The Transdniestrian conflict dates back to 1990, when separatists declared independence from Moldova. Following armed conflict that resulted in several hundred casualties, a ceasefire was agreed in July 1992, with the parties committing themselves to a negotiated settlement. Since 1993, the OSCE and its Mission to Moldova have supported efforts to find a comprehensive, durable and peaceful solution, within a process officially entitled the “Permanent Conference of Political Issues within the framework of the Negotiation Process towards a Transdniestrian Settlement”.
Settlement talks are held in the “5+2” format, including representatives of the sides, mediators and observers in the negotiation process – Moldova, Transdniestria, the OSCE, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.
Official 5+2 negotiations were suspended in February 2006 and were resumed only in November 2011 during the Lithuanian Chairmanship. Under Ireland’s 2012 OSCE Chairmanship two rounds of official meetings have been held, in February in Dublin and in April in Vienna.
Ambassador Erwan Fouéré, the Special Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office for the Transdniestrian settlement process, chairs the 5+2 talks this year. He spoke with Sonya Yee, OSCE Press and Public Information Officer, about developments to date and his hopes for the settlement process.
Sonya Yee: How would you assess developments in the Transdniestrian settlement process since the start of the Irish Chairmanship?
Erwan Fouéré: Developments have been extremely positive. I would say that looking at developments on the ground and in the context of the so-called 5+2 process we have reached what I would say is the highest level of interaction and positive momentum actually since the start of the conflict some 20 years ago.
We had our first meeting under the Irish Chairmanship of the 5+2 process in Dublin at the end of February. This was the first 5+2 meeting that brought together the Moldovan side and the new leadership in Transdniestria elected in December 2011. Following the Dublin meeting, we witnessed an accelerated rhythm of meetings at the ground level, between the authorities in Chisinau and Tiraspol. The Moldovan and Transdniestrian chief negotiators, Eugen Carpov and Nina Shtanski respectively, met several times, as did the working groups on confidence-building measures and the leadership.
Thanks to that very accelerated rhythm of activity, we’ve seen some practical consequences – very positive ones, such as the restoration of rail services for freight. There is also the potential to restore passenger routes that had been working before but were stopped several years ago, in addition to the route between Chisinau and Odessa that was restored in October 2010. I think that demonstrates the political will on both sides to do everything possible to remove the obstacles which impede the free flow of goods, people, services and capital, and really augurs well for the future.
It is important that we capitalize on that momentum in order to make the best possible progress in the next weeks and months. And this is the objective of the Irish Chairmanship.
What about developments in the 5+2 process itself?
Of course events on the ground impact on the 5+2 process. During my last visit to the region in the beginning of April, I was able to see for myself the extent of the interaction between both sides and the level of good will, and this accelerated rhythm of activity has had a positive influence on the process. At the last meeting of the 5+2 in Vienna, we reached agreement on what you might call the ground rules for the negotiating process, setting out some basic principles and procedures, and we also agreed on an agenda for the formal negotiating process.
This was the mandate given to the 5+2 when it was decided to resume official talks last year, to achieve this. Having reached these agreements in the first months of 2012 gives us some very positive momentum for the next months. We have a rhythm of meetings which will encourage the continuation of that process.
What is the role of the OSCE Chairmanship in this regard?
We are chairing the 5+2 process. It is important that the sides have full confidence in the role of the mediator, that the mediator is seen as someone who understands the particular problems on both sides and also encourages the process forward, helps to find ways of overcoming any obstacles. In that sense the Chairmanship counts on the other mediators and observers – Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States – to help in the process, to make sure we are all rowing in the same direction. We are 5+2 actors sitting in a boat, and we’ve got to keep rowing and making sure that everybody rows with the same level of political will and commitment, so that the boat will arrive at its final destination.
It has been some two decades since the start of conflict – what hope is there for arriving at a final destination, a political settlement?
I think there is a lot of hope because the more one can demonstrate to both sides the advantages of working together, the benefits of developing projects together, of developing economic co-operation together, of enhancing the co-operation at all levels, the quicker we will be able to address the more difficult aspects of a final settlement.
The big challenge of any post-conflict peace process, as we’ve seen in Northern Ireland and in other processes, is creating a level of trust and confidence. And I believe, particularly following the Dublin meeting, that we have seen a level of trust established that hasn’t existed before. Now we have to ensure that we develop all aspects of the settlement process, using this positive momentum. After all, we mustn’t forget that this is being done for the benefit of the communities, of the people who live on both sides of the Dniestr/Nistru River. The more we can show the benefits of this close interaction, the better.
The Chairmanship held a conference in April on the experience of achieving a peaceful political settlement in Northern Ireland as a case study for conflict resolution efforts in the OSCE area and elsewhere. What are the possible insights for the Transdniestrian settlement process?
I think the title of the conference, “Shared Future”, says it all. It is only by coming together and sharing the future, by promoting reconciliation, that one can guarantee improved economic conditions and greater political certainty, which will make the region much more attractive for foreign investors, tourism and development. Of course, no two conflicts are identical; you cannot have one miracle model that will fit all. But there are basic principles which are common to many post-conflict peace processes. I recall that when I was in South Africa, all the Northern Ireland parties came down in 1997, to see what lessons could be learned from the South African reconciliation process. And it’s interesting to see that one year later we had the Northern Ireland agreement, the Good Friday Agreement as it’s called. So I do believe we can learn from other post-conflict peace processes.
This is another reason why at the end of May we brought the chief negotiators from Chisinau and Tiraspol together to come and explore the Northern Ireland peace process, with meetings in Dublin and in Belfast. So that together they could really see the advantages of what we call a shared future, and how this can help in the Transdniestrian settlement process.
Do you see fostering this learning as a responsibility of Ireland as an OSCE Chair with direct experience of conflict resolution?
Of course. It is not for us to prescribe blueprints for action, or to dictate what lessons could be learned, but it is an opportunity for us to show what we were able to achieve in the Northern Ireland peace process: that what to some appeared impossible to achieve was not, and that with sufficient trust and political will, it is possible to overcome what seem to be insurmountable obstacles and reach solutions that can really bring peace, economic growth and a better life for those involved. This is the example of Northern Ireland. Of course, we shouldn’t forget that peace is a process which only begins with the signing of an agreement and there is still a lot to be done in the case of the Transdniestrian settlement process. But the framework is there, and this is why we believe Northern Ireland can offer some examples for other peace processes around Europe and beyond.
You emphasize trust and political will, which are often brought up in the context of conflict resolution. What do you think they mean in practice?
For any post-conflict peace process to be successful you need basic ingredients. You need trust first of all, where all those involved trust each other and there is a desire to reach a solution. If there is no desire there is no point. If the political leaders understand that achieving a final settlement will bring far more dividends than continuing a stalemate or status quo, it is the responsibility of the leadership to demonstrate that. This is why political will is so important, it is for the leaders to demonstrate the great advantages that can be achieved from coming together.
What about Track II efforts? Alongside the leaders demonstrating the benefits of a settlement, what do you think the people in the region need to know, or do?
Certainly a successful peace process will not be achieved if the public and public opinion are not on board. And it shouldn’t be something added on at the very end of a process. There needs to be – this is the lesson from so many peace processes around the world – as transparent a process as possible. And public opinion must be brought on board at the earliest possible stage. This can be done through open discussion, and civil society organizations coming together. On both of my recent visits to the region I made a point of meeting with civil society representatives from both sides of the river to underline the benefits that would come from an increased dialogue at the grassroots level.
The OSCE Mission to Moldova is the eyes and ears of the Organization on the ground and has a critical role to play in facilitating the discussion at all levels, in encouraging increased interaction and also in working with the other international actors that are active on the ground, such as, for example, the European Union, which has an extensive aid programme for the region. By working together, a lot can be achieved in making sure that the programmes being funded are ones that directly target and support the settlement process. This in the long run will help also to make the people on both sides of the river understand the advantages of coming closer together.
What are your hopes for the next round of talks scheduled for July, and for the Irish Chairmanship year?
On the first point, we want to build on the progress that has been achieved, both in terms of the trust and confidence in the process but also in getting into the substance of the negotiations – the nuts and bolts if you like, meaning the economic and social issues, and other issues linked to a final settlement, such as the institutional aspects and the security dimension. We don’t want to envisage great, giant leaps forward, this is a step-by-step process. Each step is an additional building block, and the more building blocks you have the greater the confidence, and the easier it will be to address what appear to be the more difficult issues at this stage.
This approach is what will guide us over the remaining months of the Irish Chairmanship. And I do hope that by the time the Irish Chairmanship comes to a conclusion, we will have reached a point where the progress towards a final settlement is irreversible. I don’t want to pre-judge the next steps, but we aim to have as many meetings as possible, at different levels, and of course the formal meetings of the 5+2 process. For example, at the end of June in Bavaria there will be a follow-up conference on wider confidence-building measures, and then the next meeting of the 5+2 in Vienna in July.
We are confident that with the current level of political will, we will be able to make substantial progress, thanks to the very clear desire of both sides, which was evident both in Dublin and in Vienna, to move forward as much as possible.