HD established a high-level dialogue process between representatives from Moldova and the break-away region of Transnistria in early 2017, the first initiative of this kind in over 15 years. The dialogue initiative seeks to contribute to the official negotiation process led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) by offering more informal dialogue spaces to assist progress on issues that may stall the formal process.
Amidst regional geopolitical turmoil sparked by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the eastern region of Moldova, known as Transnistria, declared its de-facto separation from Moldova in September 1990. It has remained outside of the control of Moldova’s central government ever since. Escalation and fighting ensued in mid-1992 and stopped after Russia’s army, stationed in the Transnistrian region, intervened.
A Russian-Moldovan Agreement on a peaceful settlement of the conflict was signed in 1992. Under the Agreement, a trilateral Russian-Moldovan-Transnistrian peacekeeping force was established to guard the ‘security zone’ between Moldova and Transnistria. The conflict has since remained frozen, hindering economic development on both sides.
A negotiation mechanism known as the ‘5+2 format’ or the ‘Permanent Conference on Political Issues’, was then set up in 1992. It involves representatives from both sides as well as mediators from Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as well as observers from the European Union (EU) and the United States (US).
Since the negotiating process began in 1992, all international stakeholders have consistently supported the OSCE’s foundational principle announced in 1993, which states that the Transnistrian region is part of Moldova, but should have a special political status within the Moldovan state. A range of documents have been signed by the two sides as part of the process, but few have been implemented. In 2012, an “Agenda for negotiations in the “5+2” format was agreed upon and talks were split into three thematic areas: social and economic issues, humanitarian issues and political settlement. Negotiations have since focused on socio-economic and humanitarian issues, leaving the most challenging issues of a final political settlement (the third area) for later.
Negotiations mainly stalled until 2015, when the OSCE’s Swiss-Serbian (2015), German (2016) and Austrian (2017) Chairmanships helped develop solutions to address some of the practical problems faced by the two sides. As a result, the parties agreed on a series of Confidence building measures including reopening a bridge between the two sides which had remained closed since the 1992 fighting, providing Moldova’s apostilisation on diplomas issued by educational institutions from the Transnistrian region, allowing Moldova’s Latin-script schools based in Transnistria to continue functioning, allowing Moldovan farmers access to farmland in Transnistria as part of collective farms, as well as facilitating mobile and landline telecommunications between the two sides. Under Italy’s 2018 OSCE Presidency, an agreement was also signed to issue neutral license plates for vehicles registered in Transnistrian, which would enable them to travel internationally. The issues of criminal cases against officials from each side and freedom of movement continue to remain on the agenda for discussion.
HD initially became involved in Moldova in December 2016 and has since established a high-level dialogue process between representatives from the political elites in Moldova and Transnistria, the first initiative of this kind in over 15 years.
There currently exists few, if any, sustainable channels for dialogue between the two sides that could lead to lasting practical solutions. HD’s work has thus sought to provide such a channel for dialogue between the conflict parties, offering top-level representatives an informal space to brainstorm creative ideas and offer solutions to issues that may stall, or be too publicly politicized in, the formal OSCE-led negotiation process, thus indirectly contributing to the latter.
In 2017, HD’s dialogue initiative delivered rapid results when the Moldovan Parliament passed a law which enables residents from the Transnistrian region to receive Moldovan civil status documents through a simplified procedure. This has already benefitted thousands of people in the unrecognized region of Transnistria.
HD seeks to address additional practical issues as part of its dialogue process including the registration of unregistered children including orphans from the Transnistrian region, as well as the management of emergency services, healthcare and insurance. The organisation also plans to prepare the ground with the parties to begin addressing political issues as well as other dimensions of conflict settlement including security and economic issues.