Transnistria or Moldavian Transnistrian Republic: Just facts
Facts about Transnistria*
Internationally unrecognized entity proclaimed in Tiraspol on 2 September 1990, initially styled the Moldavian Transnistrian Soviet Socialist Republic. Currently known as the Moldavian Transnistrian Republic, or MTR, (Russian name: Pridnestrovskaya Moldavskaya Respublika or Pridnestrovie), this breakaway entity, referred to in many sources as Transnistria or Transdniestr, consists of a narrow strip of land (180 km by 32 km) nestled between the East bank of the Nistru River (Russian: Dniester/Dniestr/Dnestr River) and the border of Moldova with the Ukraine on a small part of what used to be, between 1924 and 1940, the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The separatist authorities in Tiraspol exert their rule over five Soviet-style districts—Camenca, Dubăsari, Grigoriopol, Râbniţa, and Slobozia—comprising a total population of 555,500 (2004 est.). Except for nine villages bordering the east bank of the river (Malovata Nouă, Cocieri, Coşniţa, Doroţcaia, Pârâta, Pohrebea, Roghi, Vasilevca, and Corjova), the area controlled by the MTR includes all of Moldova's land on the east bank of the Nistru. On the river's west bank, the self-proclaimed MTR controls the city of Tighina.
The MTR, which declared itself a "customs control zone," uses the ruble (dubbed “Suvorov”) as the local currency, preserves the Soviet-era state symbols, and maintains a strategic importance due to the deployment of Russian troops there and the industries and power plants concentrated on its soil throughout the years that preceded the disbanding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). About 30 percent of Moldova's industries and over 90 percent of its energy production are located on territory controlled by the Tiraspol authorities, whose policies have made evident that the conflict with the government in Chişinău is not essentially about ethnic and linguistic issues, but mostly about political orientation and geopolitics.
The Tiraspol leadership is leftist, antireform, and conservative. Furthermore, it has no intention of negotiating seriously with Moldova to alter a status quo that is in its favor. Most of the key figures in the Tiraspol administration are Russian and/or Ukrainian citizens and is widely believed that they were sent to Moldova by the Kremlin to organize a secessionist movement to prevent Moldova’s independence moves. Igor Smirnov, a former military plant manager in Tiraspol who came to Moldova in November 1987, is MTR’s president since 1991. His government controls the mass media, oppress civil society organizations and opposition political formations, while his sons run the republic’s main businesses through the notorious Sherif Company.
MTR has been populated by the same ethnic groups as the rest of Moldova, although local Russians and Ukrainians, taken together, outnumber ethnic Moldovans. Such a situation developed as a result of Russification and due to influx of migrants from other parts of the USSR as working force for military plants and other heavy industries. According to data from the recent census organized by Tiraspol authorities in 2004, Ukrainian ethnics make up 28.8 percent (a slight increase from 28 percent in 1989), Russians—38.3 percent (up from 24 percent, 1989), and Moldovans 31.9 percent (down from 40 percent, 1989), thus the share increase of the Russian ethnics was made on the expense of Moldovans who were forced to flee the region due to discrimination policies. Romanian-speaking Moldovans have only 88 schools where the language of education is Romanian, out of which only eight are allowed to use the Latin alphabet.
Tiraspol broke away from Chişinău in protest over the 1989 laws regarding the return to the Latin script, the establishment of Moldavian rather than Russian as the official language of the country, and the change of the republic's Soviet-style flag to a new one, almost identical with Romania's tricolor. A series of small-scale clashes occurred in late 1991 and early 1992, culminating with a short but violent armed conflict in which Russia's 14th Army sided with the government proclaimed in Tiraspol.
In the wake of a cease-fire agreement signed at Limanskoe on 7 July 1992 between Russia and the Republic of Moldova, the two parties of the conflict (signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Moldovan President Mircea Snegur), under the mediating authority of the commander of Russia's 14th Army, Alexandr Lebed, negotiations have been going on between Moldova's authorities and the self-appointed Tiraspol authorities (that, meantime, became the party of the conflict) in a series of attempts to settle the conflict by reaching an agreement on granting expanded autonomy to the Nistru east-bank districts, as Moldova's "Transnistrian Self-Administered Territories." The arrangement would provide the region with the right to exert jurisdiction over taxation, police forces, budget decisions, and other issues. However, the Tiraspol leadership has constantly turned down Chişinău’s offers to grant the east-bank districts such a status, sticking to its claim to statehood.
With its diminutive form, this last bastion of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe is generally regarded as evocative of the former USSR in a nutshell. In 1997, the MTR applied for membership in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and, later on, for full-scale integration into the CIS political and military structures. That same year, the Tiraspol Supreme Soviet chairman declared that the Transnistrian republic will demand that Moldova accepts full integration into the CIS and that it joins the Russian Federation-Belarus union, viewed as a possible future model for the MTR's status vis-a-vis the Republic of Moldova. A nonbinding referendum on joining the Russia-Belarus union was held between April and June 1998, with over 66 percent of the ballots supporting the union. However, like the province of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea (isolated from Russia by independent Lithuania and Poland), the east-bank separatist region, has no common borders with either Belarus or the Russian Federation.
A key factor in the stalemate is the continuing presence of Russia's military base in Tiraspol, where Moscow keeps its only permanent deployment of armed forces outside Russia's borders in Europe. The Tiraspol enclave is considered to be a strategic stronghold in the proximity of the volatile Balkans region and a turntable in arms trafficking between this internationally unrecognized entity and other volatile regions, including Kosovo and the Caucasus. In 2004, in the Ilaşcu and others versus Russia and Moldova, a case examined by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, it has been concluded that the Russian 14th Army and other elements of the Russian government had contributed to the creation and continued existence of the Moldavian Transnistrian Republic.
Another important factor in preserving the status quo of the MTR is the Ukrainian factor—the illicit trade that occurs over the Ukrainian border with MTR allows the separatist state to survive, and has been profitable to some business groups in Ukraine.
The federalization of Moldova, which is a controversial political blueprint initially advocated by the Russian Federation and separatist leaders in Tiraspol, has called for the reorganization of the Republic of Moldova into a federation in which the self-proclaimed Moldavian Transnistrian Republic (MTR) would have a separate legislature, government, anthem and state symbols, while at the same time forming a loose political unit with the Republic of Moldova. Russia’s interest in federalizing Moldova is seen by analysts as Moscow’s template for use in other former Soviet republics, such as Georgia and Azerbaijan. A Moscow agreement signed by experts of the two sides of the trans-Nistrian conflict on 9 October 1997 was interpreted as providing for a "de facto" federalization of Moldova, a view contradicted by the central authorities in Chişinău, according to whom the Moscow agreement would ensure that the Chişinău government will have "sole competence over Moldovan citizenship, foreign policy, customs and frontiers."
In July 2002, Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) officially submitted to Moldova and the Tiraspol regime a project to federalize Moldova under joint mediation and guarantees by all three parties. In February 2003, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin issued a draft plan calling for a new constitution to be formed, transforming Moldova into a federation or confederation. These proposals were incorporated into Russia’s so-called Kozak Memorandum, a federalization plan whereby Moldova becomes a loose confederation of two sovereign and independent states, similar to that of Serbia and Montenegro. President Voronin had been on the verge of signing with Russian President Vladimir Putin the Russia-prepared federalization document in November 2003 until Moldovan public opposition, culminating in obstreperous protests on the streets of Chişinău, erupted against the plan. The mass demonstrations, in addition to warnings from the United States and European Union diplomats, pressured Voronin into rejecting Moscow's federalization proposal. The implementation of such a federalization plan would have granted Tiraspol international recognition, and deployment of the Russian military base in Moldova for a period of 20 years, thus, keeping Moldova within Russia's sphere of influence. Following Voronin's backflip on the federalization plan, Moldova-Russian relations noticeably worsened, leading Moldova's communist government to appeal for international support from the west to press Russia to evacuate its troops from Moldova and to solve the trans-Nistrian conflict.
At the end of 2004, the Moldovan civil society offered an alternative plan to the federalization of Moldova—the 3-D strategy: demilitarization, decriminalization, and democratization (of MTR)—a document that has reached a national consensus in Moldova and was promoted by the Moldova Foundation in the United States (Washington, D.C., November 2004) and Western Europe (Brussels, February 2005). The strategy proposed to strengthen the existing five-party conflict settlement format of “3 plus 2” (Russia, Ukraine, and OSCE plus Moldova and the MTR) by transforming it into a new one: “3 plus 1 plus 3” (Russia, Ukraine, Romania plus Moldova, plus OSCE, US and EU), thus, excluding the MTR and involving the West. The strategy also offered to set up a collective settlement international agreement, a supervisory authority, and an international civil provisional administration, which would implement the action plan and post-conflict rehabilitation strategies. There was no special status envisioned for the trans-Nistrian region as a whole, but for the urban agglomeration of Tiraspol only.
The principles laid down in the 3-D strategy were used by the Moldovan parliament in three resolutions related to the trans-Nistrian conflict adopted on 10 June 2005: the declaration on Ukraine's initiative regarding the settlement of the trans-Nistrian conflict (new approach to settle the conflict through democratization); the appeal on criteria of democratization of the trans-Nistrian region (to conduct free and democratic elections meeting international standards, political pluralism and freedom of expression); and the appeal on principles and conditions for demilitarization of the trans-Nistrian region (withdrawal of the Russian troops, disarmament and demobilization of trans-Nistrian military units). Moldova's Law on the basic provisions of the special legal status of the localities from the left bank of Nistru River, passed on 22 July 2005, is also in line with principles outlined in the civil society’s 3-D strategy. Starting October 2005, the European Union and the United States joined Moldova, MTR, Russia, Ukraine, and OSCE in the new “5+2 format” of the trans-Nistrian settlement process.
In December 2005, the EU Border Assistance Mission for the Ukraine-Moldova border was launched, aiming at suppressing the traffic in arms, drugs, and human beings, as well as the regular commercial contraband of which MTR is consider to be both a source and a transit route.
*Source: The Historical Dictionary of Moldova, (496pp). Authors: Dr. Andrei Brezianu and Vlad Spânu. Scarecrow Press, Maryland, USA & London. 2007. And its 2010 edition "The A to Z of Moldova".
- Transnistria Trafficking Arms On Europe’s Doorstep (Documentary; 52 minutes; Dec. 2005; By France's Canal +)
- Transnistria - Europe's Black Hole (Documentary; 33 minutes; Dec. 2006; By United Kingdom's Journeyman Pictures)