On November 18th, the Prime-Minister of Moldova, Pavel Filip, and the leader of the separatist Transnistria, Vadim Krasnoselski, together inaugurate the bridge over Nistru river that links Gura Bîcului and Bîcioc villages. The bridge is now accessible only for traffic of light vehicles: the trucks will be reportedly allowed after one month when the experts evaluate the technical state of the construction in use. The important bridge is located on the M14 international route and the 9th European corridor, which connects Chișinău and Odessa, Chișinău and Tiraspol in the shortest way.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by the representatives of the 5+2 negotiation format: the head of the OSCE mission, the ambassador of the Russian Federation, the ambassador of Ukraine, the head of the EU Delegation, the US Ambassador and the Special Representative of the OSCE Austrian Chairmanship.
Prime-Minister Filip underlined that the opening of this bridge is a step undertaken by the Government towards the realization of free movement of citizens, goods, and services between the two banks of Nistru:
“Apart from being a symbol of linkage, being an achievement of ours towards the elimination of barriers in the way of free movement of transport and services, the opening of the bridge brings economic improvement too. The circulation of goods means infrastructure development too, means economic movement”, says Filip.
In his turn, the separatist president Krasnoselsky agreed that the bridge makes economic development possible due to its important location:
“This bridge unites the left and right bank, united the economic logistics, this is a transportation major route, so its opening is very good”, declared the leader of the so-called Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic.
However, Krasnoselsky did not mention the principle of free movement of people and goods between the two banks. The Transnistrian authorities apparently already activated a customs control checkpoint in Bîcioc which will most probably obstruct the free movement. Krasnoselsky himself with his prime-minister Alexandr Martynov visited the checkpoint after the inauguration of the bridge:
In the corresponding protocol, Chișinău and Tiraspol committed to not use Gura Bîcului-Bîcioc bridge for military goals and offered the Joint Control Commission the authority to open the bridge.
The opening of the bridge is thought to be a good event in the relations between Chișinău and Tiraspol before the new round of 5+2 negotiations which are expected to be held in Vienna during 27-28 November.
The Gura Bîcului-Bîcioc bridge over Nistru river was blown up by the Transnistrian separatist forces in 1992, then reconstructed in 2000 with the European financial support (30 million lei), but could not be inaugurated due to political misunderstandings between Chișinău and Tiraspol.
“Russia-friendly” Franco Frattini is seen with scepticism at Chișinău
The OSCE Chairman’s Special Representative for the Transnistrian conflict settlement, Mr Franco Frattini, is conducting a visit to the Republic of Moldova from 26 to 28 March.
His visit follows the agenda of the Italian Chairmanship of the OSCE. The Italian diplomat is expected to meet with the President of the Republic of Moldova Igor Dodon, PM Pavel Filip and Reintegration Minister Cristina Lesnic, as well as the so-called Executive Coordinator of the Majority Coalition Council, Vlad Plahotniuc. In Tiraspol, Frattini will meet the Transnistrian “president” Vadim Krasnoselsky and the Transnistrian “foreign minister”, Vitaly Ignatiev. Meetings with the mediators (Ukraine, Russia) and the observers (EU, USA) of the 5+2 format are planned.
The first press conference of Frattini and Lesnic in Chișinău is to be held at the Moldovan Government:
Former Italian Foreign Minister and a former European Justice Commissioner, Frattini, has built himself a reputation of a friend of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Franco Frattini is even an honorary professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry. This relation with high-profile Russian officials was recognised by Frattini in an RT interview as an asset to his mandate within Italy’s Chairmanship.
Besides his Russian-friendly profile and stance, Frattini is seen with scepticism by the Moldovan civil society. In the same RT interview, he stated that any proposals on changing the peacekeeping mission and the withdrawal of Russian troops are out of reality. Instead, he supported Russia’s “pragmatic” approach to the conflict settlement, insisting on finding solutions to “real-life” problems, like allowing the Transnistrian cars in the international traffic with neutral number plates. According to Andrey Devyatkov, Frattini will seek in this way to avoid any talks on the political settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.
Frattini’s ousting of Chișinău’s calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transnistrian region has raised eyebrows, to say the least, within the Moldovan civil society. The sensible topic of the withdrawal of the Operative Group of Russian Troops is seen as a crucial point in the settlement, with Chișinău arguing that Russia has to fulfil its old commitments and pointing at Russia’s joint exercises with the Transnistrian armed forces. Contrary to the expectation of exercising the role of a neutral mediator, Frattini instead angered people on the right bank of Nistru with his total rejection of talks on the Russian military presence and the potential reform of the peacekeeping mission.
Some opinions of the Moldovan civil society leaders, Transnistrian conflict experts and former negotiators were more than harsh towards Frattini:
Vladimir Socor, political analyst:
It is for the first time when the OSCE is represented in Moldova not by a personality that can be considered weak or doubtful in front of Russia, or does not know the problem, but, in the person of Mr Frattini, an open advocate of the Russian interests.
The Government of the Republic of Moldova would have to be very polite towards Mr Frattini, to receive him in a diplomatic way, but it should not accept any of his recommendations. Unfortunately, the Government of Moldova last year and the year before accepted the notion of “small steps”, notion related to the so-called confidence between the two banks, needed to prepare in the future a political settlement of the conflict, and has accepted also the false dissociation between the Russian troops with peacekeeping status and the Russian troops without a peacekeeping status. (Radio Free Europe, 11 March 2018)
Ion Leahu, former Moldovan representative at the Joint Control Commission:
…Mr Franco Frattini wants to implement those eight points fixed by the Berlin and Vienna protocols. Mr Franco Frattini, do you know that the 5+2 format is not destined for resolving social problems in Transnistria, but it was formed for the conflict settlement process with respect to the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova? (Radio Free Europe, 10 March 2018)
Vlad Lupan, former Political Negotiator and ex-Ambassador of Moldova to the UN:
…I expected that Mr Frattini would first, starting from the basis principles, visit the Republic of Moldova, after which, he would obviously visit other interested countries involved in the 5+2 format, as well as those countries that have influence upon the this conflict.
Unfortunately, Mr Frattini, first of all, prefered to go to Moscow and I am afraid that Mr Frattini reiterated the absence of a political will of the Russian Federation in his interview. (Radio Free Europe, 24 March 2018)
Victor Chirilă, director of the Moldovan Association of Foreign Policy:
Even some officials have remarked that Mr Frattini talks through the pointview of Russia, rather than that of the OSCE that he is representing in the 5+2 negotiations format. He said that the withdrawal of Russian troops does not seem realist now to him. But this is not the official position of OSCE, nor the position of Italy that holds the chairmanship of this organization. This declaration raised perplexity, even if in the last 15 years the OSCE talked less about the withdrawal of Russian troops and munitions from the Transnistrian region and this fact is regrettable. (Radio Free Europe, 26 March 2018)
Promo-LEX, a human rights monitoring NGO, launched an appeal calling Franco Frattini to address the issue of human rights monitoring in the Transnistrian region by deploying an urgent mission, but also to require the OSCE Mission to Moldova to show transparency and inclusiveness in its work.
In his most recent interview at Radio Free Europe, Frattini has emphasized that the final political settlement will not disadvantage Moldova, but still avoided to push forward the political talks on the negotiation agenda for 2018.
Frattini has yet to prove that his agenda is not favouring Russia, but instead to listen to the conflict parties and to address the concerns of Chișinău and the Moldovan civil society on the Russian military presence.
Gura Bîcului-Bîcioc bridge: Tiraspol continues to build border infrastructure, increases personnel up to 8 individuals
22 March 2018- The Transnistrian separatist administration will keep building further border infrastructure next to the Gura Bîcului-Bîcioc bridge. The statement was recently made by Oleg Belyakov, the head of the Transnistrian delegation to the Joint Control Commission (JCC), as a sign of “openness”.
Belyakov declared that Tiraspol intends to keep building the customs terminal in Bîcioc village with increased personnel of up to 8 employees with full control over the people and cars crossing the bridge. The staff is supposed to include “border guards”, “policemen of the migrational service” and “customs officers”. According to the press-release of the Moldovan delegation to JCC, the Transnistrians are also determined to build a “parking lot” for heavy vehicles, possibly complementary to the customs terminal that makes queues. On the other side, Belyakov has also accused the Moldovan delegation of obstructing the activity and blocking the deployment of the military observers, though without giving proof.
Other than this, the Moldovan delegation also informed JCC that the Transnistrian authorities deployed two mobile checkpoints with three military personnel in the exclusive security zone of the city of Bender for “migrational control”. Adding to the Gura Bîcului-Bîcioc bridge situation, the deployment of armed structures by the Transnistrians can be considered a breach of the principle of demilitarisation of the Security Zone.
Note: Reopened only in November 2017, Gura Bîcului-Bîcioc bridge over Nistru river was blown up by the Transnistrian separatist forces in 1992, then reconstructed in 2000 with the European financial support (30 million lei), but could not be inaugurated due to political misunderstandings between Chișinău and Tiraspol.
The bridge is currently in the competence of the Joint Control Commission, who controls the peacekeeping troops in the neighbouring area.
In the opening protocol, Chișinău and Tiraspol committed to not use Gura Bîcului-Bîcioc bridge for military goals and offered the Joint Control Commission the authority to open the bridge. However, it appears that the separatist authorities ignore the principle of free movement of people and goods between the two banks. The Transnistrian authorities apparently already activated a customs control checkpoint in Bîcioc which most probably obstructs the free movement. Krasnoselsky himself with his prime-minister Alexandr Martynov visited the checkpoint after the inauguration of the bridge.
The Joint Control Commission ( Russian: Объединенная контрольная комиссия – ОКК, Romanian- Comisia Unificată de Control) is a trilateral peacekeeping force and joint military command structure from Moldova, Transnistria, and Russia, which operates in a buffer zone on the border between the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.
Russia Deputy FM at Tiraspol: Calls on Russian troops withdrawal are just diplomatic exercises, to be talked within 5+2
21 March 2018- The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin, paid a visit to the Transnistrian region of Moldova and conducted talks with the separatist authorities of the so-called “Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic”.
According to the press-release of the Transnistrian “presidency”, Karasin took note of the progress on the issues around the opened bridge Gura Bîcului-Bîcioc, the functioning of the Latin script schools, the recognition of Transnistrian diplomas, the land use in Dubăsari district, as well as the participation of Transnistrian cars in the international traffic and the freight train transport. The “report” on the issues was made by the Transnistrian so-called president Vadim Krasnoselski.
In his turn, Deputy FM Karasin acknowledged the activity of the negotiation format that resulted in achieving “practical, real steps”. The Russian diplomat notably appreciated the process of voting in the Russian Presidential elections in Transnistria.
Even he was reluctant during his visit in Chișinău, Karasin made a clearer a statement at Tiraspol on the Russian troops’ presence in Moldova. Calling them “diplomatic exercises”, Karasin disregarded the calls on the withdrawal of Russian troops with no constructive consequences:
“Everything must be solved in the current formats, that are well-known: through international dialogues, through dialogue between the leadership of Transnistria and Moldova. Otherwise, the issue will not be resolved. This was directly told to the leadership of Moldova too. I hope that our position is heard”, said Karasin, answering to press questions.
Besides the 441 “peacekeepers”, Russia holds the Operative Group of the Russian Forces in the Transnistrian region of Moldova containing approximately 1200 regular soldiers, mainly recruited among locals. The Group is the new shape of the former 14th Guards Army of the Soviet Union that is illegally stationed in Transnistria after the collapse of SU. The Group and the Peacekeeping Mission are strongly interconnected through the rotation of troops between them, and both contain local Transnistrian men with Russian passports, despite their neutrality claims.
In 2017 and the start of 2018, experts have seen a significant increase in OGRT’s military activity.
The Republic of Moldova addressed the United Nations with the request to include the issue of the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping forces from Transnistria to the agenda of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly. In a letter from the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Moldova to the UN, Victor Moraru stated that the presence of Russian troops “constitutes a danger to the maintenance of international peace and security.” The subject was due to be discussed in the plenary session of the UN General Assembly on 23 October but then was delayed by the Moldovan Representative to the UN.
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