The Party of Socialists in the Republic of Moldova (PSRM), the most influential parliamentary party, led by former president, Igor Dodon, has recently modified its political platform, without making too much of a fuss, save for a dry hint from Dodon. One of the changes stipulated in the new program concerns the Socialists’ take on the frozen conflict in Transnistria. The new program has abandoned plans to make the Republic of Moldova a Federation, reverting instead to a 25-year-old document that proposes the creation of a confederation as a solution to the Transnistrian conflict, by setting Chișinău on an equal footing with Tiraspol.
A plan dating back to the Luchinsky Cabinet
On May 8, 1997, on the eve of marking 42 years since the “Victory of the Great Patriotic War”, the then president, Pyotr Luchinsky (a former member of the communist Soviet party) and the leader of the breakaway state of Transnistria, Igor Smirnov, raised a glass of champagne in Moscow to yet another victory. On that day, together with representatives from Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE, the two officials signed the "Memorandum on the principles of normalization of the relations between the Republic of Moldova and Transnistria", also known as the Primakov Memorandum, named after the former Russian Foreign Minister, who had “masterminded” the document.
The memorandum is an 11-paragraph document essentially stipulating that the Republic of Moldova and Transnistria, as two equal entities, would establish “state-like relations” to create a single state and draft a founding document. What’s important is that the Primakov Memorandum stipulates the new founding document will take under advisement all previous documents, including an agreement dating back to June 17, 1996, stating that “Transnistria, as part of a single state, is a territorial and state entity organized itself as a republic”.
According to the Memorandum, Transnistria was due to take part in the elaboration of Moldova’s foreign policy, as well as in matters affecting its interests. All decisions concerning such matters had to be taken with the consent of both parties. Additionally, Trasnistria had a right to establish and maintain bilateral relations at international level in the fields of economy, technology, science and culture and was able to establish cooperation in other fields with the consent of both parties.
Russia and Ukraine were supposed to warrant the fulfillment of all obligations laid out in the Memorandum, but eventually it was never enacted. In time, it was forgotten: the only place where it can still be accessed online is the website of the so-called Foreign Ministry in Tiraspol. People born in the Republic of Moldova after 1990 perhaps would have never learned of the existence of the “Primakov Mermorandum” had PSRM not tried to bring it back from the dead.
The Primakov Memorandum favors Transnistria more than the Kozak plan
The old PSRM program denounced the fact that, due to the intervention of Western chancelleries, the Republic of Moldova didn’t sign “the Kozak Plan” in 2003, arguing that “only federalization can present the Republic of Moldova with the opportunity of restoring its territorial integrity and regaining control over its state borders”. Under the Plan, Tiraspol would have its separate Constitution and executive institutions and it was to be consulted whenever international negotiations were involved. Transnistria and Gagauzia would also have a disproportionately high representation compared to their sizable share of the territory and the population. Moreover, the document allowed the Russian army to stay in Moldova for 49 years, according to Moscow’s proposal, or up until 2020, according to the proposal advanced by the then president, Vladimir Voronin.
The Kozak Plan was met with widespread opposition at the time, and against the mounting pressure of street protests and western powers, president Vladimir Voronin made a last-minute call not to sign the document.
The new program has done away with the term “federalization”. Now, “PSRM pleads for a return to the implementation of the 1997 “Memorandum on the principles of normalization of the relations between the Republic of Moldova and Transnistria” (the “Primakov Memorandum”), signed by the then president of the Republic of Moldova, Pyotr Luchinsky, and global partners represented by the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the OSCE”.
At first sight, the return to the federalization of the Republic of Moldova might be connected with the low support this solution enjoys among the voting population. The temptation would be to assume PSRM has identified a compromise solution that would please Moscow (PSRM and its leader are staunch pro-Russians), while at the same time stirring few negative reactions at society level.
In reality, PSRM seems to hope there are few people who do remember or actually knew what the “Primakov Memorandum” entails. It actually ascribes more rights and prerogatives to the breakaway region than the much-criticized Kozak Plan. It’s rather difficult to compare the two documents, given that the Kozak Memorandum is much more exhaustive and complex than the Primakov Memorandum. However, the basic differences come to light when referring to the status of Transnistria (the former recognizes it as part of the Federation, while the latter describes it as a “territorial and state entity organized itself as a republic”) and to its foreign policy prerogatives, which are more comprehensive in the Primakov Memorandum.
Russia’s goal: undermining Moldova’s efforts to establish closer ties with the EU and Romania
The official position in Chișinău on settling the conflict in Transnistria is for the breakaway region to be granted a special status, similar to that of Gagauzia. Gagauzia has its separate Government and Parliament, flag, official languages and a right to external self-determination “in the event the Republic of Moldova ceases to exist as an independent state”, which means that, should the Republic of Moldova unite with Romania, Gagauzia could proclaim its independence. Therefore, Transnistria would enjoy considerable autonomy.
The Kozak and Primakov memoranda were advanced by Russia, who would greatly benefit from the federalization of Moldova. The reason Moscow is interested in this option is to be able to block any attempt from the Republic of Moldova at drawing closer to the European Union, and obviously, to Romania. It is no accident both documents focus on Transnistria’s right to have a say in the future state’s matters of foreign policy. Furthermore, considering interest in seeing Moldova engaging in closer ties with Russia runs high to the right of the Dniester, a possible federalization would tip the balance in their favor, thus triggering the so-called “Transnistrization” of the Republic of Moldova. This would turn Moldova into a Russian enclave on the EU’s external borders and west of Ukraine, adding further pressure on Kiev.
The lack of options and the perpetuation of the status quo
Over the years many controversial ideas have been put forth to settle the conflict, from conceding the breakaway region to Russia, a suggestion made by a former Prime Minister, Dumitru Braghiș, subsequently appointed ambassador in Moscow, to giving up the region so that the Republic of Moldova may unite with Romania, an idea launched by former Romanian president Traian Băsescu. Neither scenario rallied public support to the right of the Dniester, although the Transnistrian conflict is the least of people’s concerns.
Just as the Kozak plan, the Primakov memorandum at one point enjoyed top-level support in the Republic of Moldova, and its implementation was a genuine possibility for a time. Nearly a quarter of century after being signed, the situation in the region has changed significantly. The OSCE’s role has weakened considerably. NATO and the European Union are now Moldova’s external borders, after Hungary, Poland, and later on, Romania, obtained membership. A conflict has broken out between Ukraine and Russia, and it’s hard to imagine the two countries being “external warrantors” of agreements that wouldn’t favor Kiev at all. Right now, the memorandum is as unrealistic as the abovementioned proposals. For the time being, the Transnistrian conflict has made no headway towards resolution.