Interview with Andrei Popov: Republic of Moldova’s relations with Ukraine, Russia, Romania: developments and prospects. Vocea Basarabiei. 11.07.2010.


Corneliu RUSNAC, moderator Imedia: Good day dear listeners. I am Corneliu Rusnac and I invite you to a new broadcast of discussions on topics of foreign policy, produced with the support of the „Foreign Policy Association” and financed by „Friedrich Ebert” Foundation.

In today’s show I would like to present you a discussion with Mr. Andrei Popov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration. In today’s discussion we shall cover issues regarding Republic of Moldovas relations with Ukraine, Russia and Romania. So, lately discussions about part of the Odessa-Reni road, crossing Republic of Moldova near the village of Palanca, Stefan Voda district, have once again caught the attention of public opinion. Although joint expert groups appear to have reached an agreement on Palanca dossier, certain political forces in Kiev, said that the deal would prejudice the interests of Ukraine and even called for creating a special commission in the Ukrainian Rada. I asked Mr. Andrei Popov what is currently the exact situation of the road near Palanca, the land underneath which was to be transferred into the property of Ukraine, according to the border treaty signed between Chisinau and Kiev in 1999 and ratified and promulgated in summer 2001.

1.The current situation on Palanca dossier

Andrei POPOV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova: We are witnessing a paradox. While some political forces seeking to exploit the situation and to accuse the Government of Moldova of certain alleged concessions, of negotiating with Ukraine on bedded knees, Ukrainian politicians, Ukrainian opposition toughly accuses the Ukrainian government in Kiev that it did not take steps to defend Ukraine’s interests and has poorly negotiated the Border Agreement. There are voices; members of parliament initiating bills on withdrawal from the Border Treaty, which, in the opinion of those members is seriously prejudicial to the interests of Kiev. What is it about, we should finally make it clear once and for all. In 1999 Moldova and Ukraine reached a compromise that was rather complicated, but in essence very advantageous, we have to admit, to Republic of Moldova’s strategic interests, because as a result of this compromise a package agreement was reached regarding the confirmation of access given to Republic of Moldova to the 430 meters of Danube shore. Territory on which in the past 10 years a modern terminal, a port and a strategic objective of great importance for Moldova’s interests have been built. Also, at that time time, the plotting the border line in the area was achieved so that the city of Basarabeasca would not be divided into two, as it would have been gad the line gone along the border line between the two Soviet Republic, but instead it passed by the north edge of the town of Basarabeasca keeping practically in the composition of the town and in the jurisdiction of Moldova both the train depot and station for repairing wagons and dozens of hectares of vineyards as well as other social and administrative objects in the area of Basarabeasca. And the third point of that compromise referred to Palanca. A portion of 7.7 km linking Odessa to Southern Bessarabia, the Ukrainian settlements of Bolgrad Reni, Izmail, Belgorod-Dnestrovsk, former Cetatea Albă, this portion of the road of 7.7 km within the territory of Republic of Moldova was transferred by Republic of Moldova in 1995 so that it will go back into possession of Ukraine not only with the right to use, but also with Ukrainian jurisdiction over this territory. So is a critical juncture. These are elements of compromise, and in the light…

Corneliu RUSNAC: Only one clarification: the status of this portion of the road provides that it is Ukrainian property on the territory of Republic of Moldova.

Andrei POPOV: Absolutely, these are very clear provisions of the border treaty ratified by the Moldovan Parliament in July 2001, that it is a stretch of road in Ukraine’s property, but passing and remaining on the territory of Republic of Moldova. Now, from the perspective of Ukrainian politicians, they accuse the government of making concessions, that on the 430-meter access to the Danube Moldova built a port and a terminal that creates competition to the Reni port and directs maritime traffic towards this Moldovan port while the economic situation of the Reni port is quite poor. And then there is pressure. Ukrainians say Mr., we have kept our word, Moldova has built its terminal, port, we left Basarabeasca, we have not cut in half this town, but at Palanca we have not received all the necessary documents so far, we have not registered this road”. The road, as such, has already been transferred; I say it with all responsibility. On February 11, 2002, just in the first year of Communist Party government, the part of the road has been transferred to Ukraine, just that it has not been recorded into the land register and as such it was not switched to Ukrainian records. This fact does not allow Ukraine today to invest in repairing and upgrading the road located in a complicated region, often flooded, and now Ukraine wanted to strengthen the road so that it does not get flooded, for, let us not forget that it links Odessa to a territory 12 thousand square kilometers, Southern Bessarabia. It is a road connecting Odessa and the rest of the territory of Ukraine of an area equivalent to one third of the territory of Republic of Moldova. So it is of great strategic importance for Ukraine and therefore some politicians speculate on this and call on the Government to apply the whole arsenal of pressure tools to obtain concessions from Republic of Moldova.

I am glad to say that we were able to establish a smooth and proper cooperation and reach a compromise with the new government in Kiev. During the past 10 months we managed to launch again not only our relations with Romania, but also with Ukraine and people did not feel that, but we went through some very difficult and delicate moments. Now, when we have passed this pot hole I can say, "Look neither did the train traffic stop on the single bridge from Otaci-Moghilău, citizens travel arrangements – hundreds of thousands of Moldovan citizens in Ukraine has not worsened, some places it even got better, there are no problems for the transit of Moldovan goods to CIS countries, although exports to Russia increased dramatically and it would be very painful if complications arise. All these things could have happened had we not managed with wisdom, responsibility and professionalism this complicated relationship. Now we have reached a settlement. Definitely, it is not a surrender of territory. I say this in a sure and uncompromising way: Republic of Moldovas territory is inalienable; therefore speculations are vain and false. And the soil below the road and the 926 hectares beyond, on the other side of the road, are still the territory of Republic of Moldova. It is just about the road already transferred in February 2002, by those who are now accusing us of treason and new construction of the road embankment, it is a marshy area, often flooded, and the road is not even at the grass but has a height of 2, 3 sometimes even 4 meters above the general level of land, this is so. We are now, together with Ukrainian experts, setting the boundaries or perimeter of this sector, very carefully negotiate provisions on exploitation of the road, and on the interaction of different services to ensure that the inhabitants of Palanca have the rights and opportunities to market their goods and products, on the interaction between customs services. Since 2001 we no longer have joint border control. Now we have resumed these talks, we also got the EUBAM involved, we removed the Ukrainian patrol back in April, unfortunately the press has not talked a lot about it, there was great concern when the Ukrainians had their border patrol there, and when we managed to remove it, 2 months and half ago, this event has passed virtually unnoticed, but it is important to capitalize on the existent possibilities in our relationship with Ukraine, we have defused some complicated situations and are now talking about bigger projects. We resumed air travel between Kiev and Chisinau which is clearly beneficial, we have started to communicate on issues regarding infrastructure projects, we discuss and compare our notes regarding our participation in EU initiative of Eastern Partnership, we cooperate within international organizations, we have recently signed a protocol in the field of education and training assistance issues, and we hope that in the coming weeks or maybe months, at the beginning of autumn we will be witnessing also important political events, visits, meetings of the Joint Governmental Committee on trade and economic cooperation, whose last meeting took place in May 2006, 4 years ago, instead of these meetings taking place every year or two times a year we have a break of four years with a neighbor so important as Ukraine. Thus, by having employed an approach that is pragmatic, calm and resistant to speculation and emotions we managed to handle this situation. It is not surrender of territory; it is proper legal registration of land transmission to Ukraine that took place back in 2002.

Corneliu RUSNAC: Let’s proceed to our relations with Russia. The recent scandal about stopping a shipment of Moldovan wine in Russian customs is one of economic nature, as the head of Russian Health Service, Gennady Onishenko, says, or is it, however, some political misunderstandings caused by the Decree of Interim President, Mihai Ghimpu regarding the proclamation of June the 28th, 1940 as the day of Soviet occupation?

2.Republic of Moldova’s relations with Russia: stopping the shipment of Moldovan wine

Andrei POPOV: Certainly, the coincidence of these two events, the Decree on the proclamation of June 28th as the day of Soviet occupation, the controversial response, moreover, unanimous in the Russian press, in Russian society, negative reaction to this decree and controversial reactions within the country and coincidentally in the same week practically dozens of cars with Moldovan wine are stopped, motivating with tests showing the presence of harmful components in all these shipments, led to discussions and interpretation about the eminently political character of this action. I would avoid politicizing this situation right now. It is very important when a delegation of professional experts from Republic of Moldova in the field of phyto-sanitary, standards of the Ministry of Agriculture will visit the Russian Federation and on Monday they are to have talks with their counterparts from Russian Health Service to see exactly what is alleged, to compare data because we have been informed without being presented with any data and I think after they return home and we have an internal discussion we can move forward with interpretations. However, there is one aspect that I want to dwell a little longer. Our relation with Russia is not a very important for economic interests of the Republic of Moldova, but is a complex relationship. You must calculate every word, every action, maybe two, three steps ahead. You need to know what the echo and the consequences will be. And when there is such a potential you need to make sure you do not give any pretext, not only politically but also in terms of standards. I am not an expert on the quality of wine, but it is very important to make sure that our wines can pass tests in all laboratories, not only the Russian ones, because it is in our own best interest that the wines meet the highest standards. We must admit that Republic of Moldova is a country subject to the most careful scrutiny by Russian agencies. No other country gives as many tests as in the case of Moldovan wines and thus we can not afford to make mistakes, negligence, and instability in quality assurance, in other words not to offer pretexts. It is a very unpleasant episode indeed, with a very high negative potential for the interests of our country. Beyond different views regarding historical events, I think all Moldovan citizens regardless of their political affiliation or preferences are concerned about the economic interests and prosperity of our country and when autumn comes and tens of thousands of peasants will gather grapes and would like to sell them somewhere we must think of the answer we shall give to these peasants and as statesmen we must be very responsible with regard to this point and not just certain interests, policy preferences of the moment, but also we must be guided by the state interest of Republic of Moldova. Without strong producers, without a wine industry, without winemakers being able to produce and sell wine it is hard for me to imagine a prosperous future for our country. Beyond this episode, we have a pretty good communication with our colleagues in the Russian Federation on several levels, we do not just talks about the wine issue, it is also about the traveling regime in Russia, extending our citizens stay in Russia without registration from 3 to 30 days, we talk about cooperation in specific economic projects, we also discuss about a more effective participation of Russia in international efforts in the 5 +2 format.

Corneliu RUSNAC: Relations with Romania: the two Romanian consulates in Balti and Cahul, which have been discussed since 2007, were opened on Friday. What does the opening of these consulates mean for the relations between Chisinau and Bucharest?

3.Opening of Romanian consulates in Balti and Cahul

Andrei POPOV: I cannot help but make a parallel. I remember when in December 2007, at that time Foreign Minister of Romania Adrian Ciorăianu came to Chisinau to inaugurate the Consulate General in Chisinau. This event was completely boycotted by the Moldovan authorities; he was neither greeted at the airport nor even provided transportation to travel from the airport to the Consulate. In that month Romanian diplomats were expelled, also in the same month of December 2007, the then Head of State Vladimir Voronin sent a highly virulent letter to all Heads of State and Government of the EU in which Romania was called the main threat to the statehood of Republic of Moldova, causing consternation in many Chancelleries and, moreover, this was the way authorities in Chisinau perceived the potential of relations between Chisinau and Bucharest. And now we saw a sign of normality, one in a long series of successful actions undertaken during the last nine, ten months. I take this action as one that confirms that a new spirit is governing relations between our countries and that we have returned to normality, but our citizens, of Moldova, are still forming queues, passing through a very difficult procedure to obtain visas at the General Consulate of Romanian in Chisinau, and again, is not the fault of Bucharest, managing the flow and the high pressure, there are not hundreds but thousands of visa applicants per day. Is a large volume of work, there are 10 or 12 counters working at the Romanian Consulate and visas are still granted for free, thus opening another two points in the north and south, will save tens of thousands of people from having to make these tiring trips. People will be able to obtain visas in Cahul and Balti and we expect that the pressure on the General Consulate in Chisinau will decrease and the procedure will be smoother and easier. We consider this to be the lattermost successful action.

I take pleasure in summarizing just a few, enhancing political dialogue, notice we had the Prime Minister’s visit to Bucharest, the Romanian President coming to Chisinau, Interim President going to Bucharest; I do not even mention about the much more fluid, frequent and open interaction between ministries and agencies, we call each other, we consult with each other, we launch joint projects; Agreement on Small Border Traffic, already about 10000 citizens of Moldova have received permits; grant aid of 100 million, spread over four years, granted by Romania for certain infrastructural projects in Republic of Moldova; a significant reduction in ticket price for Chisinau-Bucharest flights, introduction of additional routes in this itinerary; support and assistance provided by Romania to the Republic of Moldova on its course of advancing towards the European Union, Romania was a co-initiator of the Republic of Moldovas Friends in EU” Club, the second meeting of the Club was held in June and was attended by several foreign ministers and we basically succeeded in focusing attention on the subject of Moldova, it was put back on the map of interests and attention of Grand Chancelleries and that of the EU . The topic of Republic of Moldova is very important for our country’s interests. Now we discuss the following projects on strengthening the legal framework, and here we were able to sign an important agreement, one on social security for citizens, we signed it in April, so that our citizens working in Romania make Social Fund contributions, will be able to repatriate the money for their retirement, for the retirement fund. They will not lose their pensions. There are also other advantages that our citizens will feel as a result of signing this document.

Corneliu RUSNAC: In other words, we can say that in recent months relations between Moldova and Romania have become more pragmatic?

Andrei POPOV: On the one hand they are more pragmatic; on the other hand we do not remove the symbolic part and their cultural value. Thus, on that note, I would say that we reached an agreement on opening the Romanian Cultural Institute "Mihai Eminescu" in Chisinau in the nearest future. We are discussing the best way to resume transmission of TVR1 television station in Moldova. Equally important, we also discuss the transmission of Moldovan TV broadcasts in Romania to contribute to a better understanding of the realities in Republic of Moldova. In terms of pragmatism and infrastructural projects we focus, and we discussed this just two weeks ago during the Business Week with a group of experts from the Ministry of Economy and from Romania about interconnection of Iasi-Ungheni gas pipeline, interconnection of electricity distribution systems, railway cooperation. Here are concrete projects and maybe -10 months is not sufficient time so that all citizens feel the benefits immediately. It is very clear that normalization, resetting of relations, the successes we have achieved in this period created a very solid base to build projects, institutions, roads and bridges. I forgot to mention the launch, commissioning of the bridge Rădăuți-Lipcani. I think that based on this strong fundament that was dramatically undermined during recent years, making us seem ridiculous and both Chisinau and Bucharest, again, for different reasons, these fratricidal quarrels and the fact that in Chisinau Bucharest was perceived more as an enemy, accused of brutality, instead of being viewed as a valuable ally in its efforts to obtain the European perspective and approaching the EU. Thus, we passed this stage and I hope that we never return to this tone. Sure, it depends on our ability to mobilize ourselves in the eve of the fall events, but also on politicians and statesmen capacity to clearly show the people that changes which have occurred are changes for the better and that they come to meet the interests and real needs of ordinary citizens in the Republic of Moldova.

Corneliu RUSNAC: Dear listeners, I remind you that you have listened to a discussion with Mr. Andrei Popov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Republic of Moldova. Here we end our program today. The broadcast was conducted with the support of the Foreign Policy Association and funded by The Friedrich Ebert Foundation. I, Corneliu Rusnac, am saying goodbye and will be waiting for you with a new program. See you soon!