Guest post by Andrey Devyatkov—European interest in Moldova’s future recently received new momentum due to the forthcoming visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Chisinau. Some analysts assume that Germany is going to enhance its activities in Moldova to support Moldova’s “success story” of reforms and consequently shape its gradual integration into the EU. But most analysts see Germany’s interest as an attempt to find a bilateral (Russian-German) solution for the Transnistrian issue (to be legitimized multilaterally post-factum).
We should be reminded that in June 2010, Merkel and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on the Meseberg Memorandum, which made the Transnistrian conflict a test-case in Russian-EU relations. Arguably, this new wave of the German interest in Moldova can be viewed within this context. Most viewpoints are based on the presumption that Germany has a very clear strategy on Moldova. But in fact, Merkel’s visit seems to be more of a feeler than an occasion to propose a well-thought-out plan for Moldova.
To me, both the European integration of Moldova and the settlement of the Transnistrian issue in the framework of Russian-EU relations will most probably become key issues for negotiations between Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat and Merkel. These are not controversial agendas for Berlin. Moldova is now taking its first serious steps on the way toward European integration.
On June 26, the Air Services Agreement between the EU and Moldova was signed to create a common market in aviation. Visa liberalization and a “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area” are being discussed. But there is still a hard choice: should the EU repeat the Cyprus experience with Moldova (in terms of integrating a de facto failed state with an unresolved internal conflict), or should the restoration of Moldovan territorial integrity be a prerequisite for its European integration. Germany is obviously favoring the second variant. There are various causes for this:
First, the option of protracting the frozen conflict in the nearest of European neighborhoods is not acceptable to Berlin. It contradicts the stabilization agenda for the European Neighborhood Policy. Second, Germany sees the question of Moldova’s future in the context of EU-Russian relations. Germany still wishes to support the Meseberg process and, more generally, to find a way toward EU-Russian rapprochement. In the absence of a strongly coordinated EU foreign policy, particularly in the Eastern neighborhood, Berlin is taking over a coordination role that it tries to legitimize through various formats.
Berlin maintains a dialogue with Romania that has strong instruments of influence over Chisinau. In the last three years, meetings of Moldovan and Transnistrian leaders took place in Germany under the aegis of the OSCE. Merkel’s expected visit to Moldova is understandable in this context: Berlin is determined to speak with the Moldovan government on its strategy for European integration and the Transnistrian issue. Besides, the German government has already understood that the Transnistrian conflict is not an issue that can be solved easily and quickly. But because of some recent progress in Moldovan-Transnistrian relations, there is some relative optimism that the Meseberg initiative can be revived. Tiraspol and Chisinau have already agreed on resuming rail services and are very active in negotiating other measures of cooperation in infrastructure, social policy, etc.
The pragmatic discourses of the new Transnistrian leader and Moldovan prime-minister are perceived as a basis for finding good pay-offs not only in technicalities but also in political issues. After the failure of the Kozak Memorandum in 2003, which was proposed by Moscow in order to strengthen its role in the Transnistrian settlement, the term “federalization” in the Moldovan context became a bogey. Federalization of Moldova was equated to the “Transnistrization” of Moldova, and it was held closely in case Transnistria received too much power in a reunified state. Merkel’s visit to Moldova can be interpreted within this context. This interpretation is used by some mass-media outlets and institutions, such as Stratfor, a U.S.-based think tank, which issued scandalous assessments about Germany’s alleged “betrayal of Western interests.”
Political circles in the region that do not favor any changes in the status quo also contribute to the negative atmosphere around German activities. One cannot expect too much from Merkel’s visit to Chisinau, but the stable engagement of Germany, despite the current financial crisis and political turmoil in the EU, should be praised. In fact, “European” and “Russian” vectors for Moldova can be combined, and the option of finding a common EU-Russian approach toward Moldova’s future is also in the Moldovan interest. Germany is strongly embedded in European and Euro-Atlantic institutions, and stories about a Russian-German “secret deal” on Moldova are a gross distortion, sometimes intentional and sometimes inadvertent.
Andrey Devyatkov is a Visiting Fellow, New Europe College, Bucharest