In purely geopolitical terms, all of Ukraine’s neighbors benefit from a Ukraine in tatters. Russia is, obviously, the main beneficiary. Kremlin was instrumental in capitalizing on the turmoil that erupted on the Maindan following the fiasco of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius. By bringing Ukraine to its knees, Russia did not simply reassert its imperial ambitions, but was actually able to snatch the crown jewel by the sea. Crimea offers Russia tremendous geopolitical advantage in the Black Sea, but more importantly it allowed Putin to safe face. However, what is happening in Donbas could bring Putin’s demise, unless Ukraine falls apart first and then Putin wins. Yet, it should come as no surprise that many of Ukraine’s neighbors secretly wish to regain territories that were once theirs, just like Russia did with Crimea. Hopefully, it does not come to that and countries know better than to succumb to their basic instincts. Though, Moldova – after having benefited from EU and US, largely undeserved, generosity – may have a chance to get Transnistria back, or at least may be led to believe so.
Curiously, out of sheer desperation or simply showing creativity in the realm of foreign policy, Russia tested the waters recently by suggesting that Transnistria should be granted special status and become a district within a unitary Moldovan state. This is good news for Moldova, which almost gave up on the idea of ever getting Transnsitria back. Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigorii Karasin brought that hope back to life, or did he? There must be a catch – it is just too good to be true. Well, Russian media were actually quite transparent about what that catch may be. It was insinuated that Kremlin might be looking for a deal: Crimea in exchange for Transnistria. With Russian economy going down the drain, Transnistrian economy is doing even worse, but Kremlin refused to bail out Tiraspol like it did before on so many occasions. Besides, Russian oligarchs are seemingly fleeing the sinking Transnistrian ship. Richest Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov sold or rather gave away his largest asset in the region – Ribnitsa Metal Plant, which is now owned by the central administration in Tiraspol.
Russia does need options, but using Crimea and Transnistria as bargaining chips is certainly not a viable approach. Even if Moldovan leaders were shortsighted enough to consider this option, the international community will never accept such a deal, despite having all but acknowledged that Crimea is no longer part of Ukraine. Yet, this trial balloon may cause some friction between Chisinau and Kiev when unity and support is key, which may be exactly the point. If anything, Moldova needs to stand by Ukraine because Chisinau has firsthand experience with Russian sponsored separatism for over 20 years. It is true that all these years Ukraine could have been more helpful in containing or even solving this thorny problem, but, ironically, chose not to offend its big northern brother. Moldova need not repeat Ukraine’s mistakes of looking inward and be guided by short term selfish interests, but consider the long term implications of every policy choice.
Moldova is really in no position to change the game Russia is playing in Donbas, but it does not mean that Chisinau has to play along. It should also refrain from going to the other extreme and engage Russia in Transnistria with Ukraine and possibly Romania’s help as suggested by some adventurous hot headed patriots. Moldova, other countries in the region and beyond, need to stand by the New Ukraine, no matter how unconvincing the notion of a truly New Ukraine might be. If Kiev falls, so does the hope of an entire generation of East Europeans to live in countries that strive to ensure human dignity. Despite many of these counties failing to live up to these aspirations, acknowledging defeat would be devastating.