OSCE head in Moldova to boost talks on settling separatist dispute

By Thomson Reuters Apr 12, 2024 | 4:17 PM

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) – The current chair of Europe’s biggest security body pledged on Friday to boost efforts to breathe new life into the process of resolving a three-decade-old dispute between Moldova and the ex-Soviet state’s pro-Russian separatist Transdniestria enclave.

Ian Borg, Maltese Foreign Minister and Chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), met officials both of Moldova’s pro-European government and the self-styled president of Transdniestria.

Both sides agreed the OSCE could play a prominent role in mediating a settlement to the conflict against the background of Russia’s 25-month-old invasion of Ukraine.

Transdniestria broke from Moldova before the Soviet collapse and fought a brief war against the newly independent state.

The enclave enjoys no international recognition — not even from Russia, but depends on financial and political support from Moscow. It has remained on Moldova’s border with Ukraine with limited turbulence, though tensions have risen in recent months.

Borg, posting on X, said he “reiterated a strong commitment to work towards a peaceful, comprehensive, & lasting settlement” that would respect Moldova’s post-Soviet borders and provide a “special status for Transdniestria”.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu, who wants her country to join the European Union, denounces Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Oleg Serebrian, the deputy prime minister responsible for relations with the enclave, told a conference in Chisinau that the invasion was a “turning point” in attempts to resolve the conflict.

“At the same time, all the approaches to a settlement in Transdniestria have become outdated,” Serebrian said.

“The emphasis has changed. What’s important now is not format but content. The role of the OSCE is now more important than it was before.”

A “5+2” negotiating forum in place since 2005 — including the two sides plus Russia, Ukraine, the European Union, the United States and the OSCE — was no longer possible as Kyiv refuses all contact with Moscow.

Recent talks have been reduced to “1+1” — Moldova and Transdniestria with the 57-member OSCE acting as intermediary.

The region accuses Moldova’s central government of trying to strangle it by slapping customs duties on goods entering and leaving the region, part of the country’s drive for EU membership. Elected officials asked Moscow in February for “diplomatic support”.

“We set down Transdniestria’s position and voiced our readiness for dialogue,” separatist president Vadim Krasnoselsky wrote on Telegram of his talks with Borg. “Only time will tell if we were listened to. Transdniestria is seeking urgent solutions to problems and the lifting of the Moldovan blockade.”

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas, Editing by Ronald Popeski and Sandra Maler)