Transnistria issue: lessons for Ukraine

Author : Leonid Litra

Source : 112 Ukraine

If Moldova does not stand the pressure and agrees on the special status of Transnistria, it will be the reason to increase pressure against Kyiv concerning Donbas issue
10:20, 7 November 2016

Read the original text at

Transnistria military
Open source

Since 2014, subject of Transnistria has become very topical for Ukraine, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea and tried to implement an ambitious plan of "New Russia", which Transnistria should be the westernmost part.

In 2016, the situation changed. In June, negotiations in the "5 + 2" format renewed, and Germany wants to reach the concrete results until the end of the year.

Germany and Russia have chosen some questions that are sharp for Moldova, for example, they want Chisinau to recognize diplomas and car plates issued in Transnistria.

In this conflict any changes that are detrimental to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova, may affect the situation in the east of Ukraine.

Transnistria is experiencing an acute economic crisis, and any cooperation between Ukraine and Moldova gives birth to the problems. Moreover, the crisis is unfolding against the backdrop of the so-called presidential elections, scheduled for 11 December.

On the eve of the elections, the leader of the region, based on the results of the "referendum" in 2006, signed a decree that requires the joining and adaptation to the local laws to the Russian system, which is causing more attention to the region.

Negotiations in "5 + 2" format

June 2-3, after two-year break in Berlin consultations in the format "5 + 2" resumed. This was initiated by Germany and Russia, rather than by Chisinau and Tiraspol that are not interested in negotiations due to their election race.

Germany now chairs the OSCE, and therefore decides to resume negotiations "at any price". Its position was supported by the US and Russia that put pressure on Moldova and Transnistria, directly and through the OSCE.

At the insistence of Germany, a protocol detailing the actions that Chisinau and Tiraspol should take, was signed in Berlin. It is primarily about how to recognize diplomas issued by universities of Transnistria, to prevent the international movement of vehicles with Transnistrian car plates and restore the telephone connection between the two banks of the Dniester.

According to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the implementation of these measures "will strengthen trust between the parties."

However, Chisinau has different opinion. These proposals there regarded as an attempt to legitimize the detriment of the Transnistrian region of Moldova. Agreeing on some elements of the Transdniestrian sovereignty, Chisinau receives nothing instead.

Moldova knows this tactics of Tiraspol, which means refusing to continue negotiations immediately after receiving concessions. Accordingly, if the major elements to Transnistria's sovereignty out of negotiations on its status, the negotiations in the "5 + 2" format will be impossible.

That is why all points that the Berlin Protocol parties agreed are connected with ecology and exchanged lists of criminal cases.

In addition, there is no progress in the "5 + 2" negotiations due to the political situation. In Moldova, the second round of presidential elections will take place November 13 and in Transnistria – December 11. In such a situation, no one wants to make decisions that may scare off the voters.

The election result can affect the strategy of the Russian Federation. If Moldovans elect pro-Russian president, Russia will start negotiations with him; if the situation remains unchanged, political and economic relations with Russia will continue to fade.

In the negotiations on Transnistria not only contacts between Chisinau, Tiraspol, and Moscow play a role. At the same background, the Kremlin is playing a large Ukrainian bid.

Transnistria negotiations take place simultaneously with the negotiations on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. If Moldova does not stand the pressure and agree on the special status of Transnistria, it will the reason to increase pressure against Kyiv concerning the status of the uncontrolled territories of Ukraine.

And vice versa - if Ukraine relinquishes in the Donbas issue, for Chisinau it will also be very difficult to resist the pressure on Transnistria.

Therefore, Kyiv should take a more active role in "5 + 2" negotiations.

Military activities

Since the illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014, almost every month the military exercises have been held in the Transnistrian region. Yet in 2016, they have changed.

Before, only "Transnistrian" military participated in the trainings, but in August 2016, they were joined by Operational Group of Russian Forces (OGRF, employs 1,350 people) in Transnistria, illegally placed in Moldova.

The military exercises began immediately after all the parties (Moldova, Transniestria, and Russia) agreed not to create tensions in the security zone, while the Joint Control Commission (from August 1 to 15 September) - the body responsible for this area - is on vacation.

Moreover, the sxercises took place in the security zone, where, according to the documents of the Joint Control Commission, which cannot be attended by anyone except peacekeepers and the police.

Naturally, the Moldovan Foreign Ministry responded to the military training, but it seems that Russia is concerned by this protest, even military attaché of the Russian Embassy did not appear at the Foreign Ministry, because he "scheduled another meeting."

OGRF part in military exercises in the Transnistrian region is not just a symbolic gesture. On the one hand, Russia is strengthening its position as a party to the conflict, not a mediator.

And on the other, these exercises can be very useful if the Kremlin decides to activate the Transnistrian side. According to a former military officer of Moldova, the Russian troops may go to Ukraine first.

Another goal is to show that OGRF is in good condition and does not suffer from problems with rotation and supplies.

Since 2014, Russia cannot conduct the illegal rotation of troops in Transnistria, because Ukraine has blocked transit on its territory. Russia repeatedly accused the Moldovan authorities and who did not get Transdniestria Russian military civilian aircraft through the airport in Chisinau.

Because of this, Russia began to recruit soldiers in the Transnistria.

Moldovan Foreign Ministry urged Russia to stop illegal recruitment of Russian citizens in Moldova and noted that this case and other similar actions are contrary to national law and violate international law and agreements with Russia.

For Moscow, international law does not matter - it rejects every call to transform the current peacekeeping mission in civilian international mandate.

Joining Russia

Perhaps the most discussed news of the Transnistrian region is that the Tiraspol leader signed a decree on the outcome of the "referendum" in 2006.

On this "referendum", which was held 10 years ago, over 97% of the inhabitants of Transnistria voted for joining Russia. The same ordinance requires bringing local legislation in line with the Russian one.

First, there was the assumption that Russia plans to do with Transnistria the same as it did with Crimea.

However, the author of the decree simply pursued his political goals. Major competitors in the presidential elections in Transnistria are "President" Yevgeny Shevchuk and "head" of the Supreme Council Vadim Krasnoselsky from "Sheryff." Krasnoselsky is leading in the presidential race - 25%, while Shevchuk gets only 11%.

Accordingly, Shevchuk needs to take strong electoral steps, and by his decree he tried to position itself as the "engine" of rapprochement with Russia and Transnistria and would rise this subject until the election.

However, in Transnistria it would be hard to build a campaign on the theme of rapprochement with Russia, as all candidates are competing in love in Moscow.

For the Kremlin, decree of Tiraspol leader was not a surprise. Officially, Moscow has not yet commented on it, but people close to the Kremlin suggest that this decree will be severely tested to change the balance of power in the Transnistrian conflict.

Moreover, some members of the legislature in Russia say that Kremlin will respond only after the presidential elections in Moldova. If the pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon wins, the Kremlin will ignore this decree, if the pro-European candidate wins, the Kremlin may think.

Economic crisis

The economic situation in the Transnistria hardly can be called stable, even in comparison with Moldova. According to the most optimistic forecasts, the GDP of the region in 2016 will fall to 5.6% (last year it fell to 20%).

In the first half, revenues from customs duties have reached only 22% of the planned volume; in the first eight months, exports fell by 16%, and imports - by 29%. The turnover of Ukraine decreased by 22%, Moldova - 13%, and with Russia - by 33%.

There is a terrible shortage of foreign currency. Quality of life significantly decreased after public sector wages and pensions fell by 30% last year.

Shevchuk said that he redirected the money to the armed forces of Transdniestria because of the alleged threat of Ukraine.

However, even in these circumstances, state employees are not paid on time. For example, in May 2016 Transnistrians got debts for 2015.

Russia continues to assist Transnistria in three ways.

First, it pays pensioners a fee to the pension. The second - almost free gas supplies (money from special gas accounts covers social payments). Third - continues social projects through the Eurasian integration.

Even if Moscow continues to support the region, it will cut costs there - this was confirmed by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who visited Tiraspol and said that "Russia does not give the fish, Russia gives the bait."

The economic situation in Transnistria further aggravated in July when Ukraine has limited the importation of excise goods train two checkpoints - Slobidka and Kuchurgan. In particular, the Ukrainians stopped 40 tanks of fuel destined for Transnistria.

Administration in Tiraspol appealed Ukraine’s decision and asked to Chisinau intrude. Moldova welcomed the decision of Kyiv, which turned rail links in the region "in the legal field."

In practice, this means that Chisinau is now fully controlled by Transnistria's foreign trade.

Moreover, aside from the official rhetoric of Eurasian integration, it is clear that the region is entirely dependent on the West. 80% Transdniestrian exports are directed to the EU and Moldova (one only Romania imports twice as much as Russia).

Moreover, Tiraspol pledged two years to adapt its legislative framework with the rules of free trade with the EU, which helped to keep free trade with the EU.

The sample for Ukraine

Ukraine seriously pondered on the Transnistrian problem when Russia encroached on Ukrainian territory. Until Kyiv often ignored Transnistrian question without understanding its substance.

A striking example - Viktor Yushchenko’s settlement plan, developed by the then Secretary of NSDC Petro Poroshenko.

The plan put Moldova in the same difficult situation in which the Minsk process has put Ukraine. In particular, it was proposed to hold elections and legitimize local elite, and only after the election to discuss the status of the region and remove illegal Russian troops.

Thus both Kyiv and Chisinau, having common goals, might synchronize their actions. The problem is that the Moldovan government is more friendly to Russia than the Ukrainian elites.

From June 2016, there were at least three important events. First of all, excisable goods are now imported two railway checkpoint, and this motivates Tiraspol to cooperate.

Second, Ukraine and Moldova began to do a deal in 2015 for the reopening of the 20-kilometer railway between Berezino station in Odesa region and Moldova Basarabeasca bypassing Transnistria. This will simplify the direct trade between the two countries.

Thirdly, President Poroshenko and Prime Minister of Moldova Pavel Filip announced the joint Ukrainian-Moldovan border controls. The first checkpoint Mayaki-Palanca Convenient, built with the EU support.


Система Orphus

If you find an error, highlight the desired text and press Ctrl + Enter, to tell about it

see more