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  Trans-Dniester: the era of separatism is coming to end?

Èeslovas Iðkauskas, political analyst
2008 03 06

Back in summer of 1990, before the fall of the Soviet Union, Moldova declared its intentions to unite with its blood and language brothers Romanians; however, the citizens of the left bank of the Dniester expressed their will to stay in the Soviet Union.  The Parliament of the territory, which declared the independence, established the Trans-Dniester Republic within Moldova, but when Moldova declared its independence, the decision of Tiraspol hung in the air.

The civil war which commenced in March of 1992 on both sides of the Dniester was the cause of death of 1500 soldiers. The Moldovan, and citizens of Trans-Dniester loyal to Moscow, were separated by the Russian Army No 14, which is still the only guarantee of independence of this small state not recognized by anybody. OSCE has been discussing the withdrawal of this Russian army for many years, as well as possible federalization of Moldova.

However, none of the peace plans or memorandums elaborated by the international community was realized.  Thus, the territory of 3,5 thousand square km with nearly 600 thousand citizens, 1/3 of which are Romanians or Moldovan, are left to wait for new historical challenges.

Authorities of Trans-Dniester cannot understand that their devotion to Moscow is not in harmony with the modern processes of liberation from the post-soviet empire. Most probably Russia is fed up with this blind loyalty.

In the middle of January the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Trans-Dniester presented arguments to Russia on why Trans-Dniester should become part of Russia or at least why its independence should be recognized.  According to the Ministry only recognition of Trans-Dniester could prevent the West from the establishment of an entire sanitary zone around Russia. We all know that Ukraine wants to become part of NATO, Romania has already become a member of the alliance, and neutrality of Moldova is also temporal.  It means that only recognition of independence of the Trans-Dniester Republic of Moldova could strengthen Russia’s economic and military actions in the region.

The status of Kosovo region is another sore point of Moscow. According to the Ministry, recognition of independence of this province of Serbia would stabilize the situation in the entire Europe; whereas recognition of Trans-Dniester – on the contrary – would solve the old conflict and ensure stability in the region.

This position of Tiraspol was only a response to the visit of Moldova‘s President V.Voronin to Moscow in the second half of January.  In the Kremlin he met with V.Putin and got guarantees on regulation of the Trans-Dniester problem.

Moscow is not happy with formerly patronized head of Trans-Dniester I.Smirnov anymore.  According to the newspaper Kommersant, the Kremlin is elaborating plans to replace him by the leader of separatist parliament Y.Shevchuk, who managed to sign the co-operation agreement with the United Russia in due time.

At the beginning of February Moscow will again try to brainwash I.Smirnov by sending the delegation with the leader Y.Zubakov (deputy secretary of the Security Council) to Tiraspol. According to observers, if Trans-Dniester considers itself a federal entity of Russia today, V.Putin might replace its leader also...

There are several reasons to do this. He is blamed for the squander of humanitarian support allocated to Trans-Dniester in 2006. One billion rubles has also disappeared somewhere, i.e. the money collected by local citizens for the supplied gas; but Russia was not paid for it. Besides, in autumn M.Smirnova, wife of president of Trans-Dniester and leader of the Patriotic party, urged to support the Fair Russia and not V.Putin‘s party in the elections to Duma.

All the above indicate that this region is slowly becoming the center of new geopolitical games. Its fate would depend on the increasing integration of Ukraine into the European structures, on international activity of Moldova, the role of Romania in the region and, finally, on Russia‘s approach – to further control its former colonies from one „strong center“ or to search for the European compromises.

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