Monday

21st Jan 2019

EU diplomat optimistic on Transniestria and Ukraine

  • Transniestrian insignia. Mizsei: 'I feel sorry for the half-million people who are trapped in this geopolitical controversy' (Photo: sugarmelon.com)

Miroslav Lajcak, the EU's top official covering post-Soviet countries and the western Balkans, has said he is optimistic about progress on the frozen conflict in Transniestria and on signing a landmark treaty with Ukraine this year.

Speaking to EUobserver by phone from Vienna on Monday (14 February) during his first meeting with the so-called 5+2 group on Transniestria, Mr Lajcak said there is a "positive dynamic" for giving the body a more formal status and for launching regular talks every two months.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"There are no unsolvable conflicts. It's all about the political will of the participants involved," he said. "You do not have any hatred here. People were speaking normally with each other about day-to-day issues, such as freedom of movement."

The event brought together Mr Lajcak, US envoy Dan Russell and OSCE officials with Transniestrian envoy Vladimir Yastrebchak, Moldovan diplomat Eugen Carpov, Russian envoy Sergey Gubaryev and Ukrainian diplomat Igor Harchenko.

Transniestria broke away from Moldova in the early 1990s. The EU believes it will one day rejoin Moldova in a power-sharing deal giving it semi-autonomous status. But Russia currently has 1,200 troops in the region, giving the conflict a geopolitical dimension linked to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, a global pact on post-Cold War military deployment.

"There are elements that need to be solved at the highest political levels. But there also elements that can be handled by experts to prepare for the best possible decisions at the higher levels," Mr Lajcak said.

The former Slovak foreign minister and EU special envoy to Bosnia was appointed in December as European External Action Service (EEAS) director for relations with former Soviet and Balkan countries.

He is yet to visit Ukraine and Russia in his new capacity. But he dismissed reports that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is taking the country backward in democratic terms.

"No. There is no reason to be concerned. There is a new current. But as far as the EU is concerned, we have our processes going on and we hope that all our programmes will continue," he said. "Sure, it's realistic," he added, on the prospect of signing a deep free trade deal and a political Association Agreement later this year.

Asked if he believes the Russia-friendly Mr Yanukovych when he says that EU integration is his top priority, Mr Lajcak answered: "We have no reasons not to believe him. We are pleased that this is what he says - it's the best thing for Ukraine."

Ashton's big chance

Mr Lajcak's predecessor on Transniestria, the former EU special envoy to Moldova, Kalman Mizsei, said the frozen conflict is a chance for EEAS chief Catherine Ashton to make her mark. "The opportunity is that if somebody solves the Transniestria conflict, it will bring them fame. And it is solvable," he told this website shortly after leaving office on 31 January.

His snapshot of life in the unrecognised state showed how badly its people need change.

Transniestria is more pluralistic than it looks from the outside, with its leader Igor Smirnov vying for power with a young politician, Yevgeny Shevchuk, and two local tycoons, Ilya Kazmaly and Andrei Yudin, Mr Mizsei said. The regime is "not brutal" and people are rarely arrested for political reasons. But they have "very little say" about their future and police interrogations create "a degree of fear."

"Transniestria is a very sad place," the former EU envoy added. "I feel sorry for the half-million people who are trapped in this geopolitical controversy."

For his part, Udo Burkholder, the head of EUbam, an EU customs mission on the Transniestria-Ukraine border, warned that EU structures should deal directly with Mr Smirnov. "[The 5+2 envoy] Yastrebchak can make promises. But if Smirnov doesn't give the green light, nothing happens," he said.

On Ukraine, he noted that Mr Yanukovych has improved working conditions in Odessa, where EUbam has its base. "The new governor [Edward Matviychuk] is much better than [former president] Yushchenko's man. He's very open and he has started a serious anti-corruption drive," Mr Burkholder, a veteran German police officer, noted.

Putin tests new missile to frighten Europe

Russia has tested a "hypersonic" missile capable of a nuclear strike anywhere in Europe, in what Russian president Vladimir Putin called "a great New Year's present for the country".

EU sides with protests against Bosnian Serb chief

EU diplomats in Bosnia have voiced sympathy for protesters against lawlessness in the Serb entity ruled by Russian darling Milorad Dodik, after demonstrations in Banja Luka left one police officer injured.

News in Brief

  1. Germany sent 8,658 asylum-seekers to other EU states
  2. Poll: Macron popularity up four percent
  3. 'Economy is broken' says Oxfam in global inequality report
  4. Vestager under pressure to allow Siemens-Alstom deal
  5. Teargas and clashes in Athens over Macedonia name change
  6. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  7. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  8. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden

Analysis

China's 2019 growth outlook

As China's growth seems to be slowing, some observers see the country amid what the New York Times called a "severe downturn". As they mistake China's secular deceleration with cyclical fluctuations, they miss the rapid increase in Chinese living standards.

Opinion

The Azov crisis will backfire

Vladimir Putin's nightmare of Petro Poroshenko's re-election will be even certain as Ukrainians rally around the flag. Next March's election is not just to elect a new president but also a commander-in-chief to deal with five more years of Putin.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us