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 that 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 and Moldova finally elected a president, 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 daily 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.