Pridnestrovie: new strength tests
The past year has brought new strength tests to Pridnestrovie, and 2023 may also turn out to be quite difficult in this regard. The situation in the Moldovan-Pridnestrovian settlement continues to deteriorate. The security situation continues to be of concern. There is no immediate military threat in the region today, however, voices are regularly heard from Kyiv that the “problem of Transnistria” must be resolved by force. Chisinau rejects this option, even the current Moldovan authorities understand its catastrophic nature for everyone. But against the backdrop of the fact that the West continues to pump up the region with military equipment and weapons, one cannot firmly vouch for anything.
The situation in the Moldovan-Pridnestrovian negotiations gradually degraded even before the events of February 2022. Since 2019, exporting enterprises of the PMR have faced new financial and banking restrictions in the Republic of Moldova, closure of accounts. In September 2021, Chisinau and Kyiv organized a blockade for Pridnestrovian vehicles - cars with Pridnestrovian license plates were no longer able to travel to Ukraine.
Since the end of February 2022, Ukraine has completely closed the border with Pridnestrovie, although there was no threat from the PMR for the border Ukrainian regions and could not come. Today it is known that such a step was taken at the suggestion of the Moldovan side. After that, Chisinau received full control not only over Pridnestrovian exports, but also over imports. This did not take long to turn into new problems for the PMR. At the Moldovan customs, medicines of Russian, Belarusian and even European production, as well as cargoes with agricultural chemistry and food, began to be delayed. All this led to an increase in costs for Pridnestrovian importers, to an increase in prices for a number of goods on the PMR domestic market.
Another problem concerned the import of raw materials for the Moldavian Metallurgical Plant, the largest ferrous metallurgy enterprise in the region. The plant is located in the Pridnestrovian city of Rybnitsa. Moldova began to link the import of raw materials for it with the issuance of environmental authorizations. As a result, from the end of February to the end of April, while the issue of authorizations was being resolved, the plant was forced to suspend production. This affected the final indicators of Pridnestrovian exports in 2022.
In November, Pridnestrovie faced a gas crisis, which was associated with the fact that JSC "Moldovagaz" selected blue fuel intended for the PMR. Fortunately, one month was enough for the Moldovan authorities to understand that the gas crisis is not in the interests of Chisinau itself, because of this it is deprived of cheap Transnistrian electricity. The cost of electricity, which Moldova bought in European markets in November, sometimes reached $450 per megawatt-hour. Electricity tariffs for the population immediately soared - to figures 4-6 times higher than in Russia.
As a result, in early December, Tiraspol and Chisinau came to a new energy deal, which continues today. In accordance with it, Pridnestrovie received the entire volume of gas supplied to Moldova by the Russian Gazprom, and in return covered about 60% of Moldova's electricity needs at a price of $73 per megawatt-hour. Moldova produces another 30% itself, and buys the remaining 10% in Romania.
The problems of 2022 did not end with the gas crisis. In December, the draft amendments appeared in the Moldovan parliament, which introduce new articles and concepts into the Criminal Code of the Republic of Moldova. Among them are “separatism”, “conspiracy against Moldova”, “anti-constitutional subject”, “illegal information structure”. To date, this bill has been approved in the final reading, and it contains a threat to many residents of Transnistria.
At the beginning of 2023, the disposition in relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol is as follows. At the political level, the issue of importing medicines to the PMR has not been resolved - as far as one can understand, local pharmaceutical companies solve it "according to the situation", and this is far from the best option. There are also risks of detention of food cargo for Pridnestrovie.
The Moldavian metallurgical plant is working and is waiting for five-year environmental authorizations from the Moldavian authorities, which would give a guarantee that the enterprise will not have problems from this side. In fact, stopping the plant is not very profitable for Chisinau either - a significant part of the income is lost by the Moldovan railway and scrap metal suppliers, and the construction industry will not receive the materials it needs.
Everything is complicated with the work of the international negotiating format "5 + 2" on the Moldovan-Pridnestrovian settlement, which, in addition to the parties to the conflict, includes Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE, the European Union and the United States. The format has not been built since the end of 2019. And one of the main questions of this year is whether it will be possible to unlock it.
There are no and, apparently, no top-level meetings between Moldova and Pridnestrovie are expected, although the President of the PMR Vadim Krasnoselsky made such proposals to Maia Sandu more than once (the last of them was in August last year).
The implementation of the negotiating agenda that was developed back in 2016-2017, when Germany and Austria held the OSCE chairmanship, is stalling. Thus, the agreement, which provided for the restoration of direct telephone communication between Pridnestrovie and Moldova, has not been fulfilled (and has already lost its force). As we noted, the freedom of movement of Pridnestrovian vehicles is limited. The issue of banking interaction is not being resolved.
Under the current conditions, the Moldovan authorities have a choice between two approaches to settling relations with Transnistria. The first is not to repeat Ukraine's mistakes and, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last August, "think about the interests of those people who live side by side." That is, to solve socio-economic problems, thereby creating the prerequisites for a lasting political settlement.
Today, however, a different, "geopolitical" approach dominates in Chisinau. The leadership of the Republic of Moldova links the resolution of the conflict with the situation in Ukraine. The position here is as follows: not to conduct any serious negotiations with Tiraspol until the Ukrainian events are over. At the same time, the authorities of the Republic of Moldova do not hide their hopes that the negotiating position of Pridnestrovie will deteriorate in any way during this time and it will be easier for Chisinau to achieve unilateral concessions from Tiraspol.
These hopes are fueled by representatives of Kyiv, who promise to help Chisinau in forcing Transnistria to “reintegrate” into Moldova. “I think that Kyiv, Chisinau and our partners from all over the world will be able to get together and discuss what needs to be done so that Tiraspol, for example, wants to [give in and reintegrate],” said Ukrainian Ambassador to Moldova Marko Shevchenko at the end of last year in on the air of one of the Moldovan TV channels.
What forecasts can be made for Chisinau and Tiraspol for the coming year? In January, we are still seeing some kind of “buildup”. The energy deal has already been extended on a routine basis: Pridnestrovie will continue to supply electricity to Moldova in February.
It can be assumed that the energy contract in one form or another will be maintained throughout the year. At least, the objective situation is such that Transnistria today is the only source of cheap imported electricity for the Republic of Moldova. Under the current conditions, it will not be possible to count on Ukraine for a long time, and Ukrainian electricity, as a rule, was more expensive than Pridnestrovian in peacetime.
Energy is the area where "geopolitical" approaches do not work. In the summer, representatives of the Moldovan government stated that “yes, the price of electricity that Tiraspol offers us is incomparably more interesting than in other markets, but there is a price of dignity and a situation may arise when we prefer to buy twice as much, but from the other side” . Now you don't hear anything like that anymore.
An interesting picture is emerging around the 5+2 negotiation format. In the summer, the Moldovan authorities began to claim that he was “tired” and needed to be restarted. This happened against the backdrop of statements by US Ambassador to Moldova Kent Logsdon that, in addition to the 5 + 2 format, in the future Moldova “needs to think about something else.”
However, today something has changed: the same Logsdon recently said on the air of one of the Moldovan TV channels that the United States considers the 5 + 2 format the only mechanism for finding a peaceful solution to the Moldovan-Pridnestrovian conflict. At the same time, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova for Reintegration, Oleg Serebryan, at a meeting with the Russian Ambassador to Moldova, Oleg Vasnetsov, seems to have agreed that the 5 + 2 format is an uncontested platform for negotiations today.
It’s probably too early to talk about something here, but if international mediators, especially Western ones, really show activity, then work in the 5 + 2 format in 2023 has a chance to resume one way or another. But, we repeat, it is too early to assume anything.
The security situation deserves a separate discussion. Here, a number of questions are brewing related to the already mentioned “law on separatism” and the activity of Moldova in the military sphere. But this is a separate conversation.