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Transdniestr President Igor Smirnov takes part in a news conference on the topic ''Stabilization of the Political and Economical Situation in Transdniestr. Is a Union of Russia, Transdniestr, and Belarus Possible?'' in Moscow in May 2001.
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Apr. 06, 2007
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Moscow's Hand Tired of Giving
// Transdniestrian Leader Abuses Russian Generosity
Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Andrey Stratan arrived in Moscow today to discuss the resolution of the Transdniestr conflict, on which Moscow and Chisinau have recently been enjoying increasing mutual understanding. Mr. Stratan's visit takes place at a moment of significantly cooled relations between Russia and the self-proclaimed republic of Transdniestr, which is digging in its heels against Russia's efforts to forge peace in the region. The tension between them is now so thick that Moscow has suspended its financial assistance to Tiraspol.
A New Twist in the Friendship

The press service of the Russian consulate in Moldova told Kommersant that Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrey Stratan will meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during his visit to Moscow. He will also hold talks with chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Konstantin Kosachyov concerning relations between Moldova and Russia, which have begun to thaw in earnest over the last several months. The main issue on Mr. Stratan's agenda for his talks with Russian officials is the resolution of the conflict over Transdniestr. According to Kommersant's sources, the key conversation on that topic is likely to take place not in the Russian Foreign Ministry but in the Russian Security Council, which has recently assumed the main advisory role on the matter of Transdniestr.

Andrey Stratan can look forward to an exceptionally warm welcome in Moscow. The Kremlin has been looking at its visitors from Chisinau with new eyes ever since Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin met with Vladimir Putin last August to propose a plan to normalize Russian-Moldovan relations. Among other things, the plan calls for Moldova to turn its back on any pretensions to membership in NATO.

Though Mr. Voronin declared his aspirations to eurointegration in 2003, Moscow has decided that he is not yet completely out of Russia's orbit and has given him a chance to mend his ways. As a gesture of goodwill, at the beginning of this year inspectors from Rospotrebnadzor, the Russian consumer protection agency, visited Moldova and lauded the efforts of local wine producers to improve the quality of Moldovan wine, which the agency had declared unfit for consumption in March 2006 after Chisinau and Kiev imposed a new customs regime on goods from Transdniestr. Following the favorable review from Rospotrebnadzor, Moldovan wine is expected to reappear on Russia's shelves before next summer.

A clear thaw has also begun on the political level. For example, Moscow has unexpectedly stopped irritating Chisinau by advocating the use of the Kosovo model in the resolution of the situation in Transdniestr. Russian Security Council deputy secretary Yury Zubakov, who is responsible for Transdniestr, has also been making frequent visits to Moldova lately. Mr. Zubakov's most recent visit was at the beginning of March, when he presented the Moldovan authorities with a new Russian plan to resolve the conflict on the banks of the Dniepr by having Russian President Vladimir Putin mediate during talks between Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov and President Voronin (Kommersant covered the story on February 7). The idea appears to have appealed to Moldova. In any case, after meeting with Mr. Zubakov, Vladimir Voronin spoke optimistically about the odds for a quick reconciliation with Tiraspol. "Although the unification of the country has not yet taken place, many issues that were previously uncertain have been cleared up, and that will inevitably lead to the resolution of the conflict," said Mr. Voronin this week in an address on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of his election to office. "The Transdniestr conflict is a conflict of interest. The fact that we already know who the interested parties are will allow us to finally resolve it. Very little is left before reconciliation," he added. The Russian Foreign Ministry echoed Mr. Voronin's optimism. "The Russian side is convinced that there are no points of contention existing between the two sides that could throw up a roadblock on the path to reconciliation," said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov recently in Moscow. According to Mr. Denisov, the search for a resolution is moving forward, and several plans for resolving the situation are currently in circulation.

Unexpected Opposition

While Moscow and Chisinau are drawing closer, the leadership in Tiraspol is stubbornly refusing to consider the compromise with Moldova towards which Russia is prodding it. According to Kommersant's sources in Transdniestr, the local Foreign Ministry is deliberately evading negotiations with Chisinau in hopes of dragging the issue out until 2008, when the Russian presidential elections are likely to distract the attention of the authorities in Moscow away from the resolution of the Transdniestr conflict.

Igor Smirnov is ignoring all signals from Moscow encouraging the Transdniestrian authorities to return to negotiations with Moldova, and he is also insisting that Tiraspol can have a relationship with Chisinau only if Transdniestr is accorded equal status with Moldova as a neighboring nation. Moreover, Moscow is beginning to get the impression that the leader of Transdniestr is increasingly interested more in Russian financial help than in politics. Mr. Smirnov recently announced that the Transdniestrian Moldovan Republic (PMR) will not be paying off its gas debt to Russia, which currently stands at $1.3 billion. His comments were made on March 23, shortly after Gazprom announced that it is transferring Transdniestr's debt for gas to the Russian holding Metalloinvest, which is headed by Alisher Usmanov. "Transdniestr has no legal debt. And there was never an agreement signed with Gazprom. The agreement was signed by the consortium Moldova Gas, in which Transdniestr used to own a 15% share, but the Transdniestrian gas network has since left the Moldovan association. So now let Moldova figure out with Usmanov what it owes him," concluded Mr. Smirnov peremptorily.

Even while refusing to repay his debt, Mr. Smirnov has not shied away from demanding that Russia continue to provide no-strings-attached financial support to his republic. This week the Supreme Council of the unrecognized republic approved a special message to the Russian State Duma in which the Transdniestrian parliament laments its difficult financial situation and asks Moscow about "rendering financial assistance to its fellow countrymen and citizens of the Russian Federation living in the Transdniestrian Moldovan Republic."

Punishment with the Ruble

Moscow, however, is fed up with Igor Smirnov's demands, particularly since the Transdniestrian leader is categorically refusing to build a relationship with Chisinau even if Russia were to guarantee Transdniestr special status within a confederation. Instead, Tiraspol is continuing to dream of the PMR's entry into the Russian Federation, taking Kaliningrad as its example. This has become so irritating for Moscow that the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Security Council, according to Kommersant's sources, have even begun to wonder whether it might be time to look for a replacement for the Transdniestrian president.

In the meantime, Russia is using economic levers against rebellious Tiraspol: the monthly financial assistance that poured into the unrecognized republic last year has now been frozen. "Of course we shut it off! It's too easy to live and set yourself an unlimited budget with a $100 million deficit when you know that you have willing sponsors," said a Kommersant source in the Russian Foreign Ministry. "Russia will not allocate financial support on a permanent basis. If you're in a tight spot, you need to tighten your belt a bit. They thought that we would underwrite every hole in their budget. We have enough of those regions in Russia as it is," added the source.

The squeeze has already begun to be felt, and the authorities in Transdniestr are wracking their brains for ways of plugging the holes in the budget. Social programs have been hastily frozen and education spending has been slashed, which is doing nothing for the popularity of Mr. Smirnov, who is extremely concerned by the chill in his relations with Moscow. The perpetual Transdniestrian leader recently complained at a meeting with Russian journalists that Russia has turned its back on his republic.

For its part, Moscow has no intention of letting up on the pressure as long as Mr. Smirnov does not come to his senses. In the wake of the final rift with Georgia, the Transdniestr region remains the lone conflict zone in the post-Soviet space in which Russia can still intervene effectively as a peacemaker. If Moscow's plans succeeds, Vladimir Putin will have the opportunity to prove to the West that Russia is capable not only of serving as a buffer between conflicting sides but also of reconciling them. In the service of that goal, politicians like Igor Smirnov can be sacrificed.

Vladimir Solovyov

All the Article in Russian as of Apr. 06, 2007

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