Moldova Takes a Step to Outlaw Pro-Russian Separatist Regime in Transnistria

Moldova Takes a Step to Outlaw Pro-Russian Separatist Regime in Transnistria
Опубликовано: Sunday, 12 February 2023 13:03

Moldova is changing its approach to resolving the Transnistrian conflict, seeking to liberate the territory on the left bank of Dniester from the Russian occupation since 1992.

Chisinau has been in dialogue with the leaders of the pro-Russian regime in Tiraspol and avoided conflicts for the past 30 years.

Moldova now takes a 180-degree turn: its parliament has passed a law on separatism, which should lead to the criminal prosecution of the entire Transnistrian high echelon. While reviewing, the law was amended with regulations on criminal liability for the Russian military leadership.

Chisinau in Transnistria has already been accused of ruining negotiations between the banks of the river Dniester.

Moldova’s authorities did not worry about that. This destruction was likely the goal of the legislative changes. Moreover, the law pushes for an economic blockade of Transnistria, because trade with it may be criminally punishable.

Separatists in law

The Republic of Moldova is a former Soviet Union state with a 30-year-long “frozen conflict.”

In 1992, the Russian army waged war here against the newly formed Moldovan army. Moldova suffered a military defeat and was forced to sign a truce deal with then-Russian President Yeltsin. Since then, the left bank of the river Dniester has been under Russian control. The European Court of Human Rights confirmed this status.

No less important was that Moldova lost the informational war in the 1990s. Russian propaganda machine convinced many in its “peacemaking” mission (read more “Time to Put an End to the Frozen Conflict in Transnistria. Ukraine and the West Can Do It”)

Russian powerful information influence in Moldova had some consequences.

One of them is that the word “separatism” was informally banned in Moldovan society. This term perfectly describes the policy of the breakaway region but is offensive to Tiraspol. So Moldovan legislation gave up this term. Let alone the punishment for the actions of the separatists.

Now the Parliament of Moldova cut off the taboo.

MPs from the ruling PAS party proposed the draft amendments to the criminal code. The government of Moldova supported them. In early February, the law was passed as a whole. Currently, the document still needs to enter into force, awaiting the signature of President Maia Sandu.

Persecution for Russian generals

The amended criminal code of Moldova defines that the existence of the Transnistrian government is illegal. It falls under “unconstitutional entity.” This was just in the legislation now.

The term “illegal information structure” was introduced separately to denote the special services of Transnistria. It collects secret information that “harms the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, state security or defence capability of the Republic of Moldova.”

According to the new law, “separatism,” i.e., activity to separate from Moldova, becomes a criminal offense with imprisonment from 3 to 7 years for “public figures.” This means that the “president of Transnistria,” Vadym Krasnoselsky, and all members of his government should soon face criminal prosecution. For those who admit that they acted at the instigation of the illegal authorities of Transnistria (admit to carrying out its orders), the punishment increases sharply – up to 15 years imprisonment.

Instead, for ordinary citizens, not politicians, a shorter prison term or a fine of up to $12,000 is foreseen.

The law also establishes or specifies punishments for “sedition,” espionage, etc.

The paragraph “Financing of separatism” deserves special attention. Funding or other assistance at least partially directed to the “organisation, preparation or commission of acts of separatism” is punishable by imprisonment for 5-10 years and a fine that may exceed 350,000 euros. This paragraph, however, has serious side effects. We will explain it a bit later.

We would like to point out a norm aimed not at the Transnistrian but at the Russian leadership. The law introduces a criminal penalty for “illegally crossing the airspace of the Republic of Moldova by objects used for military purposes.”

The Ministry of Justice of Moldova, which initiated this rule, confirms that it is about criminalising missile attacks on Ukraine when Russian missiles cross the airspace of Moldova. The mechanism of bringing the Russian military to justice is unclear, but it may be a case of conviction in absentia. Imprisonment from 3 to 20 years is foreseen for those responsible for the rocket launches.

Virtual “Act of Aggression”

The decision of the Parliament of Moldova outraged Tiraspol. Vitalii Ignatiev, the head of the so-called “MFA of Transnistria,” criticised Moldova the most. This is not surprising since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the separatist regime in itself means a violation of Moldova’s sovereignty.

Ignatiev is one of the most real suspects under the new law, and the Moldovan MPs say so directly.

On February 8, the Parliament of Transnistria passed a statement, declaring Chisinau’s actions “an act of aggression aimed at undermining the negotiation process” and announcing that it was waiting for a “possible escalation” of the frozen conflict.

At the same time, Transnistrian propaganda began to spread “scammer” for its population that from now on all residents of Transnistria would be subject to criminal prosecution.

The description of crimes in the law is, for real, so vague that anyone could be convicted.

For example, criminal liability is for those who know about committing acts of separatism but did not inform the official authorities of Moldova about it. This is nonsense. Everyone who follows the actions of the authorities of Transnistria knows about separatism. Legally, they all become criminals.

Therefore, it will either not work or become an excuse for selective justice of some Moldovan authorities.

The same is with punishment for financing separatism.

This norm should ensure a trade and financial blockade of the region because any overpayments to Transnistria are partly used for taxes, which fund the separatist regime. However, the Republic of Moldova government provides the main financial revenues of the budget of Transnistria! For example, purchasing electricity in Transnistria.

Moldova is not ready to stop purchasing it. Therefore, the “financing of separatism” will continue, despite the criminal liability.

There is no way back

Moldovan media are questioning how the law will work with such controversial provisions. Even the MPs need help to answer it. The President of Moldova, Maia Sandu, whose signature is required to enter the law into force, has refrained from commenting.

Western partners are unhappy with the law destroying the “status quo” in Moldova.

The bilateral document points out a unilateral position of the European Union. However, Moldova disagrees with it. In the Joint statement of the seventh EU-Moldova Association Council dated February 7, there is a line “The EU encourages dialogue between the Sides (Chisinau and Tiraspol – EP)… avoiding destabilisation.” The Association Councils would always present the position regarding Transnistria as a joint one.

However, observers agree that Sandu will sign the law anyway since her government has worked on it. At most, they will correct the mistakes, but the punishment for separatism will undoubtedly remain.

Sooner or later, this can really kill the negotiation formats with Transnistria. After initiating criminal cases against the Tiraspol leadership, the dialogue with it will lose its meaning. We cannot predict further development under this scenario, because Moldova has not set foot on this ground, and Russia, engaged in a war against Ukraine, has less and less leverage in this state.

The rules of the new geopolitical reality in the region are being written right now.


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