Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 146

In a marathon-length televised interview on July 20, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin admitted to negotiating a “plan” for conflict-settlement in Transnistria with the Kremlin. Broadcast live in Russian on the presidentially controlled private channel NIT, Voronin’s emotional interview was kept out of the official Moldovan media. The president repeated the essential points in more concentrated form in a July 25 news conference, his first in six months. He had until now rejected the reports that he was negotiating a “plan” with the Kremlin.

In the interview, Voronin stated: “I have a settlement plan, even if it is a secret one, it is a plan all the same.” He made clear that the plan was not yet finalized: “If, let’s say, it would be signed with Putin or whomsoever,” the plan would then be made public. For, “Whatever we might write secretly, it must ultimately be presented to parliament.” The transcripts corroborate news agency accounts of Voronin’s remarks: “There is no secret plan and there’s no sense engaging in secrecy. All the same, any secret plan that exists or will be coordinated with the Russian leadership, must go to parliament, and [must] be made public” (Itar-Tass, July 23). “Whatever plan [I] may or may not have with Putin, it would in any case be presented to parliament and the public” (Infotag, July 23).

Claiming credit for his plan, Voronin accused other Moldovan politicians of “never having proposed a plan. Let us lay our proposal and theirs on the table. Theirs does not exist!” “The opposition has no plan to offer.” In the press conference, he mentioned “documents that have been worked out” with Putin on conflict-resolution in Transnistria, “certain understandings with Russia that would soon be implemented. I am confident that the resolution is near.”

Voronin and his entourage had until now disclaimed any such intentions. The denials redoubled after elements of the “plan” leaked out of Voronin’s April 11 meeting with two parliamentary group leaders, whom he sounded out for support of his “plan.” Whether or not Voronin was negotiating on a “plan” became a much-discussed, though distracting and specious, question, as it hinged on defining the word “plan.”

The Moldovan presidency has in fact submitted a comprehensive set of proposals on Transnistria for direct negotiation with the Kremlin, from September 2006 onward. Presidential adviser Mark Tkachuk’s eminently sound document shattered against Russian stonewalling in January 2007 (see EDM, February 1). From March onward, an increasingly nervous Moldovan presidency began amending the plan to elicit Russian consent, increasingly at the expense of Moldova’s capacity to remain a functional sovereign state (see EDM, April 13). By June, an almost frantic-looking Voronin sought in vain a quick personal deal with Putin, signaling a willingness to shift from a European to a “two-vector” orientation (see EDM, June 1, 26, 29). Voronin is negotiating under the multiple stresses of Russia’s hard-hitting wine embargo and his own party’s bleak electoral prospects.

As indicated in some unguarded interviews while meeting with Putin in June, Voronin is also concerned at the possibility of Russia turning Transnistria into a second Kaliningrad, unless the conflict is settled very soon. In his July 20 and July 25 statements he feebly cautioned that Transnistria would be more expensive for Russia to maintain than Kaliningrad. He also found it necessary to note the difference between Kaliningrad as a part of Russia and Transnistria as a part of Moldova.

In these latest statements, Voronin incongruously described Moldova-Russia relations as close and continually improving. Moreover, “Putin and the Russian authorities really wish very much to resolve the Transnistria problem, really want to settle all the frozen conflicts on the southern perimeter of the former Soviet Union. [Putin] wants to resolve them because Russia gains absolutely nothing from them.” Russia’s authorities and especially Putin really wish very much to resolve the Transnistria problem, observing all international laws, and taking into account first of all the rights of citizens in Transnistria and in Moldova.”

This mentality is vintage Voronin 2001-2003. The November 2003 Kozak Memorandum forced Voronin to a rude awakening, but those effects apparently wore off in autumn 2006, when the Moldovan presidency reverted to non-transparent bilateral negotiations with the Kremlin. This time around, his obscure reference to the rights of citizens in Transnistria “and” Moldova may indicate that Putin seeks some droits de regard for Russia’s “compatriots” in Transnistria as part of the settlement.

Meanwhile, Voronin “hope[s] that Transnistria’s leader would be someone other than the incumbent, someone clear-thinking and with whom it would be possible to take decisions.” Voronin had beseeched Putin in 2001-2003 to replace Transnistria’s leader Igor Smirnov and is again banking on Putin to do so now. Voronin is prone to personalizing the conflict and its solution; and hopes that the Kremlin will replace Smirnov this coming September. This would enable Voronin to claim that the final political obstacle to a deal with Putin and Tiraspol has been removed, irrespective of Russian-imposed terms that might well impair Moldova’s capacity to pursue a European course.

(Moldpres, Basapres, Interfax, Infotag, Flux, July 23-26)