Transnistria: The Next European Republic To Rejoin Russia?

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The little acknowledged sliver of land to the east of the Dniester River in Moldova is set to be another thorn in the side of European cartographers as the unrecognized republic’s Foreign Minister Vitaly Ignatiev stated last week that the region is maintaining its course for independence with eventual accession to Russia.

The region shares a 405km border with Ukraine and is part of the Dniester Valley. It had been part of Moldova, however engineered a split with the Moldovan government in 1990. Fiercely independent, it has historic issues with Moldovia, Ukraine and Romania and wished to remain independent, yet under the protection of Moscow following the dissolution of the USSR, mainly due to historical violence and disagreements with Moldova over potential re-unification with Romania to the West. Fierce medieval and on-going historic battles between Romanian and Transnistrian troops have occurred over the centuries with the Transnistrian’s keen to maintain control of the Dniester River’s east bank, a situation which prevails today – as does their desire to maintain allegiance to Moscow as their preferred protector. Following skirmishes in 1991, Russian troops moved in and have kept the peace – and Transnistria – intact. The Russian conflict with Ukraine has only made the Transnistria region more determined to re-join Russia, and especially as the Ukraine has expressed its desire to join the European Union, which the Transnistrians do not wish to do for being forced to accept Romania as a partner state.

Although the peace between Moldova and Transnistria ceasefire has held for the past three decades, 2022 also represents the 30th year of Transnistrian effective autonomy, although the territory’s political status remains unresolved: Transnistria is an unrecognised but de facto independent presidential republic with its own government, parliament, military, police, postal system, currency, and vehicle registration. Transnistria has a constitution, flag, national anthem, and coat of arms.

Ignatiev stated on Friday that “Transnistria’s foreign policy vector remains unchanged: it is independence and subsequent accession to the Russian Federation, which was approved at the 2006 referendum. This vector was supported by 98% of the participants in the plebiscite. After that, the Transnistrian Supreme Council asked the Russian State Duma, the Federation Council and the president of Russia to recognize the republic as a sovereign independent state.”

Since 1992, when a ceasefire was agreed, the Russian military have been ensuring stability is maintained in the region in cooperation with both Moldovan and Transnistrian officials, while encouraging Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, and Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, to hold talks to settle the conflict. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Russia and Ukraine act as mediators and guarantors in these talks. That situation has now changed with the Russia-Ukraine conflict and Moldova seeking to join the European Union, which to the Transnistrian’s would mean a de facto absorption with the hated Romania.

Transnistria has a population of about 350,000 and a GDP of about US$1 billion. Transnistrian’s GDP per capita is higher than that of Moldova.

Transnistria’s leading industry is steel, due to the Moldova Steel Works (part of the Russian Metalloinvest holding) in Rîbnița, which accounts for about 60% of the budget revenue of Transnistria. The largest company in the textile industry is Tirotex, which claims to be the second largest textile company in Europe. The energy sector is dominated by Russian companies. The largest power company Moldavskaya GRES (Kuchurgan power station) is in Dnestrovsc and owned by Inter RAO UES, while the gas transmission and distribution company Tiraspoltransgas is controlled by Gazprom. The banking sector of Transnistria consists of 8 commercial banks, including Gazprombank. The oldest alcohol producer KVINT, located in Tiraspol, produces and exports brandy, wines and vodka.

Transnistria therefore adds an additional layer of complexity to the Ukraine conflict, as Ukrainian territory cuts it off from direct access to the Black Sea to the South, with the southern part of Odessa Oblast to the West almost cut off from the northern section by Transnistrian and Moldovan territory.

There is no love lost between Transnistria, Moldova, and Romania either, which is problematic when one considers Kiev is so pro-EU, and Romania is a member state.

Romania joined the invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, providing equipment and oil to Nazi Germany as well as committing more troops to the Eastern Front than all the other German allies. Romanian forces played a large role during fighting in Ukraine, Bessarabia, Stalingrad and elsewhere. Romanian troops were responsible for the persecution and massacre of 260,000 Jews in Romanian-controlled territories, including in Moldova, Transnistria, and Odessa, while it should be noted that Odessa itself had some 25,000 civilian’s massacred by Romanian troops outside the city walls and another 30,000 deported to Nazi death camps.

This means there is fierce opposition in Odessa to EU membership, while the Odessa Port city was the capital of the then Transnistria region for a number of years – links are deep. As can be seen, the situation is complex and historic emotions run high.

With Russian troops now seemingly intent on taking the Odessa Port, if successful (it should be pointed out many Odessans would welcome a return to Russia) the situation as concerns Transnistria would become clearer. What hasn’t been acknowledged within the region is that there remains very little appetite in either Odessa or Transnistria to join with Romania within the European Union, a stated objective for Kiev.

The region is not featuring in Ukrainian conflict news at present, however given the dynamics at play it can only be a matter of time before it does.

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