists of vital and socially important medications of Pridnestrovie. Also the import of medications from Moldovan registers of allowed and vital medications will still be available. This solution is not optimal, but it is able to cover more than half of the existing need for medications.

Even though both sides understand the efficiency of this approach, which coincides with the recommendations of international experts, the norm has not yet been adopted. There is an impression that Chisinau continues some kind of antihuman bargaining on other issues, which, given the shortage of medicines, can only be regrettable.

We are not familiar with the statements by representatives of the Moldovan Health Ministry about the absence of the problem. On the contrary, medical specialists from the Republic of Moldova clearly understand the problem, have repeatedly discussed it in expert working groups in a partnership and adequate manner and, in fact, have proposed the expected partial solution.

The stalling takes place at the political level, the text of the decision has been written out for a long time, only its approval is required.

– Is there a deficit of medications in Pridnestrovie?

– We are talking about a deficit of medications on the market – in the pharmacy network, because the state order for medical institutions of the country is generally fulfilled. Although there are problems here as well, for both of them can be delivered in a single batch, by one vehicle.

The pharmacy network lacks about 2 thousand traditional medications for consumers, primarily produced in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. They are partially replaced by those made in the EU, which creates difficulties – they are more expensive and not familiar to all prescribers and patients. The deficit is really felt both in terms of cost and in terms of assortment.

– Apart from medicines, are there any other problems with the import of goods? Has the problem with the import of fertilizers been solved?

– The problem with the import of plant protection products has been temporarily resolved. Until August 31 Pridnestrovian companies can import even those fertilizers that are not listed in the Moldovan register of allowed plant protection products, provided they are used only in Pridnestrovie. In general, this is the solution requested by the Pridnestrovie side. At the same time, it is very important that this norm be extended for the autumn period.

As for other goods, there is a wide list of problems. For example, there are difficulties with the import of food products – in some cases deliveries of meat and livestock products, fruits, alcohol are blocked or delayed. On the whole, it has been possible to establish the supply of scrap metal, but difficulties arise from time to time.

Because of the EU sanctions in the form of transit restrictions, supplies of industrial equipment and raw materials from Russia for the country’s enterprises have been completely stopped. There are difficulties with direct deliveries of vehicles, which used to come through the southern ports of the Odesa region from American auctions.

There is no mechanism for the import of veterinary medications, products classified by Moldovan legislation as dual-use goods, licensed and excisable products. Thus, trucks with gasoline and diesel fuel are systematically detained. There are problems and overpayments in the form of double taxation of customs duty when importing goods for individual entrepreneurs of Pridnestrovie.

All in all, the situation is very difficult and alarming, requiring a more active involvement of negotiation instruments, achievement of specific agreements, albeit limited in time. Ignoring these difficulties will provoke a further decline in economic indicators, not only in Pridnestrovie, but in neighboring Moldova.

– To what extent has foreign trade been hampered by the situation in Ukraine in general?

– The economy, including foreign trade of Pridnestrovie, largely depends on the activities of large enterprises – Rybnitsa Metallurgical Plant, Moldovan GRES, Tirotex, KVINT, Interdnestrcom. If these enterprises are functioning, then statistically the foreign trade figures look acceptable. To date, these giants are working relatively smoothly. Pridnestrovie actively trades with the outside world, buying raw materials and equipment and selling final products.

However, there are still a lot of problems. Because of the EU anti-Russian sanctions, Electromash, one of the oldest industrial enterprises, is limited in the supply of raw materials and equipment and the export of final products.

Many goods from traditional Russian and Belarusian markets cannot be delivered to date. Some of the trading partners in Ukraine have also ceased their work. In turn, goods produced in EU countries cannot be paid for due to the banking blockade.

Logistics is becoming more complicated, which in the context of blockade and restrictive measures by neighboring Moldova, creates significant obstacles to foreign economic activity.

– Besides the passage of goods, what other issues and problems are on the negotiating agenda?

– There are enough topics that require the constructive involvement of the parties and rapid resolution in the population’s interests. In particular, the banking blockade not only prevents foreign trade activities of Pridnestrovian enterprises, it creates problems for international bank card holders, including pensioners. Impossibility to convert Moldovan lei actually deprives the Pridnestrovian economy of financial liquidity necessary for importing consumer goods.

There are also other problems from the Berlin+ package – criminal cases against officials, telecommunications, guarantees of the implementation of agreements reached.

The issue of motor vehicles, both private and commercial, is topical. Vehicle registration points have been operating in a limited format for more than six months, and the prospects for this mechanism seem very dim. There are problems in railway freight traffic.

However, a new issue on the negotiating agenda should be considered the question of whether the dialogue has a future at all. The 5+2 format is in the impasse into which it has been driven by Chisinau’s sabotage. Will it be possible to revive the activity of this negotiation mechanism? Or will the sides find an alternative to it? Could it be that Chisinau is not interested in negotiating ways of resolving the contradictions at all?

All of these are ‘extra credit questions’ that one cannot help asking when analyzing the settlement process. And these are questions that the chief negotiators will probably have to discuss, too, if the Moldovan side is ready for a meeting.

– Vadim Krasnoselsky several times suggested Maia Sandu to hold direct talks. Can you somehow comment on why she clearly refuses or evades holding such a meeting?

– It is better to ask the Moldovan president this question. Judging by the references in the media to her international contacts, she is quite available for meetings, but she acts very selectively, communicating exclusively with representatives of the Western world.

Some kind of possible bias or phobias of Chisinau with regard to the interaction with the Pridnestrovian leadership hinder the search for effective solutions aimed at improving the living conditions of the Pridnestrovian and Moldovan citizens. Is this motivation not enough for establishing productive cooperation?

On the other hand, the earlier regular meetings with Maia Sandu’s predecessor did not bring any results either.

In any case, the Pridnestrovian side is open to cooperation and believes that such meetings, given the crisis in the 5+2 format, could be of use. This would be a strong signal to all those interested in further degradation of the negotiation process that such a destructive prospect is not supported by both sides.

– Are you pessimistic or optimistic about the question of continuing negotiations, in a complex regional and geopolitical context? Maybe we should take a pause until the situation in Ukraine stabilizes?

– The Pridnestrovian side perceives the negotiation process with the Republic of Moldova through the prism of solving specific issues and problems of the population, as well as the protection of human rights.

Try to explain to a patient who urgently needs certain pharmaceuticals that it is necessary to wait for the settlement of the situation in Ukraine! Or try to explain to the staff of a large industrial enterprise that they need to temporarily stop working! How are they supposed to provide for themselves and their families?

That is why, socio-economic and humanitarian issues in the negotiation process require immediate solutions, they cannot be postponed. Otherwise, the base of public support for the dialog and its orientation toward solving people’s very real problems is washed out.