Nina Shtanski: “We want Pridnestrovie to be perceived as an integral part of the Russian people”


Deputy Chairperson of the Government of the PMR for International Cooperation, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the PMR Nina Shtanski answered questions of an expert of the “Eurasian Pridnestrovie” media center, Law, associate professor of the Moscow State Law Academy Alexander Sergeev.

Alexander Sergeev: Good day, Nina Viktorovna. At once I would like to ask you a question, which is now of interest for many people. The Ukrainian crisis that emerged in the past 2014 put Pridnestrovie in an extremely difficult position. How has the foreign policy of Pridnestrovie changed in this regard? Have there any new contours, new accents appeared?

Nina Shtanski: Good day, Alexander. Indeed, if we compare the foreign policy of Pridnestrovie before the tragedy – and I cannot give another word to what happens in Ukraine – with the position that Pridnestrovie occupies now in this context, it has undergone tremendous changes. And, unfortunately, to speak about these changes is quite disturbing.

Let us recall 2013, when Ukraine was chairing the OSCE. Of course, we had certain expectations, because Ukraine is not only a guarantor country in the settlement process, but also a neighbour of Pridnestrovie, and actually borders the region of frozen conflict. The conflict still remains frozen, i.e. there is a conflict. To pretend that there is no conflict is a mistaken approach. In addition, about 100 thousand citizens of Ukraine constantly live in Pridnestrovie, to whom the state bears all the same obligations as to the citizens residing in the territory of Ukraine.

In addition, there is a huge number of ethnic Ukrainians. Some exclusively Ukrainian customs, even at wedding ceremonies, have rooted very firmly in family traditions of even non-Ukrainians. So, when Ukraine began to chair the OSCE, we all were counting on the additional impetus to the negotiation process. It seemed to us that Ukraine thus multiplies its status in the settlement process and the negotiation process would get a new breath. Unfortunately, the situation developed in such a way that the Moldovan political crisis erupted that, in my opinion, seriously weakened the capacity of Ukraine to significantly change the situation. Meanwhile, negotiations continued and still led to some positive solutions. For example, we managed to achieve freedom of movement for hundreds of thousands of people who can now travel and use the services of the Kishinev airport.

Could anyone have imagined that only in few months, Ukraine will block the citizens of Pridnestrovie and ban travels of citizens of the Russian Federation through its border? Of course, not.

It is probably hard to find the words that could convey empathy and silence, silence of alarm, in Pridnestrovie when the tragedy in Ukraine began. Because, firstly, the people here know what the war is. Blood was spilled and everybody remembers that. Everyone remembers that no matter what are the political goals of authorities, they cannot cost blood of a child or just any person. People here recall that when we resisted the armed aggression of Moldova, 90,000 refugees from Pridnestrovie found refuge in the Odessa district, where these people were received as native, where they were helped and empathized. Of course, there could be no question that some threat was coming from Pridnestrovie against Ukraine because Pridnestrovie is a part of the Russian world. It sounds absurd.

We took heavily the appearance of Odessa armed units in our border. We took heavily that ordinary Ukrainian citizens living within 30 km away were forced to dig the ditch in the border with us, as if some tanks would move across that border. We took heavily that the objective economic difficulties in Ukraine made the development of our trade relations impossible, because to a large extend we have almost completely lost traditional markets for our products in Ukraine. For some enterprises it is a disaster. For some enterprises the 40% of share in trade falls on Ukraine. It became difficult to deliver products to the Russian Federation, as Ukraine is our only transportation corridor.

Against the background of hysteria of some politicians in Ukraine against Pridnestrovians Kiev began to take decisions even more hindering our economic opportunities. Our goods started to be totally unreasonable stopped in the borders. Initiatives to terminate the Pridnestrovian transport crossing the Ukrainian border were announced. What is happening now is nothing else but the real deterioration of the already difficult situation in Pridnestrovie. So actually the blockade, in which we are now, is seriously aggravated by the ban for our citizens to cross the Ukrainian border, on the one hand, and by the difficulties that were created for the movement of our cargo. It is clear that we are talking not only about the export, but also about import, because we import raw materials for our productions from Ukraine or through Ukraine. Because basically it comes through seaports on the territory of Ukraine, and then moves by road to Pridnestrovie.

This blockade, in fact, makes Ukraine one of the parties to the conflict, rather than a mediator or guarantor country. So, experts fairly put the question this way: can Ukraine in such circumstances remain a guarantor country in the negotiations? I really would like to answer that question in the affirmative. That Ukraine not only can, it should remain this status and it must regardless all current difficulties meet the undertaken international obligations. Including those in the “5 + 2” format.

We expect the resumption of discussions between the parties of the negotiation format in order to understand how we will continue to interact. If we all together want to further provide peace here, stability and security, which, as I am convinced, are equally of interest for all, we need to abandon the practice of militant rhetoric and accusations that are very aggressive and non contributing to the stabilization of the situation and the comprehensive mutual understanding. All these questions now are left open. We look forward to continuing consultations in the “5 + 2” format and still do not stop calling on Ukraine to return to the constructive interaction.

It is wrong to make Pridnestrovie an object to send some messages to Russia. It is wrong as not only ethnic Russians and Russian citizens live here, but also because everything in principle is very harmful to peace and harmony in the broader context in the long run.

Alexander Sergeev: Tell us please about a problem with the signing by Moldova the Association Agreement with the European Union. This format as it is known also creates additional economic problems for Pridnestrovie. What are the responses of Pridnestrovie to the challenge?

Nina Shtanski: Indeed that new regime that Moldova has agreed and has already started to implement with the European Union, may turn out to Pridnestrovie as another facet of economic restrictions and blockade. Because Pridnestrovie is not self-dependent in trade with the European Union today. The blockade regime of 2006 made our direct economic and trade ties with all countries of the world impossible. We are placed in a situation where every of our international contacts in the economic sphere depends on the Republic of Moldova and the relevant documenting authorities.

In other words, Pridnestrovian products can be delivered to our partners in other countries only after it is properly documented in Moldova. Here, in general, are a lot of questions. Because when Moldova entered into a special trade regime with the European Union, it was well aware of the position of Pridnestrovie. Since Pridnestrovie participated in the Moldova-EU negotiations as an observer, we had non-complete, but enough information to worry and we openly articulated our position. It was the fact that Moldova should not enter into any new formats, unions and modes of such kind, not resolved a whole range of trade and economic issues related to the unsettled conflict between Moldova and Pridnestrovie.

In this context, we talked to our European colleagues that as it has been arranged over our heads, as the saying runs... Do people say so? If you have done so, let us discuss the parameters of our life together in trade area. We talked with our European colleagues, expressed them our concerns, but we also offered some of the solutions. We offered the European Union to develop a special formula of trade with Pridnestrovie, if some alliance was concluded without us, which is unacceptable to us. It is unacceptable not only because Pridnestrovie is oriented towards the opposite direction in principle. Our vector is Eurasian. And we do not make a secret of this vector, it is not a surprise for anyone. We want our economy to develop differently, in principle, than the Moldovan economy. But we do not deny that those of our businesses that are interested in European markets, should be able to defend their interests there. We do not deny that we are interested in the development of trade and economic relations with the outside world as widely as possible. Because it is dictated not only by our geopolitical, geographical, socio-economic status. It is dictates also by the logic of the development of economic ties in principle.

We, as conscientious partners, therefore want that the European Union be a certain guarantor of preserving these ties. Because to be a part of the format that Moldova has agreed with the European Union, I mean - we do not plan to copy it for the PMR. That's impossible. It does not create any preconditions for improving the situation in Pridnestrovie. On the contrary, it contradicts our interests.

Alexander SERGEEV: This is extremely detrimental to the Pridnestrovian economy, in principle.

N.V. SHTANSKI:  You know, it is interesting that there has been a situation where Pridnestrovie will be the loser whatever the outcome. If Pridnestrovie, for example, hypothetically accepted those conditions that Moldova and the European Union put forward now, our economy would die. We counted and explained this to our partners a lot of time in figures. If we stood aside, refused to continue the dialogue with our European partners, it would be also very painful for our economy, because most of the products that we produce here, goes to the markets of Moldova and the European Union.

Alexander SERGEEV: That is, only 20% to the Russian market?

N.V. SHTANSKI:  Unfortunately, less. Last year it was just over 16 %. For the current year, we see now, according to the forecasts, it is unlikely we will be able to fill 10-11% in the first half of the year. And now this is largely due to the Ukrainian policy. This is largely due to the fact that our opportunities to transport goods are limited. Moldova at the end of the last year refused to give us the documents for the export of agricultural products.

Thus, we have a situation as if we were the subject of bargaining. Because when the Russian Federation restricted the importation into its territory of agricultural products from Moldova, our Russian partners clearly expressed its position that they do not have complaints and questions to the Pridnestrovian products, and the Russian Federation is ready to accept our products. She is ready to accept them on the documents of Pridnestrovie. But Ukraine refuses our products entry to Russia without those documents which Moldova does not issue us. That's a vicious circle. Naturally, this has affected the volume of our trade with Russia – it has decreased.

We are between two fires and under such conditions. On the one hand, we are interested in expanding our trade and economic cooperation with Russia. I can tell you that before the regime of blockade Russia was our main trade and economic partner. In certain years, say, the early 2000s, about 50 % of our production exported to the Russian markets, which we then lost due to the destructive efforts of our partners in Moldova. Now, of course, we will continue to work so that our position would be heard by the European Union.

I think that it is unlikely that this invites some questions of our Moldovan colleagues, since initiating the implementation of a special trade regime in the framework of Deep and Comprehensive Area with the European Union, Moldova has transferred part of its sovereignty to supranational bodies. It is logical that Pridnestrovie continues to negotiate on this issue no longer with Kishinev, but with Brussels.

Alexander SERGEEV: Thank you. As far as I understand, the Russian industrial companies are partly owners of Pridnestrovian enterprises?

N.V. SHTANSKI:  There are a lot of Russian investors in Pridnestrovie, and we would like that the flow of Russian investments be increased. Last year some progress was made in that part at the institutional level in the development of the protocol, which is now called the protocol “Rogozin – Shevchuk”. 15 memoranda were signed during the year in various sectors, and most of them are documents of the economic content. These are direct contracts between departments of economic body, which allow the agencies of our countries to work directly now, to develop mutually acceptable mechanisms in trade area, the recognition of documents, and certification of products.  I think that the work done last year will largely help to alleviate the situation in which we find ourselves.

Alexander SERGEEV: One of the ideological principles for the Pridnestrovian policy is the Eurasian integration. First of all, it is the Russian-Eurasian integration because Russia in any case will be the center of this construction. In Moscow, many intellectuals, experts also defend this concept of further development of Russia. You have already told about the economy partially. In general, how are Russian-Pridnestrovian relations developing now? What is their dynamics? What is their main direction? What should be done primarily to improve it, optimise, and give this process more efficient and positive development?

N.V. SHTANSKI: Of course, the economy comes to the fore in the position in which we find ourselves. But this does not mean that no work is being done at other levels. Of course, we now try to strengthen our relations in the cultural sphere.

We would like that Pridnestrovian youth be more involved in those projects that are implemented in the territory of the Russian Federation, and there is some success. We would like that our youth have more opportunities for the development of systematic ties – exactly the systematic ties, not a one-time participation in various events. There is need for cohesion of the Pridnestrovian and Russian youth on the basis of the patriotic component, because we have something to tell. We do not have this problem, which there is in Ukraine and Moldova - known processes of rewriting history. Here, people can value the history.

We would like that in media terms Pridnestrovie be clearer for the Russian reader, Russian audience. Because we are on the verge of the Russian world here, and we do not believe that we are not Russia. We would like that Pridnestrovie be remembered not only for the fact that there are difficulties here. We would like that Pridnestrtovie be perceived as an integral part of the Russian people. Because we have not only a common history, common traditions, common exploits, but I am convinced that we have a common future.

Red lines tend to blur. We see from the official statements of representatives of the Russian Federation, which have been heard recently, that if they do not blur now, then they become thin for sure.

Alexander SERGEEV: Thank you, Nina Viktorovna. And one final question. How are the relations between Pridnestrovie, Abkhazia and South Ossetia developing now?

N.V. SHTANSKI: Our countries signed a set of documents on mutual and comprehensive cooperation. In addition, the relevant statements were made at the level of heads of state during the official visits which reaffirm the commitment to the previously signed documents. There are official representative offices on the territory of our countries. We have big plans for further cooperation.

Besides, it should be understood that the diplomacy of these republics is in a slightly different position today. It gains a new experience for itself. The diplomats of these countries face new challenges. New complexities have emerged before them. I think that Pridnestrovie will need this experience soon that we will be able to learn from, leaning on the solid shoulder of our partners which have already been recognized by the Russian Federation and a number of other countries - the Republic of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Alexander SERGEEV: Thank you very much, Nina Viktorovna.

N.V. SHTANSKI: Thank you for interesting and actual questions.