As Transdniestrians celebrate Victory Day with a military parade – complete with Soviet-era tank – Russian [and Transnistrian] flags line the streets of Tiraspol. Photo by Thomas Vanden Driessche, Institute, in Zuckerman C. “The Country that Doesn’t Exist”, Picture Stories, National Geographic, 23/03/2017.

The small Republic of Moldova is one of the post-Soviet states facing a conflict on its territory over the unrecognized self-proclaimed region of Transnistria, officially known as Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic. Located between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and it is since then undergoing a transition both in the sphere of politics, economics and within its society.

The river Dniester separates the state into two parts, which differ in their history and attitude, but were amalgamated into the Moldovan Soviet Socialistic Republic in 1940. The Transnistrian part situated on the Eastern side of the river was harbouring the industrial economic sector and was inhabited mainly by Soviet, Russian-speaking elites, while the Western part of the country was an agricultural hub with cultural and linguistic ties to Romania. The way to independence was accompanied by an emancipation movement which strove to break with Soviet and Russian predominance over Moldova. The Soviet elites in Transnistria opposed this development to safeguard the Soviet and Russian ascendancy in the political and cultural spheres and feared discrimination. At the same time, they refused to accept any subordination to Chisinau and yearned to keep a direct and privileged connection to Moscow. They also refused a reunification with Romania, which parts of the Moldovan population aspired to achieve.  

With military support of the Soviet and later Russian 14th army, stationed near Tiraspol, the Transnistrians gained control of the area eastward of the Dniester as well as of the city of Bender, which is located on the Western bank of the river. The attempt by Chisinau to win back Bender led to a short war in 1992, with several hundred casualties and around 100.000 people fleeing the region.[1] On behalf of the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic (TMR), Russia reached a ceasefire agreement with Moldova, which included a trilateral border regime and cemented the separation of the Transnistrian area. Since then, all attempts to reintegrate the TMR into Moldova have failed. In 1994 the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) tried to reach a consensus involving not only Moldova and Transnistria but also Russia and Ukraine. In 2003 Russia proposed the so-called “Kozak-Memorandum” which suggested a reunification, while at the same time granting strong autonomy to Transnistria. Moldova refused the proposal, fearing that a veto right for Transnistria would block any decision from Chisinau and secure the influence of Moscow, which has kept its military presence in the breakaway region up to date. In 2005, the so-called “5+2” negotiation format was established between the sides, Moldova and TMR, as well as the OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States. However, also this format has failed to make any progress regarding the disputed status of the TMR. The EU further intensified its engagement by launching a European Boarder Assistance Mission in Moldova and Ukraine to strengthen the control of movements across the border from and to the TMR.

Since 1992, the TMR has built up a de facto statehood and it has strived for integration with Russia. In 2006 the majority of its inhabitants voted for an incorporation with Russia. Up to date, Russia has neither recognized the TMR as a state nor it has showed willingness to incorporate the TMR into the Russian Federation. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 raised hopes regarding a Russian change of mind, however, the developments in neighbouring Ukraine have actually worsened the situation of the small unrecognized Republic for two reasons. Firstly, the TMR is highly dependent on financial aid and loans for energy supply from Moscow, which it in fact does not pay back. This support is endangered by the costs of the economic crisis and the conflict in Ukraine for Russia. Secondly, since the founding of the TMR, the economy of Transnistria and its elites profited from a flourishing trade over the Transnistrian-Ukrainian border, which also included illegal trading. Since the 2014 annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation, Kiev is much more willing to prevent these trade flows, because it views the TMR, with its Russian military presence, as a threat to its security and the stability in the region around Odessa.

For the time being there is no settlement in sight for the disputed Transnistria region due to various reasons. The Transnistrian elites oppose reunification because the de facto statehood of the TMR is at the basis of their influence and economic privileges. For Chisinau, a reintegration of Transnistria would be costly with respect to political will, economic and  financial resources. The political conflict over the diverging foreign policy orientations deepen these cleavages. While the TMR opts for integration with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union, Moldova seeks rapprochement with the EU, regardless of shrinking public support for this course. On the Moldovan side there is no will to strive for reunification and people on both sides of the Dniester have come to accept the division of the country.  As a matter of fact, in 2015 just 9% of Moldovans believed that reintegration was among the three most important questions regarding the future of the country.[2]

Bibliography

[1] Vahl, Marius; Emerson, Michael: Moldova and the Transnistrian conflict. In: JEMIE – Journal on Ethno-politics and Minority Issues in Europe (2004), 1, 29 pages. URN: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-61961.

[2] Institutul de Politici Publice: Barometer of Public Opinion. November 2015.

URN: http://www.ipp.md/public/files/Barometru/Brosura_BOP_11.2015_first_part_

ENGLISH_V1.pdf.