In a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL's Robert Coalson in Chisinau, Moldovan Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman discusses the Ukraine crisis, Moldova's EU integration, and the role of Russian-language media.
RFE/RL: How would you respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin's comments on April 17 at his annual Q & A session? When asked about Transdniester he said: "It's only a demonstration of democracy to allow the people of Transdniester to do as they wish." Do such comments have any effect on Russia's status in the 5+2 process?
We should also mention in the very same context, the recent address of the Supreme Soviet in Tiraspol addressed to the Russian Federation to consider the results of the referendum back in 2006 and the eventual drive to join the Russian Federation in some form or in some way.
We would very much like to see a very clear Russian reaction to that address that appeared a couple of days ago.
[Russian] Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated that the Russian Federation does respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova and sees the solution of the Transdniestrian conflict within the existing 5+2 settlement format. We would like to see how the official reaction would look like in this recent particular case.
We also took very careful note of what Russian President Vladimir Putin said [on April 17] at the press conference concerning the Transdniestrian conflict settlement and the expression of the will of the people. We would expect to discuss it in the 5+2.
The 5+2 was unfortunately postponed last time at the request of the Transdniestrian side. Now we are planning the next round for May this year. And, since the Russian side wants to bring this issue into the agenda of the discussions, we of course will be very much prepared to engage in the discussions.
RFE/RL: How does Moldova feel about Ukraine's position -- do they accept Ukraine's arguments about the way the Russian media has been used in Ukraine and are they concerned about similar things here in Moldova?
We noticed since the summer of 2013, an unusual activity by the Russian-speaking media in the Republic of Moldova, promoting the alternative integration for the Republic of Moldova [into the Moscow-led Customs Union], whereas we are pursuing the European integration as an absolute priority of internal and external policy.
We found ourselves unexpectedly in [the] conditions of a huge information campaign. We evaluated the resources and it seemed to us at that time that what we are doing on behalf of the government -- explaining the elements and stages of European integration and the benefits of it -- was not sufficient enough to counterbalance the message that was coming from the [Russian] side, but that was also a wake-up call.
RFE/RL: I was told that there is an initiative here in parliament to monitor the Russian media here. Can you elaborate?
A couple of days ago, MPs in Moldova put forward an initiative to monitor the Russian- language media in the country. Yesterday [April 17], the National Audiovisual Council had to reply positively to the parliamentary initiative so they would monitor the contents of those programs in the Russian language very strictly and they would come up with their own assessment. I think this is the right approach so nobody is jumping to any conclusions [or] into any media ban or restriction. It has to be done by a group of independent experts in order to recommend further actions.
RFE/RL: How has the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] functioned in light of the events in Ukraine? Is it an international organization that is able to respond in a situation like that? What does Moldova get out of being a CIS member? Has there been any discussion in the government about leaving the CIS?
Unfortunately the CIS as an organization was not able to convene an extraordinary foreign minister meeting to discuss the situation. It was only the Republic of Moldova that supported the Ukrainian request to convene an extraordinary meeting. No one other CIS member agreed to the Ukrainian proposal. From my point of view this is very unfortunate. In extraordinary circumstances of an open conflict between two members of the organization, the organization of course was obliged to set a venue for an open discussion among all members. That was not possible.
We are of course participating not in all blocks of decisions in the CIS but only in two of them. First is the block or cluster of decisions in economic and trade area, which is of course manifested by our participation in the CIS free-trade area. And the second is the humanitarian cooperation. People-to-people cooperation, migration, and other exchanges in the humanitarian field. We have never participated in any of the political, military or security blocks of decisions because this is where Moldova is deciding in its national capacity all the time and this is of course where we are now aligning ourselves very actively with European Union policies.
I think that a very thorough analysis and evaluation of what has happened within the CIS is needed, in the Republic of Moldova as well. So we have to see what is our contribution to the activities of the organization [and] what is the response of the organization to our own needs. How the agreements within the organization are functioning [and] what is the effect and result of our participation in the agreements. And most importantly our trade experts have to evaluate the results and the usefulness of the CIS free-trade area for the purposes of Moldova's growth and development.
If anything, the crisis in Ukraine has prompted this analysis and this evaluation, which I am sure will be done by the Republic of Moldova throughout this year.