Dangers of Russia withdrawal corridor from Transnistria via Ukraine

Maksym Rozumniy
23:35, 13 April 2018
Politics
4372 0
Opinion
According to Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Philip, Moldova seeks to negotiate with Kyiv a corridor via its territory for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria. He also recalled that at this year's Munich Security Forum there was a discussion on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova, where a Russian official explained that there is a problem with the withdrawal of weapons via Ukraine due to the difficult situation in Donbas.

This question is still far from being resolved, and Russia's consent at the moment is not a fait accompli. The talks between Moldova and Russia on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria have been ongoing for years. Russia has even given an obligation to withdraw its forces from Moldova, which Moscow has so far failed to fulfill.

The pullback of Russian forces from the territory of Moldova can only take place against the background of certain radical decisions regarding the status of Transnistria

Therefore, the current talks and Moscow's promises can only be considered in the context of Russia's general rhetoric as Moscow leadership is trying to gain the image of an exclusively peaceful and even peacekeeping power in the modern world, in particular, in the post-Soviet space. But it is still too early to consider in practical terms the question of the withdrawal of Russian troops through the Ukraine corridor in the context of ensuring Ukraine's national security.

However, we can model such scenarios. In general, the pullback of Russian forces from the territory of Moldova can only take place against the background of certain radical decisions regarding the status of Transnistria. Most likely, it is about federalization of Moldova with the autonomous status for Transnistria - in this case, such a compromise would be possible.

To date, the situation is complicated by the internal conflict among Moldova's political elites. There is an ongoing confrontation between the government and president, while the proposal to provide the corridor came directly from the prime minister, that is, the government. In the face of such confrontation, no one can be sure that any decisions by the Moldovan authorities are final.

Ukraine is interested in the Russian troops being withdrawn from Transnistria

The risks implied by such a scenario can be ranked in a certain way. The primary risk that arises for Ukraine is that of Moldova's destabilization. It is the most likely one. Both the fact that Russia launches such negotiations and the fact that Russia is getting engaged in the Moldovan crisis with supposedly peacekeeping initiatives, or at least with the consent to resolve the conflict, may indicate, as is often the case with Russia, its intention to destabilize Moldova. This is an important signal to us that we must not ignore.

As for the Russian contingent and its future redeployment… Ukraine is interested in the Russian troops being withdrawn from Transnistria.

Obviously, there might be an option that would allow doing this without significant threat to the territorial integrity and national security of Ukraine, without disturbances and provocations. In my opinion, there is a rather short passage to Odessa, to its seaport. Just as Moscow once promised to help Ukraine to deliver part of the ships of the Ukrainian Black Sea Fleet to the shores of mainland Ukraine, Kyiv could, in response, organize a "delivery by sea" of Russian servicemen via the port of Odesa in order for them not to move by land through the entire territory of the country. Incidentally, we're talking about a rather small number of Russian servicemen.

But Ukraine must have certain guarantees in this case. We have a "5+2" negotiation format, which in this case can serve as the guarantor of security of the withdrawal operation. That is, there should be observers from the countries involved in the negotiation process.

It is hard to believe in the sincerity of Russia's intentions in this context and the fact that the issue will be quickly resolved in practical terms

I think that the advantages for Ukraine's national security in the very fact of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria are much more significant than the risks arising in connection with their movement via the territory of Ukraine. Such an opportunity should be considered as a chance for Ukraine.

Although, of course, it is hard to believe in the sincerity of Russia's intentions in this context and the fact that the issue will be quickly resolved in practical terms. Honestly speaking, I don't see any particular reason to believe in such sincerity.

There is also a certain risk that Moscow can exploit this situation to get Ukraine and Moldova into a fight with each other, as Moscow realizes that under present circumstances it will be difficult for Kyiv to dare provide such a withdrawal corridor. Ukrainian policies in the context of the Moldovan settlement and general relations with Moldova have not been too successful. According to sociological surveys, attitudes in Moldova are much better toward Russia and Romania, while Ukraine stands a bit aside in Moldovans' perception. Therefore, drawing Ukraine into some dubious or provocative conflicts around the Moldovan settlement can be Moscow's diplomatic tactic aiming at further discrediting the Ukrainian side. This must not be ruled out.

However, it seems to me that Russia's goal is more general - to expand the field of geopolitical bargaining. Russia stands on a number of platforms as a party that promises to solve the problem while imitating a constructive solution. This applies to Donbas, Syria and others regions. That is, the inclusion of Moldova in the list of "hot spots" where Russia supports peacekeeping initiatives should alert Chisinau rather than give grounds for hoping that their problem will soon be resolved.

Maksym Rozumny is PhD in Political Sciences, head of the Russia Research Center at the National Institute for Strategic Studies

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