On March 21, outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev appointed Dmitry Rogozin as Special Representative of the Russian President for Transnistria (“po Pridnestrovyu”). Undoubtedly, Medvedev acted at the behest of the incoming president, Vladimir Putin. On that same date, Putin – in the final days of his prime-ministerial tenure – appointed Rogozin as chairman of the Russian side of the Russia-Moldova inter-governmental cooperation commission. In the event that Medvedev and Putin swap places, Rogozin will be working for Medvedev on this commission and in the Russian government (Interfax, March 21, 22).
Rogozin will continue serving as Russia’s deputy prime minister responsible for the armaments industry. In February 2011, then-president Medvedev appointed Rogozin as presidential special representative for missile-defense negotiations with the US and NATO (a position now about to devolve to president-elect Putin’s portfolio). Rogozin served as Russia’s envoy to NATO from January 2008 to December 2011 (under Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov, at least theoretically).
Concurrent assignments, dual or even multiple, are not uncommon in the Russian government. Rogozin’s assignment to handle Transnistria, however, is highly unconventional (as is his character) and not immediately explicable. At one time in his variegated career, Rogozin had served as presidential special representative on matters of Kaliningrad Oblast (2002-2004). That oblast, like Transnistria, is a Russian-garrisoned exclave, a non-contiguous territory. (Transnistria is sometimes referenced as a de facto Kaliningrad on the Nistru River, despite the different legal status of the two territories). Rogozin’s Kaliningrad experience may have been a factor, but not a major one in the decision to appoint him as Putin’s representative on Transnistria.
Rogozin’s “Transnistria” assignment will almost certainly cover both local issues and the international negotiating process. Announcing Rogozin’s appointment, the Kremlin’s press office cited Rogozin’s experience as an international negotiator in his previous postings. Rogozin’s “Moldova” assignment, on the other hand, seems confined to economic and social issues between Russia and right-bank Moldova, apparently excluding Transnistria (left-bank Moldova) from the purview of the Russia-Moldova inter-governmental commission. In line with Russia’s constitutional system, Rogozin will apparently be reporting to President Putin on Transnistria issues, and to Russia’s prime minister (possibly Medvedev who appointed him formally) on rump-Moldova issues. If so, Rogozin’s bifurcated appointment is designed to treat the two parts of Moldova separately from each other and institutionalize the country’s division.
Inserting Rogozin into the negotiating process on Transnistria (or any issue) would be a recipe for its disruption. His track record at NATO is one of systematic confrontation, verbal aggression, and (while playing a relatively weak hand for Russia) seeking psychological ascendancy over Western counterparts through insulting behavior. While Putin himself resorts to such tactics from time to time, Rogozin did so methodically during his tenure at NATO.
Moldova has reacted to Rogozin’s appointment with palpable confusion. Moldova’s Foreign Affairs Ministry “takes cognizance of [Russia’s] decision with surprise. On the one hand, it might confirm the importance that Russia assigns to the conflict-resolution process. On the other hand, this move was not discussed in advance with Moldova’s authorities. [Moldova] will seek appropriate clarifications” (Moldpres, March 22). For its part, Tiraspol has issued a self-assured statement welcoming Rogozin’s appointment and expressing confidence in his effectiveness (Olvia-press, March 22)
The 5+2 negotiating format (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, US, EU, Chisinau, Tiraspol) is the only format accepted by all sides as legitimate, but it has remained inactive from 2006 to 2011, and is not fully reactivated yet. Thus far, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has handled the negotiations through mid-level diplomats, under supervision from State Secretary Grigory Karasin and Russia’s Security Council. Inserting Rogozin would change the level of institutional and personal authority over the negotiations on the Russian side.
Outside the 5+2 format, Germany seeks a special role for itself in a would-be Russo-German bilateral format. Envisaged by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Medvedev in their 2009 Meseberg Memorandum, this channel has not materialized in any shape other than informal contacts thus far. Apparently seeking to carve out a German role in these negotiations, German diplomats seek to nudge Chisinau into unilateral concessions in the 5+2 process, although Germany is not a member of that process. Inducing Moldovan concessions in 5+2 from outside 5+2 would distort that process; but might, at that price, qualify Berlin in Moscow’s eyes for starting together the Meseberg process. With Medvedev’s departure from office, and Medvedev’s sudden appointment of Rogozin as Putin’s special representative for Transnistria, the Meseberg process seems to be headed nowhere.
During his posting as envoy to NATO, Rogozin occasionally boasted that he had personally fought in Transnistria against Moldovans in the 1992 armed conflict. This sounds exaggerated, but it is a fact that Rogozin visited Transnistria in 1992 (quite possibly also thereafter) in his capacity as a left-nationalist Russian politician. From the early 1990s until 2008, Rogozin was the leader of a whole series of ultra-nationalist organizations and parties, focusing on Russia’s “near abroad” and an empire-rebuilding agenda. These organizations included the Congress of Russian Communities (in two iterations), Rodina, and a few obscure and ephemeral ones. As a politician, Rogozin operated at times through “projects” of the authorities, at times on his own. His projects were serial failures until 2008, when Putin rescued him from the political gutter and appointed him as Russia’s envoy to NATO. That appointment was in itself a calculated insult to the Alliance.
While Chisinau seems confused about the significance of Rogozin’s latest presidential appointment, Berlin must be wondering what may become of its Meseberg process if its fate comes to depend on Rogozin.