In the shadow of Ukraine, Moldova is worried. This small, neutral eastern European country of 2.6 million people is already suffering from the consequences of the ongoing war in its neighbour, which has led to more than 400,000 people taking refuge on its territory. But Chisinau (the capital) is especially afraid of the conflict reaching its limits. At the heart of his fears is the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria.
On Wednesday, April 27, gunfire was heard near a Russian munitions depot in this area. The day before, the President of Moldova, Maya Sandu, called the National Security Council to convene after a series of explosions in the same area. “This is an attempt to increase tensions”She denounced, meAndMoldovan authorities guarantee[aient] To prevent the republic from being drawn into conflict.
What is Transnistria?
Located to the east of Moldova, this region is a small country the size of Belgium located between Romania and Ukraine. Transnistria is 450 kilometers long, covering an area of just over 4,100 square kilometers between the Dniester River to the west and the Ukrainian border to the east.
Pro-Russian Transnistria declared itself an independent state in 1992. It has a name (Transnistrian Republic of Moldova, its local abbreviation “PMR”), capital (Tiraspol), president (Vadim Krasnoselsky), constitution, parliament, central bank, currency (the Transnistrian ruble), and system Clean tutorial, flag decorated with sickle and hammer, Soviet relic. However, it is not recognized by the United Nations nor by any country.
Of its population of 500,000, one-third are of Romanian origin, and two-thirds are Russian and Ukrainian. They speak Russian, as Moldavians on the other bank of the Dniester speak Romanian.
Why declared independence from Moldova?
We have to go back before 1992 to understand the geopolitical logic at play in this region. Moldova’s current borders stem from the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, but in the centuries before this region was torn between several powers. Memories still carry traces of this history.
The Principality of Moldavia, whose inhabitants were Roman-speaking, has existed since the middle of the fourteenth centuryAnd a century. After it belonged to the Ottoman Empire in 16And and the seventeenthAnd Centuries, it was divided into two parts in 1812, when the eastern part, called Bessarabia, was conquered by the Russian Empire. The borders of this region are close to the borders of present-day Moldova, without Transnistria. The last Russian Empire invaded since the end of the eighteenth century.And a century.
After World War I, Bessarabia joined the Romanian Kingdom while the lands opposite Transnistria remained within what became the Soviet Union. The latter, in 1924, created the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova (RASSM), which includes the territory of Transdniestria and extends to the east, in part of present-day Ukraine.
she was “A model entity intended to attract the population of Romanian Moldavia and workers from all over the Soviet Union around a new capital, Tiraspol, and a project of modernization and industrialization”, wrote Catherine Durandin, a historian specializing in Romania, and professor emeritus at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO). A condition feeding a fracture between the space Romanian Moldova under the control of Bucharest and the “Soviet RASSM”.
Between 1940 and 1944, Bessarabia was in turn under Soviet occupation, then merged again into Hitler-allied Romania, before being merged with RASSM to become a Soviet Socialist Republic until August 1991. On this date, Moldavia was brought together within the same borders acquired the former Bessarabia Transnistria gained independence.
What happened in 1992?
A civil war broke out in March 1992. The adoption of Romanian as an official language and the loss of influence of Russian speakers within government institutions fueled Transnistria’s anger.
Even before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Moldova was torn between the east and west of the Dniester River. In 1990, Transnistria decided to separate from the rest of the Moldavian SSR, which was afraid of rapprochement with Romania, and asked to become a Russian enclave. In Moscow, the authority rejected this possibility.
For several months, the conflict pitted the Moldovan army against separatist forces supported by Russian soldiers from 14And army. The confrontation caused the deaths of thousands, and the cease-fire signed in July 1992 led to the amputation of part of the territory of Moldova, and the loss of its main industrial basin.
A legacy of Soviet investment in the region, with only 11% of the surface area and 17% of Moldova’s total population in 1989, Transnistria provided more than a third of the country’s GDP and its companies accounted for more than 40% of the economy. fabric. At the time of the separation, Transnistria was twice as rich as the rest of Moldova.
What is the situation since the ceasefire?
The conflict has been frozen for thirty years. A negotiating formula was drawn up after the civil war but it did not lead to a political solution between the two entities. In 2006, during a referendum whose vote was not recognized, Transnistria demanded its independence and linked it to Russia, which it had never recognized as an independent country.
However, the region’s relations with Moscow are strong. Russia partially finances this “phantom state” and supplies it with free gas, for example (the cost of which is charged to Moldova’s debts). This allows, among other things, companies in the breakaway region to produce at a lower cost.
On the military side, at least 1,500 Russian soldiers have been deployed in Transnistria since 1992, as part of what Moscow calls a “peacekeeping mission,” and Russia has a military base in Tiraspol. The departure of these troops is part of the frequent demands of Chisinau. In addition, there are still large stocks of Soviet weapons and ammunition in this region.
But Transnistria is not isolated from Moldova and the European Union, quite the contrary. Housing the main energy production infrastructure, Moldova sells, for example, most of the electricity it needs. More than 70% of its exports were also destined for the European Union in 2019, which, in fact, created an economic dependence while sales to Russia continued to decline in thirty years. Experts estimate, however, that 40-60% of Transdniestria’s GDP depends on smuggling (including arms smuggling and the export of low-tax imported products from Ukraine to Moldova).
What is Moldova’s position on the Ukraine war?
The country has been neutral since 1994, which means it can neither help any of the belligerents, nor join a military alliance like NATO – unlike Ukraine, it never asked. Chisinau has shown support for Ukraine, welcomed many refugees, but has not adopted the sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia, any more than it did in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea.
However, Moldova has tended towards the west for several years. It signed an association agreement with the European Union in 2013, to strengthen their trade relationship and sow the seeds of political rapprochement between them. As early as March 3, a week after the start of the war in Ukraine, Moldova, which has been ruled since 2020 by a pro-European leader, submitted a formal application to join the European Union.
So far, the fighting has not crossed the border between Ukraine and Transnistria. However, statements by a Russian general last week suggested that Moldova may be a target for the Kremlin.
General Rustam Minkayev, deputy commander of the forces of the Central Russian Military District, claimed that Moscow wanted to capture all of southern Ukraine for direct access to this separatist enclave. His speech depicts the Russian-speaking population of Moldova as victims“oppression” Reminds us of one of the pretexts used by Moscow to intervene in Ukraine and ” Defense “ Russian minority.