European Council on Foreign Relations

Rogozin’s travails in Moldova

Brussels might have started to get used to the sharp-tongued former Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, but Moldova is only in the early stages of doing so. After a stint in Brussels, Rogozin moved back to Moscow last December to be appointed deputy prime-minister in charge of the military-industrial complex. Rogozin is a Russian populist nationalist politician with huge  (rumour has it presidential) ambitions. A couple of weeks ago he was also appointed special representative of the Russian president on Transnistria (rather than on conflict settlement in Transnistria) and co-chair of the Russian-Moldovan intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. The move was badly staged. The Moldovans learned about it from the media. The appointment came in the same package as the nomination of two Russian regional governors (of Krasnodar Krai and North Ossetia) as ‘special representatives’, read overseers, for the adjacent Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And Rogozin on the third day of his new appointment called Moldova a ‘hencoop’ on his twitter account.

The Moldovans are worried, the EU unimpressed and both irritated. Clearly, the appointment of Rogozin shows a much higher Russian political interest in Transnistria. The trouble is that when Russia would rather put up a show instead of cooperating – Rogozin is the right person to (mis)handle dossiers. Given that in the last couple of months there have been some hopes regarding conflict settlement in Transnistria after the long-serving Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov lost power to the younger Evgeny Shevchuk, the appointment of Rogozin is an ever bigger nuisance. Rogozin is likely to be more concerned with self-promotion than pursuing conflict-settlement. He is also likely to tighten Russia’s grip over Transnistria (Shevchuk recently spoke about adopting the Russian rouble as a currency). Rogozin’s double-hatting as co-chair of the intergovernmental commission with Moldova also give him plenty of economic levers (gas-prices negotiations and market access) into his hands that he is certain to apply to Moldova. His bulldozing style is also going to be much more intimidating for the Moldovans than to NATO member states. The EU itself is also going through a small transition as the former EU representative to the 5+2 talks on Transnistria, Miroslav Lajcak is moving from the External Action Service to the post of Foreign Minister of Slovakia.

Irrespective of Rogozin’s personal diplomatic style, it is not him who determines Russia’s foreign policy goals. Even though his appointment to NATO in 2008 was initially perceived as a clear snub, in the end he had to run along and even manage the US/NATO-Russian reset under Obama and Medvedev. The main problem the EU and Moldova are facing is not Rogozin, but Putin’s likely foreign policy style and ambitions in his new presidential term. Rogozin is a symptom not a cause of what might come in Russian foreign policy.

But ultimately, his ‘in-your-face’ and often intimidating negotiations style is often self-defeating. As a Brussels observer said about Rogozin’s stint in Brussels: ‘everything anyone told Rogozin immediately ended on Twitter. In the end, people stopped talking to him in confidence. Anyway, Rogozin’s “public diplomacy” actually undermined Russia’s policy on NATO.’ It might be the same on Moldova. Bad diplomats are ultimately Russia’s problem. A sharp-tongue might be good a good asset for domestic politics, but less so for diplomats operating in a competitive environment where Russia’s glory days are over. A Romanian-Moldovan proverb says that ‘a bird dies due to its own singing’ (‘pasarea pre limba ei piere’) and it applies to diplomats more than to most other professions.

The best way to deal with Rogozin is to know what you want. A decade a ago, then a member of the Russian parliament, Dmitry Rogozin was Russia’s chief negotiator with the EU regarding the transit of Russian citizens to and from Kaliningrad via Lithuania. The Russian position was that the EU (Lithuania) cannot restrict the movement of Russian citizens from (mainland) Russia to (Kaliningrad) Russia. Russian negotiation tactics involved a lot of drum-beating, pressure on Lithuania and then attempts to have a deal with Brussels (and Berlin) over Lithuania’s head. None of it worked. The EU and Lithuania had a joint position that all Russian citizens should receive clearance to transit Lithuania, which was achieved through the so called ‘facilitated transit documents‘.

The key lesson is that for all of Rogozin’s skill and style he is no match to a united, determined negotiator who knows what it wants. Virtually everyone remembers Rogozin as the Russian negotiator on Kaliningrad, and no one the EU negotiators, but name recognition is not necessarily a recognition of success. This is the way to proceed for the EU. The best way to deal with Rogozin will be the deepening of EU-Moldova integration through faster moves towards deep and comprehensive free trade and a visa-free regime, as well as getting a foothold in Transnistria through assistance and engagement. If achieved in the next two-three years, this will also help conflict-settlement with or without Rogozin handling the dossier a few years down the road.

2 comments

DM 9th April 2012 at 10:04am

Nice analysis. I’d though focus on some issues that the text above did not cover, or did so superficially. First, the appointment of Rogozin may very likely indicate that the Western hopes of Russia willing to make concessions on Transnistria, for whatever purpose (peacekeeper image, improve post-Georgia war position, etc.) were wrong. That has significant policy implications as much of EU (or German more specifically) foreign policy on this issue was counting on Russia’s lenient approach.
Secondly, it does suggest that Russia for some reasons views Transnistria being valuable for itself. It is then important to understand what is this value for the Russian leadership. Only this way one could then try to bargain effectively. Thirdly, even though the text above seem to be optimistic, it totally ignores one specific thing. The appointment of Rogozin is disastrous for at least one reason: it will most probably kill the biggest opportunity Chisinau and its Western partners had in 20 years, which emerged after the election of Shevciuk in the secessionist region. This is huge, and then one can presume that this may be the Kremlin’s goal - to stall any forward motions (read progress) in the conflict resolution process, and close the windows of opportunities that recent elections in Tiraspol may have opened. Then, then next step will be to either press Shevchuk to work with Russia or discredit him and have repeated “elections” which would bring to power a more preferable to Moscow person.

John 28th July 2012 at 07:07am

Da, cele doua pozitii extpimare sunt complementare si n-ar strica crearea unei comisii transpartinice, deoarece problemele de interes national nu sunt partinice, pentru stabilirea unei strategii adecvate care sa faca o analiza serioasa si sa preconizeze actiuni diplomatice si politico-economice pentru spatiul basarabean.

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