Over the last few years, relations between Ukraine and Moldova have suffered from stagnation. Numerous unsolved issues have piled up between Kiev and Chisinau, and maintaining them has resulted in increasing mutual mistrust between the two countries. This situation also negatively affects the cooperation of Ukraine and Moldova within the scope of Eastern Partnership.
A question of attitude
One of the objectives of the Eastern Partnership is to strengthen the mutual relations between Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus by introducing a long-term, prospective scheme oriented at supporting their reforms and development. Brussels proposes that Ukraine and Moldova develop common ways of cooperation, facilitating the implementation of political, economic and institutional reforms, whose degree of effectiveness will determine the level of their future economic integration with the EU (in particular, the participation in the EU internal market). It could seem that the interests of Chisinau and Kiev are entirely convergent in this regard. Yet, in practice, the two countries have adopted two diverging strategies of integration with the EU. This has had a negative influence on the cooperation between Ukraine and Moldova.
Kiev’s objective is to become a member of the European Union by means of implementing the Eastern Partnership provisions, including signing the Association and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements with the European Union as the minimum goal. Ukraine is interested in the consolidation of all participants’ efforts of the Eastern Partnership scheme, providing that this results in a cumulative effect for advancing the integration of these countries with the EU.
Meanwhile, Chisinau prefers membership in the Stability Pact for South-East Europe, which would help Moldova gain EU know-how quicker and accelerate the process of integration.
At first glance, there is no contradiction between the two strategies.TheEastern Partnership and the Stability Pact for South-East Europe do not compete with each other.But the present Moldovan government argues that participation in Euro-Balkan initiatives is a more promising direction for the European integration of Moldova. Moreover, Chisinau is hoping for political assistance from Bucharest, which patronises the Euro-integration of its smaller neighbour. In this vain, the President of Romania, Trajan Basescu, has often stated that the Republic of Moldova should be incorporated into the group of the Western Balkans, who are closer to accession, rather than stick to ENP group, whose prospects for accession are dim.
This is probably the cause of Moldova’s insufficient interest in such initiatives as the EU-Eastern neighbours’ Parliamentary Assembly (EURONEST), inter-parliamentary dialogue between the Supreme Council of Ukraine and the Moldovan parliament, the establishment of common expert portals for the involvement of civil society organisations, etc.Indeed, since 1995 there have been no contacts between the chairmen of the Ukrainian and Moldovan parliaments on the bilateral level.This is why in October 2009 the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Ukraine, Volodymyr. Lytvyn, invited the Chairman of the Moldovan Parliament , Мihai Ghimpu, to pay an official visit to Ukraine.But so far, the Moldovan side has failed to propose a date for the meeting.
‘Burning problems’ of Ukrainian-Moldovan relations
During recent years relations between Kiev and Chisinau were dominated by Ukraine’s progressive surrenders on many important economic issues. Kiev assumed that, over time, Chisinau would take a more friendly approach towards Ukraine.However, it seems that Moldova decided that continuous concessions from Ukraine were a sign of its weakness.Heedless of the existing top-level agreements, as well as of the resolutions adopted at the meetings of the Intergovernmental Committee with specified dates for implementation, most of these issues are passed from one committee to another. Moldova does not implement them for different reasons, making newer and newer promises.
To a great extent, the status of unresolved issues in Ukrainian-Moldovan relations is determined by the lack of political will in Kiev, and the fact that Chisinau is not interested in solving problems with Kiev if it requires additional any concessions on Moldovan side.
1) Construction of an oil terminal in the vicinity of the town of Giurgiulesti on the river Danube.In 1997, the construction of an oil terminal commenced in the vicinity of the town Giurgiulesti (Giurgiulesti International Free Port, GIFP) on a section of the river Danube, 400 meters of which Ukraine gave up to Moldova at Chisinau’s request. International legislation, in particular the Convention on the assessment of environmental impact in the cross-border context, qualifies oil terminals as facilities, which require the constructing party to conduct an environmental impact assessment and to submit the results to all interested parties.
The construction, and consequently the exploitation of the oil terminal in the vicinity of Giurgiulesti, poses a potential environmental threat to the Danube region of Ukraine.This issue has been reviewed many times within the last 10 years at different levels, including the very highest.It was brought up especially acutely at the last three meetings of the Inter-governmental Committee.
Taking advantage of the lack of a well-thought-out professional reaction from Ukraine with regard to environmental protection and shipping safety (which fall within the competence of the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Transportation), and having obtained the support of Romania, as well as a number of western countries, the Lower Danube Shipping Administration and others, Moldova has opened the oil terminal. The construction works of a cereal terminal and a passenger port are in full swing, and work on constructing a container and loading terminal has been commenced.
On 5 September 2006, as a result of urgent requests, Ukraine finally received a set of materials prepared by the Moldovan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. Kiev considered the documentation to be insufficient justification for constructing such an environmentally hazardous facility.
2) Neglecting Ukraine when constructing traffic routes through Moldova.By the end of September 2006, the Cahul-Giurgiulesti rail was put into operation. It connects the Giurgiulesti port with the Moldovan railway network and allows cargo to be sent to the Giurgiulesti International Free Port and to the Galati port (Romania), passing over both Transnistria and Ukraine.At the very beginning of the construction works, the government of Moldova stated openly that the railroad was being constructed mostly in order to “avoid dependence on Ukraine” (the constant decrease in cargo at the adjacent Ukrainian port of Reni proves that an even more assertive attitude may be expected in the future).
3) Moldova’s postponement of transferring the land in the area of Palanka to Ukraine, pursuant to the agreement of 1997.According to the 1999 Supplementary Protocol to the Agreement between Ukraine and Moldova on the state border, regarding the transfer of the ownership of the Odessa-Reni motorway section in the area of Palanka in Moldova to Ukraine, together with the land which it crosses and the manner of its utilization, Chisinau should have transferred the ownership of this area to Ukraine.
Under the Act of transfer of the ownership of the Odessa-Reni road near the town of Palanka to Ukraine by Moldova, signed in February 2002, Moldova transferred to Ukraine the ownership of the road section, but without the land which it crosses.
Pursuant to the Protocol of the Ukrainian-Moldovan consultations at the vice-ministerial level on the issues of the official and legal establishment of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border and other matters, this issue was introduced to the schedule for resolving the most essential issues regarding Ukrainian-Moldovan relations in November 2009. The Moldovan side has confirmed its readiness according to the Supplementary Protocol of Act of transfer of the ownership of the land under the Odessa-Reni motorway near the town of Palanka at the earliest possible date. But as of August 2010, this matter remained unsolved. Despite having appointed a competent body (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) which would be in charge of the Palanka case, Moldova is unable to specify the scope of its authority (required for the final solution of the problem).
Recently, the Moldovan side has made a claim that a demarcation of the section of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border in the area of Palanka should be drawn, as a condition for the transfer of the Act.
Ukraine’s consent to Moldova’s proposal on the establishment of the road borders by demarcation will delay the transfer of the land to an unspecified date, if the final demarcation documents are to be approved by each side according to the applicable procedure (in Ukraine, this means the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, and ratification by the Superior Council of Ukraine).
The reasoning of the Ukrainian side is that it is precisely Ukraine that made Moldova a ‘maritime country’, handing over to that state a section of the banks of the river Danube, but without obtaining the land under the Odessa-Reni motorway section (7.77 km) near the town of Palanka after the ratification of the Agreement on the state border by the Parliaments of both states, but this is not taken into account by the Moldovan side.According to the delimitation materials, the exchange of territories amounted to 6:1 in Moldova’s favour (only in the area of Bessarabia has Moldova received half of a town, cooling facilities with a mobile warehouse, a private vineyard – a total of 147.2 ha).
4) Violation of the schedule and postponement of the demarcation of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.Pursuant to the provisions of the Agreement on the Ukrainian-Moldovan state border, demarcation works should be in progress.However, the last meeting of the Common Ukrainian-Moldovan Demarcation Committee confirmed the two sides are unable to compromise. Therefore, the implementation of the Schedule for resolving the most essential issues regarding the Ukrainian-Moldovan relations (in particular, the completion of the demarcation of the mentioned sections which was planned for March/April 2008), as well as the timeliness of holding meetings of the Ukrainian-Moldovan Intergovernmental Joint Committee on trade and economic cooperation, have once again come into question.
In January 2010, in the town of Velyka Kistnytsa in the Yampilski raion of the Vinnytsa oblast, the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Moldova set the first border sign on the central section of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border. The formal ceremony was also attended by the representatives of the EUBAM mission, the Embassy of Spain and the EU Representation in Ukraine.Yet during the demarcation process, technical difficulties continue to pop up, due to deliberate Moldovan obstructions.
The Transnistrian factor
Recently, the Moldovan side has attempted to engage Ukraine in Transnistria as a party to the conflict. Chisinau has tried to use Ukraine to force Transnistria (by means of implementing restrictions on export-import operations on the Transnistrian trade agents) to start the process of reintegration with Moldova ? Chisinau (like the Romanian government) does not regard Ukraine as an independent regional player. Instead, it tries to find instruments to influence Kiev’s foreign policy, in particular towards the EU.Therefore, Chisinau is attempting to relate any concessions in its bilateral dialogue with Kiev to the Transnistrian conflict as a whole, treating them jointly.
Nevertheless, based on the dynamics of the last few years, it is evident that the impact of the Russian and Romanian factors on the situation in Moldova intensified. Indeed, if Moldova enters the sphere of the Kremlin’s influence (e.g., if the Transnistrian conflict is settled according to the Russian scenario), the resolution of bilateral Ukrainian-Moldovan problems will depend more and more on the political will of the Kremlin.Similarly if Bucharest manages to increase its influence in the region, it will be able to maintain the stalemate between Ukraine and Moldova.
In order to minimise the risk of removing Ukraine from the role of an active player in the Transnistrian conflict, Kiev has chosen to bring its stance closer to Russia’s approach on the Transniestria. The parties have agreed that only the ‘5+2’ negotiation format will allow the conflict to be settled in the interests of all the parties involved.In the meantime, in their joint statement in May 2010, the presidents of Ukraine and the Russian Federation emphasised the necessity to address the Transnistrian problem based on maintaining the territorial integrity of Moldova, and on shaping a uniform legal, economic and defensive space for the reintegrated state.At the same time, Moscow and Kiev will continue their previous attempts to restore the mutual understanding between Moldova and Transnistria, and — as the document reads — “to call on them to refrain from unilateral actions which may complicate the situation in the region and preclude the prospect of conflict resolution.”
The presidents also draw attention to the fact that in Moscow’s statement of March 2009, the parties supported the transformation of the present actions into ones which guarantee peace under the auspices of the OSCE in the context of the Transnistrian conflict, and confirmed their readiness to participate in it actively.This statement is completely convergent with the approaches of the EU and the OSCE in this matter.
Where shall we seek agreement?
Despite a number of unsolved problems in Ukrainian-Moldovan dialogue, Kiev is obliged to act as a co-sponsor of Moldovan independence and the Moldovan identity.This refers to an independent, non-bloc Moldova, which has chosen the path to EU membership (without Romania’s mediation) and participation in the Eastern Partnership as its landmark.
It does not follow that Kiev will become a sponsor of the reintegration of Moldova.This issue concerns Chisinau and Tiraspol alone. The former should, first of all, create an atmosphere of confidence, and introduce mechanisms ensuring the implementation of the agreements reached.
Unfortunately, due to the domestic social and economic crisis, Ukraine was deprived of the opportunity to pursue an active policy in Transnistria, and to make the most of the chance of the ‘interruption’ in the dialogue to strengthen its positions.Kiev’s role in the settlement of the conflict was reduced to reflection on the initiatives of the other players and supporting the EU’s political line in the Transnistrian conflict.Yet, Kiev may continue to act as moderator of the negotiation process, encouraging Tiraspol and Chisinau to internationalise the dialogue, and to resume the negotiations in the framework of ‘5+2’ format.
Ukraine does not possess sufficient financial resources to substitute for the Russian economic aid to the Transnistria.However, the Ukrainian side may relay on the EU’s understanding and support in the process of reducing the risk for the region.The financial aid from the European Union may be employed in order to solve many of the Transnistrian social and economic problems, and to promote a peaceful dialogue between Kiev and Chisinau.It will certainly enhance the significance of Ukraine in the region, and reduce the threat of possible conflicts.
As regards the direct settlement of the burning issues in the relations of Ukraine with Moldova, Kiev should act asymmetrically.First of all, it should still follow the direction of diversifying its energy and transport corridors, including routes bypassing Moldova, with the obligatory publicity of this direction by the mass media. Secondly, Ukraine should cooperate actively and systematically with influential Western institutions to convince them of the Ukrainian stance, and to obtain additional instruments of influence in the negotiation process with Moldova.
Ukraine should take a comprehensive approach to all the problems that have accumulated in its relations with Moldova. If Chisinau continues to ignore the signals from Kiev concerning the necessity of settling the bilateral issues as quickly as possible, Ukraine will have to commence the implementation of an action plan aimed at the reduction of risk caused by these unsolved issues.