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The Transnistrian Twist

The Jamestown Foundation looks into Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov’s recent trip to Moldova, the first such visit by any Russian official since 2001, when Vladimir Voronin was elected president. Voronin has long been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side over the Transnistrian conflict, and this complicated reconciliation of sorts suggests the use of the disputed territory as a political asset to both the Molodovan Communist Party (which is seeking a third successive term in office) and to Russia, which wants the EU and U.S. removed from Transnistria negotiations.

“For its part, Moldova’s majority party (Communist in name only) seeks to use the restored relationship with Moscow in order, at a minimum, to recapture Russophone leftist votes in these elections and, as a maximum goal, to induce Moscow to facilitate progress on resolving the Transnistria conflict on terms acceptable to Moldova, instead of blocking such progress as heretofore. Such an outcome, or the close prospect of one, could ensure an electoral landslide for Voronin’s party, which is now headed for a narrow win. The Kremlin can use these levers creatively to influence the outcome of Moldova’s elections in favor of the incumbent majority party and cement a post-election rapprochement with it.

“Moscow and Chisinau profoundlydistrust each other, but they are seeking to use each other in theshort term in their respective interests. Those interests will remainmutually irreconcilable in the post-election period, if Moldovacontinues to seek European integration as a top national priority andif Russia persists with sphere-of-influence rebuilding, usingTransnistria as a remote-controlled instrument against Ukraine as wellas Moldova and now increasingly against the West. These conflictingpriorities will almost certainly remain constant in both Moscow and inChisinau in the foreseeable future”

However, Radio Free Europe has a more intriguing take: Russia wants to settle the Transnistrian conflict on its own as a way to boost its international standing in the wake of the war in Georgia:

For the Kremlin, progress on the Transdniestriansettlement would constitute a resounding success story and help torepair Russia’s international standing in the aftermath of the Augustwar against Georgia. Even the prospect of a Russian-sponsoredbreakthrough in Transdniester would cast Russia in the role of a benignregional arbiter and serve as a hard-to-miss signal that efforts toaccommodate Russia’s concerns are rewarded, while unfriendly behavioris punished.