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11 Oct 17

Putin Vows to Help Moldova Solve Transnistria

Russia's Vladimir Putin told Moldova’s President on Tuesday that Moldova has to align its stances more with Moscow's, if it seeks closer trading links and help in solving the Transnistria dispute.

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Moldovan president Igor Dodon with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Tuesday. Photo: Igor Dodon/Facebook. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Moldova’s President Igor Dodon at a meeting on Tuesday that Moldova needs to align its political stances more closely with Moscow if it wants to join the Eurasian Economic Union and solve the issue of the breakway region of Transnistria.

The two presidents met on the sides of the Eurasian Economic Council and the Commonwealth of Independent States summit at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Dodon sought observer status for his country in the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.

“We will do everything we need to do to solve the Transnistrian conflict, and will guarantee the agreements that need to be in place to solve this problem once and for all in the interests of all people who live there,” Putin assured Dodon during the meeting.

But he also noted that Russia intended to build its “economic contacts from the level of political interaction.”

Moldova-Russia relations have been tense since the pro-Western government in Chisinau in May expelled five Russian diplomats for allegedly breaking Moldovan laws, despite repeated warnings. In return, Russia expelled five Moldovan diplomats and banned imports from Moldova.

The Moldovan government also declared Russian deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin persona non grata in August after he ignored warnings from the government in Chisinau that he was not welcome to visit Transnistria.

Rogozin failed to reach Chisinau and proceed to the breakaway region because neighbouring Romania did not allow his plane to cross its airspace, invoking a European Union flight ban on Russian officials imposed after the annexation of Crimea.

Moldova’s relations with Russia have deteriorated since Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, when Chisinau banned all Russian military flights over its territory.

At the beginning of 2017, Moldova’s government banned all its officials from travelling to Russia, after prosecutors investigating a money-laundering case complained of harassment at the airport in Moscow.

The pro-Russian President of Moldova, Dodon, however, is a friend of Moscow and advocates Moldova joining the Eurasian Economic Union.

To get his way, he has been pushing for a constitutional referendum that would boost his powers so that he could dissolve parliament and call early elections. To counter this, however, parliament declared his referendum illegal.

Dodon told Putin on Tuesday that, after next year’s parliamentary elections, which he hopes his Socialist Party will win, the Transnistrian conflict will be put back on the official agenda.

“I am sure there will be a pro-Moldovan parliament in Chisinau, which will be keen on solving this important problem,” he said.  

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, is trying to facilitate a negotiated settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.

However, while the regional authorities in Tiraspol are pushing for formalised special status for their region, the priority for the government in Chisinau is the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers from the region.

In February, the so-called "5 + 2 Talks", involving Transnistria, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia and OSCE, plus the US and the EU as observers, re-started in Vienna, but there has been no breakthrough as yet.

Moldova has asked the UN to include a debate on the Russian presence in Transnistria on the agenda of the General Assembly. The UN is scheduled to discuss the request late in October.

Russia has deployed peacekeepers and about 1,200 troops remaining from its 14th Army in the region to protect what is deemed the biggest remaining Soviet weapons depot in Eastern Europe, in Cobasna.  The depot still contains about 21,000 tons of ammunition.

Moscow’s deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin, told Ria.ru in an interview published on Tuesday that Russia will only evacuate its troops and weapons from Transnistria when the conflict is solved in the way Moscow desires, which involves Moldova becoming a federal state.

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