The Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, better known as Transnistria, is a breakaway territory of 500 000 inhabitants in eastern Moldova, located between the river Dniester and the Ukrainian border. This strip of land gained autonomy after the collapse of the Soviet Union as a result of the 1992 war with Moldova. Since then, it has become a ‘frozen conflict’ zone, heavily subsidised by Russia which keeps a military contingent on the ground as a peacekeeping force.
The issue of Transnistria’s future has resurfaced following the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2013 when Moldova and the European Union (EU) initialled an Association Agreement (AA), including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). This upgrade in relations with the EU could provide a new opportunity to move forward in the Transnistria settlement process. However, some observers argue that Moldova seriously risks having to give up Transnistria if it wants to pursue deeper integration with the EU, especially since that Russia can use the separatist territory to destabilise the country. The ultimate fear is that if no solution is found, the EU risks another Cyprus-type division, as Moldova would move closer to the EU, leaving Transnistria behind.
A trade agreement including Transnistria?
With the entry into force of the DCFTA, which will replace the current Autonomous Trade Preferences (ATP) regime in Moldova, Transnistria will have to decide whether it wants to be part of the trade agreement or not. Transnistrian representatives were invited to attend the first round of talks on Moldova-EU Association Agenda as observers. Even if Transnistria were to join the DCFTA, it would no longer be sufficient for its companies to be registered in the capital Chișinău: in order to operate across the whole Moldovan market and in the EU it would also have to meet higher quality standards. Around two thirds of Transnistria’s trade is with the rest of Moldova (35.8%) and with the EU (29.1%), followed by Russia (22.2%) and Ukraine (8.5%). These figures suggest how the non-application of the DCFTA to Transnistria would lead to its further isolation, which could be accentuated even further if Ukraine opts for the same kind of agreement with the EU. This is why joining the DCFTA seems to be more economically favourable but the close political ties with Russia make it unlikely to happen, for the time being.
The Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP): positive side effects?
The European Commission recommendation to waive visa requirements for Moldovan citizens could represent another important turn in the Transnistria issue. Once visa requirements are lifted, possibly by the end of 2014, Moldovan passports will become much more attractive for the Transnistrian population and this could contribute to solving the conflict, says Moldovan Prime Minister Leanca.
The EU position
The EU has always supported Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and, therefore, supports Transnistria joining the DCFTA and urges it to comply with the necessary conditions. At the same time, EU leaders are trying to speed up the process in order to have the agreement with Moldova signed by August 2014.
Moldova Reality Check: Success Story Before the Storm?/ Central European Policy Institute (CEPI), 6 December 2013
The Impact of the EU-Moldova DCFTA on the Transnistrian Economy: Quantitative Assessment under Three Scenarios/ Berlin Economics, 4 June 2013