Interview with Eugen Carpov, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova, in charge of Reintegration. Interviewers: Damien Dubuc and Sébastien Gobert
DAMIEN DUBUC AND SÉBASTIEN GOBERT: A number of Moldovan citizens have decided to leave regions administered by the Moldovan government to move to the Transnistrian-controlled territory. Apartments, gas and food are much cheaper there. This phenomenon strongly contradicts the official policy of your government to make Moldova attractive for Transnistrians. Is the Moldovan policy of reintegration heading towards failure?
In Moldova, the population has the freedom to decide where they want to live. What is important to me is that we follow the principle of territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova. If we talk about a family moving from, let's say, Doroțcaia to Dubasari – these two cities are both in the territory of the Moldovan State. If you ask me about moving from Doroțcaia to Ukraine, it would be another issue. You have to know that a lot of people move from Tiraspol to Chișinău and I can assure you that there is a significant amount of people moving from the Transnistrian region to the right bank (outside the Transnistrian-controlled territory). The younger generation is looking for opportunities to study. The universities and educational institutions are in Chișinău; and there are no obstacles for them to move to Chișinău.
We understand that young people from Transnistria look for education and work rather in Moscow than in Chișinău…
It is possible to do it in Moscow. But also in Kyiv or in Bucharest. My parents are from the Transnistrian region, from a village in Slobozia district. I went to school in Chișinău. Then I studied in a Chișinău university. Then I attended a post-graduate program in Bucharest. It means no obstacle at all for people from Transnistria. The prime minister, Iuri Leanca, studied in Moscow at the Institute of International Relations.
There is a widespread opinion that were Russia to come and ask for the Transnistrian debt to be paid, the Transnistrian authorities would have two months to live before bankruptcy. What would be your reaction?
This is a topic to be discussed with Russia. I have no answer as to why the Russian Federation is delivering gas without receiving money. There is no other similar case. Economically speaking, it does not make sense. In any case, the right bank of Moldova is paying for its bills. We have no outstanding debt in regards to our gas consumption; with the exception of a small amount which remains a matter of discussion, about three million dollars. But it is a historical debt from the first years of independence and we are resolving this small matter with Russia. We are developing our country by creating possibilities, opportunities and economic development. In Transnistria, the philosophy is different. They just receive money from Russia and they are simply managing the process of spending that money.
Do you believe that initialling and signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union is one of the ways to achieve your goals?
I am convinced that we need a new level of cooperation with the EU. EU Integration is a priority, there is no alternative for Moldova. The aspirations of our population are connected to European standards: freedom, quality of life, development, progress and security. With the EU, we see a model that is functioning. On the other side, we see different proposals from the Russian Federation, such as the Customs Union or the Eurasian Union. Yet we are members of the Community of Independent States. And we see that the cooperation mechanisms in the CIS are neither fruitful, nor functional.
Yet we do know that the process of European integration is a painful one. Do you really believe that the Association Agreement and the Europeanisation of Moldova will be beneficial to your citizens?
The Association Agreement opens new possibilities. First of all, one of its components is the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), which is going to establish a new cooperation with European markets.
That is precisely the point. Because of the DCFTA, Moldovan businesses will be faced with more competition with European products.
Yes, but according to the agreement, there are different periods of transition for different types of products. Some periods range from five to nine years of transition. This means that establishing the DCFTA will not affect immediately, let say negatively, the Moldovan economy. Plus, it is very good for Moldovan companies to improve their standards of quality, transparency and the technologies of production. This is the only possibility. Otherwise, we would remain a country that produces low-quality products and be dependent on the markets that are interested in these kinds of products. We have to make some sacrifices in order to build standards that are in line with European standards.
In which way will businesses from Transnistria be involved in the implementation of the DCFTA?
There is a discussion now about how Transnistria will implement the necessary standards outlined in the DCFTA. From the beginning of the negotiations with the EU, we invited Transnistria to participate. They decided to be present as observers and they had representatives in all of the rounds of negotiation. They had the possibility to have access to all the documents we negotiated with the EU, including confidential ones – we have signed a confidentiality agreement with the observers from Transnistria.
Unfortunately, because of the influence of external forces, the Transnistrians said they were not interested in participating. Instead they now promote this idea of Eurasian integration; not only of states but also of regions. And I hear now from Moscow that there is no need to be an internationally recognised entity to be part of this Eurasian project. It is enough to be a region. I have doubts that this will work. Not because Moldova would create any kind of problem, but it would be very difficult for the Transnistrian region itself. Ukraine is a big neighbour of Moldova. It is a large economic space. I am sure Ukraine will sign the association agreement. Moldova will then follow the same path and I am sure that this very small piece of territory, which is the Transnistrian region, will have difficulties to survive economically. It will not be trade blockades, but just because there are some regional processes at work. And each entity, be it a village, a city or a region has to take into account and to comply somehow with these new evolutions. Otherwise, it will lead to self-isolation.
Your government advocates for reintegration with Transnistria. If reintegration is possible, what would be decided with the businesses and private properties in Transnistria? Would the Republic of Moldova acknowledge these privatisations and guarantee them?
Officially, we do not recognise the separatist regime, the separatist leaders, the “legislation” in the region and so on. Property is another sensitive issue. It is very difficult to respond black or white to this matter. In the past, many companies have been privatised and then sold to new owners and transferred to others. I propose that we put all issues on the table; not raise any obstacles or block discussions. Instead, let's discuss. Now we do not have such a possibility to discuss sensitive and difficult issues, nor political or security questions. This refusal to discuss is the position promoted by Transnistria and supported by Russia.
From our point of view, this is not constructive. The 5+2 talks (includes Moldova, Transnistria, Ukraine, Russia, the OSCE plus the United States and the European Union) is a balanced format. The main international actors are involved in this format and we need to develop this process through the 5+2 talks.
Moldova wishes to establish a visa-free regime with the EU. To do so, it is required to ensure a strict control of the country's borders. At one point, the EU will require Moldova to properly secure the “internal administrative line” between Moldova and Transnistria. How will this be addressed properly?
A visa-free regime will offer the same travelling possibilities to Transnistrians to move freely across the EU. This is probably more of a problem for the authorities there. There are probably 250,000 people with Moldovan ID's who will want to travel freely. This certainly does not fit into the plans of the Transnistrian leaders. We will have to wait and see what will happen.
Are you afraid of any more Russian manoeuvres ahead of the Vilnius summit?
I remember when the Baltic States were in the same situation. They openly declared they would join both the EU and NATO, despite Russia being clearly opposed to it. What happened? The Baltic States are now members of both the EU and NATO. And Russia continues to promote its interests in the region. Nothing has changed.
As far as Moldova is concerned, we want to preserve good relations with Russia. It does not mean that we would establish an opposition between European integration and relations with Russia. Russia is a very important strategic partner for Moldova and we have to maintain good relations. We have many Moldovans living and working in Russia. This is why we are not interested in engaging into a war with Russia, be it informational or economic. About the so-called embargo imposed by Russia on Moldovan products: we tried to explain to our Russian partners that they should obviously tell us about any kind of issues they might have.
So according to you nothing is going to happen when Moldova will sign the Association Agreement. Does that mean that Russia is not strong enough to make its threats become a reality?
It's a difficult question. It's not up to me to decide how strong Russia is. The Russian Federation wants to present itself as a strong country. And that's probably why they are so active in their neighbourhood. As far as Moldova is concerned, Russia is a big and strong country and there is no need to reconfirm this.
Eugen Carpov is the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova in charge of Reintegration with Transnistria.