On January 12, 2021, the newly elected President of the Republic of Moldova Maya Sandu made her first official visit to Kyiv. The election of a pro-European candidate in the Republic of Moldova has opened a window of opportunity for the development of Ukrainian-Moldovan relations and dialogue, which has been virtually suspended in recent years. During the negotiations, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Maia Sandu discussed a wide range of issues of the bilateral agenda, and as a result of their meeting, a joint statement was made, identifying a number of new initiatives.
In the political dimension, two leaders agreed to bring relations between the two countries to the level of strategic partnership. To this end, the creation of the Council of Presidents as a new permanent format of cooperation has been announced. The statement reaffirmed mutual support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and Moldova within internationally recognized borders, as well as the readiness of the parties to cooperate to strengthen regional security, implement relevant association agreements with the EU and achieve strategic goals aimed at gaining full membership. The need for further development of the format of cooperation «EU + 3 Associated Partners»(Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia) was also noted.
The interest in joining the «The Three Seas Initiative» has been confirmed. In the context of European integration, it is extremely important for Ukraine to participate in regional initiatives. The development of relations with European countries through sectoral integration in the framework of multilateral formats such as: «Lublin Triangle», «Danube Commission», chaired by the representative of Ukraine for the first time since its foundation, «The Three Seas Initiative», «Eastern Partnership» and cooperation at the bilateral level with European states, can bring Ukraine closer to joining the European Union. Given that accession to the EU is a strategic goal both for Ukraine and Moldova, the approaches of two countries coincide in this regard.
Separately, the heads of state reaffirmed their intention to give new impetus to the work of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation and other bilateral cooperation mechanisms, including the search for mutually acceptable ways to resolve issues that have long remained unresolved. In particular, among the controversial issues that exist in Ukrainian-Moldovan relations is Ukraine's desire to build a number of hydropower plants on the Dniester, which could lead to falling water levels in the river and disruptions of water supply to Moldova.
The second controversial issue is Moldova's desire to deepen the Danube river bed so that the port of Giurgiulesti could receive large-tonnage vessels. For Ukraine, Giurgiuleshti is a competitor to the port of Reni. The third issue that needs to be addressed is the completion of the demarcation of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border. As a result of the meeting of the heads of states, no significant agreements were reached on controversial issues. However, the intensification of inter-parliamentary dialogue should lay the foundation for seeking consensus solutions and further development of bilateral relations.
Also, as a result of the meeting, no specific initiatives were identified to resolve the conflict in Transnistria. Obviously, the solution of the Transnistrian issue is not possible without the participation of large states. Ukraine and Moldova need support from the United States and the countries of the European Union, therefore, practical mechanisms for restoring the territorial integrity of both states will be discussed in other formats, with the participation of great powers.
At the same time, in practical dimension, important agreements were reached on the development of common infrastructure. The creation of an automobile transport corridor that will connect Kyiv and Chisinau has been agreed. The President of Ukraine stressed that the ambitious project for the construction of a modern highway that will connect Kyiv and Chisinau will reduce travel time between the capitals of states to five or six hours, which will intensify trade, simplify transit and improve people-to-people contacts. Parties also plan to build the Yampil - Koseuti bridge and develop border infrastructure and access roads on the Ukrainian-Moldovan state border.
In addition, the developments for deepening cooperation in the energy sector were noted. This includes increasing the volume of Moldovan natural gas in Ukrainian storage facilities, projects for the transit of European gas through Moldova to Ukraine, the resumption of electricity supplies to Moldova and the transit of electricity from Ukraine to Romania, which will pass through the territory of Moldova. Separately, during the meeting of Maia Sandu with the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Denis Shmygal stated the intentions of both states to synchronize energy systems with the European continental network ENTSO-E in 2023, which is important in the context of energy independence from the Russian Federation.
Also, the leaders of Ukraine and Moldova noted the importance of the search for a solution to the issue of ensuring mutual travel with ID, ensuring educational and other rights of the Ukrainian national minority in Moldova and, accordingly, the Moldovan minority in Ukraine and the importance of joint efforts to combat smuggling on the Ukrainian-Moldovan border, in particular in the Transnistrian area.
Summing up, the choice of Ukraine as the first state visited by Maia Sandu as President of Moldova is a positive signal for the Ukrainian-Moldovan relations, which were actually frozen during the presidency of Igor Dodon. A pragmatic approach to relations and realistic initiatives indicated during Sandu's visit are the right steps to restore and further develop cooperation between Ukraine and Moldova. For Ukraine, given the problems in relations with neighboring states, the fact of improving relations with Moldova is an important element in strengthening diplomatic positions and improving the prospects for increasing its regional influence. At the same time, the joint efforts of the two states aimed at internal transformations can become an additional impetus for the further integration of Ukraine and Moldova into the European Union.