International negotiations on the Transnistria conflict are set to resume on June 21, for the first time since 2006, in the 5+2 format (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, the United States, European Union, Chisinau, and Tiraspol). Russia, which had authorized Tiraspol to cause the five-year breakdown, is now bringing Tiraspol back to the table and re-launching the negotiations in Moscow.
Moscow is thereby going for the tradeoff envisaged in the Meseberg Memorandum, signed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in June 2010 in the eponymous castle near Berlin. Under that document, Russia would cooperate to settle the Transnistria conflict, in return for which the EU would create a joint committee with Russia to regulate European security affairs. Russia would thus gain a role in EU decision-making, while the joint committee would bypass NATO and implicitly the United States. It is an ideological tenet of German neo-Ostpolitik to involve Russia in the EU’s and, potentially, NATO’s decision-making processes. In the German view, Russia’s cooperation on Transnistria should prove Moscow’s bona fides as a security partner to the EU.
To help elicit European support for its view, Berlin is asking Moscow for a token gesture on Transnistria. To facilitate this, Germany is nudging the negotiations toward an outcome favorable to Russia, as the German non-paper reveals (see below).
The EU holds “observer” status in the 5+2 negotiations, but Germany is acting in its own name with this initiative. This has never received the EU’s official endorsement, let alone being a part of the EU’s common foreign and security policy. But neither has the EU disavowed this German proposal. In practice, Germany is attempting to substitute its own policy for that of the EU on this issue. Meanwhile, a wait-and-see attitude seems to prevail in Brussels.
The 5+2 negotiations in Moscow would start on the wrong footing, prejudging the entire subsequent process, if Russia and Germany combine to define the parameters from the outset. This seems to be occurring at the moment, with Berlin doing an end-run around the EU.
Ahead of the Moscow restart, Berlin has circulated its defining terms in a “non-paper”. This is a normal opening gambit by a participant to a negotiating process, though not by Germany in this case. Germany, moreover, has opposed the issuance of a non-paper by the EU on the parameters of these negotiations. All this looks odd, since the EU is a participant in the 5+2 format while Germany never was. Nor does it seek to join that format. Instead, Berlin seeks to shape the EU’s policy on this issue from within the EU, in conformity with Germany’s Ostpolitik.
The German non-paper, circulated confidentially to the interested governments (German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Key Issues for a Solution of a Transnistria Conflict”), proceeds from Moldova’s territorial integrity as its starting assumption. It defines the negotiations’ goal as ensuring a functional and fully operational state in a reunified Moldova, with a new constitutional setup that would at the same time ensure special rights for Transnistria. In this document and in accompanying conversations, however, German diplomacy contradicts its own starting premise. It makes the goal of a viable Moldovan state more difficult to achieve through excessive empowerment of Russian-controlled Transnistria within that state. And it renders the goal of Moldova’s territorial integrity more elusive by avoiding the issue of Russia’s “peacekeeping” troops stationed on Moldova’s territory.
Going beyond local autonomy for Transnistria, the German document proposes “representation and participation of Transnistria at the level of the unified state, in the government and the legislature,” as topics for negotiation in Moscow. Participation of Tiraspol in Moldova’s central government, along with creating a bicameral parliament in Chisinau, were typical of Russia’s proposals in past years, including the 2003 Kozak Memorandum; and will undoubtedly be reprised by the Russian side in the upcoming negotiations. Russia hopes to see a hybrid, dysfunctional government in Chisinau, whose European orientation would be subject to permanent obstruction or outright veto from Tiraspol’s Russian-installed officials. The German position can make it easier for Moscow to confuse the issue of Transnistria’s autonomy with that of Transnistria’s participation in the central government.
Berlin wants that “neither the Moldovan law on Transnistria [conflict-settlement] from 2005, nor Transnistria’s unilateral declarations of independence, should prejudge the settlement.” This view completely coincides with Moscow’s, as stated most recently by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, previewing the restart of the negotiations (Interfax, June 5). Moldova’s 2005 law, unanimously adopted by a freely elected parliament, stipulates democratization and demilitarization in Transnistria as integral components of conflict-resolution. Its terms also rule out any kind of veto mechanism for Tiraspol vis-a-vis Moldova’s central government. Unsurprisingly, Russia wants this law scrapped, changed, or at least suspended. What is surprising is Berlin asking Moldova –also in bilateral diplomatic channels– to ignore the law of the land, and to equate Moldova’s democratically adopted legislation with Transnistria’s Soviet-style referenda.