Asked to comment about Russian officials’ threats towards Moldova concerning Transnistria, Chizhov questioned the EU’s ability to come up with a solution for the break-away province - a frozen conflict zone whose independence is not recognised by the UN – in the framework of the EU-Moldova free trade deal.
“Nobody questions the territorial integrity of Moldova but practically in that country there are two independently functioning economies. How will that fit in the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA)? I discussed this with Moldovan representatives, they acknowledged that the question is legitimate but they say 'we’re sure that the EU will think of something,' I have nothing else to add!”
The question however seems much less worrying to EU officials.
“Of course we thought of everything, regardless of what people who have actually nothing to do with these agreements are saying,” said Peter Stano, spokesperson for EU Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Füle.
In e-mailed comments to EurActiv, the Commissioner’s office detailed its plans. “The DCFTA will apply to the territory of the Republic of Moldova in its internationally recognised borders”, the Commission says but, it will be up to the Transnistrian authorities to apply the provisions of the deal and to “put in place all conditions necessary”. The Commissionner's office added that it “encourages” Transnistrian authorities to adapt.
'The economies are de facto one'
The DCFTA is an integral part of a deal initialed last November at the EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius and goes hand in hand with an Association Agreement (AA) aimed at bringing the countries of the Eastern neighbourhood closer to the Union.
EU heads of states and governments announced last December that they plan to sign the deals with Georgia and Moldova already in August 2014 to avoid another Ukraine-like fiasco.
Many experts consider that the economies of Chișinău and Tiraspol are so intertwined and linked to the EU’s markets that Russian threats and “doubts” about how the DCFTA will work in practice bear little significance.
Nicu Popescu, senior analyst at the Paris-based EU Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), said that virtually every single Transnistrian company that was exporting goods or services to the EU was registered in the Moldovan Republic with Moldovan documents, stamps and bank accounts, for example.
Moreover, 30% of Tiraspol exports are directed to Moldova, while another 40% are directed to EU countries, meaning companies already have to comply with EU standards.
“Once the DCFTA is signed, Tiraspol’s companies will need to retain their status registered in Chisinau,” Popescu explained.
“Currently, Moldovan and Transnistrian exports to the EU take place under the autonomous trade preference regime. After the DCFTA is signed [in the summer of 2014], Moldova will have another trade regime with the EU while a transitional period will be extended to 2015 for Transnistria to give the province time to adapt.”
Economy vs. politics
Popescu highlights the fact that since the Transnistrian economy is almost completely oriented westwards, only “political motivations stand behind a possible refusal to follow the DCFTA” rules in the future.
“All complications are easy to solve once Transnistra follows its own economic interests,” he assured, adding that the political agitation on the part of Moscow and of the local authorities will lead to “killing what’s left of Tiraspol’s economy because of political slogans”.
Russia could of course use other types of pressure - as the signature of the DCFTA and the Association Agreement approaches - such as trade bans, expulsion of migrant workers and even security threats inside the frozen conflict zone.
“If Russia puts economic pressure over Moldova it will be damaging but not unbearable,” the expert assured. As for security risks in Transnistria, he said “in the worst possible case some clashes or exchange of fires could be expected, and even that is unlikely, but I do not expect any big war or serious conflagration.”