Will Transnistria be Russia’s Crimea 2.0?

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September 12, 2016 – Fort Russ News – 

– Albert Naryshkin, PolitRussia – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

Pre-election passions are generating sensations not only in Russia and America. On September 9th, the small, unrecognized republic of Transnistria was lit up by the news that the acting president had signed a decree on accession to Russia. The document is entitled “On realizing the outcome of the republican referendum held on September 17th, 2006” and was signed with the aim of “realizing the will of the people of Transnistria on freely unifying with the Russian Federation.” 

In fact, media embellished the event, but later the republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a significant update. Evgeny Shevchuk, it turns out, had merely issued a decree on “harmonizing Transnistrian legislation” so it would comply with the laws of the Russian Federation, as follows from the published decree. Nevertheless, this was enough for the news itself to have a bombshell effect. Should Russia be preparing for a Crimea 2.0? 

Not everything is at it seems at first sight. Of course, Chisinau and even some European media have reacted dramatically to this development. However, everyone understands the objective side of things: Transnistria has no common border with Russia.

The worst of all is that the republic is entirely surrounded by countries that are unfriendly towards Russia, i.e., Ukraine, Romania, and Moldova. As follows, Transnistria’s accession to the Russian Federation appears to be quite problematic. Unlike Kaliningrad, it is yet another enclave that was not gained as a result of the Second World War and is completely blocked by land with no access to the sea.

It should also quickly come to mind that the head of the republic, Evgeny Shevchuk, is now running again for election and experts have assessed his chances as quite poor, even around 50-50. 

His most powerful rival is the current speaker of the Supreme Council, Vadim Krasnoselsky. 

According to the executive director of the Izborsk Club of Moldova, Vladimir Bukarsky, the self-proclaimed republic’s unification with Russia is still unrealistic. 

Bukarsky stated: “This is impossible for Transnistria for one banal reason: the absence of a common border with the Russian Federation. In the medium term, Transnistria’s chances of joining Russia are close to zero. An exception would be if Moldova or Ukraine would decide on a  military adventure against Transnistria.” 

Moreover, experts are inclined to believe that the fate of the republic and, in part, Russia’s image, are being brought up by this local politician exclusively for the sake of his own ambition to retain power. One can recall the story when the previous head of Transnistria, Igor Smirnov, played the same “trick.” 10 years ago, just before elections, Smirnov implemented the same scheme, which largely played in his favor and allowed him to be re-elected.

And Shevchuk, as we have already said, is now in a precarious position that, apparently, is pushing him to opt for such adventures. The director of the International Institute of Newly Founded States, Aleksey Martynov, believes that Transnistria’s unification with Russia is possible only in the case of Moldovan military aggression. Over the past 5 years of rule, Evgeny Shevchuk has failed to overcome the split in society, this Moscow expert believes. 

Martynov stated: “The Supreme Council of the republic remains in opposition to him [Shevchuk]. Apparently, under these circumstances, someone advised him to play the previous Transnistrian head’s trick. The popularity of the slogan of unifying with Russia in the unrecognized republic is a result of dissatisfaction with local authorities’ policies. This applies not only to Transnistria, but also to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Donbass. The work of local administrations should be improved along with that of those people in Moscow responsible for ties with these unrecognized or partially recognized states so that people don’t experience such disappointment.”

Formally, according to the best Soviet traditions, this is all done exclusively “upon workers’ requests.” In any case, the deputy head of Transnistria’s foreign ministry, Dmitry Palamarchuk, explained the latest developments in the republic in the following way:

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“In spring, we conducted comprehensive opinion surveys, and the population absolutely, unambiguously expressed the same spirit as in the referendum. This course fully accords with the will of the people and is shared by all of the republic’s political forces. Transnistrian President Evgeny Shevchuk’s decree on preparing for unification with Russia prescribes concrete tasks on how to bring together Transnistrian and Russian legislation. I hope that after the decree, this work will take on a more consistent form.” 

In Moscow, similar initiatives “in their place” have been met in a very lukewarm manner. Russia has enough problems with guaranteeing supplies to our peacekeepers deployed there, and the destabilization of the situation and other provocative statements are capable of creating very unpleasant consequences for us. In any case, the current government has chosen “not to notice” this development. The Russian president’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, officially chose to abandon making any comments even when directly asked: 

“I cannot answer this question as I’m not aware of any reaction from Moscow. What grounds such actions are based on must be understood. Lacking details, I cannot comment in any way.”

The foreign ministry was also silent on the matter. But State Duma deputies feel themselves more free to express their opinions, especially those from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, who are highly sympathetic to their ruling communist colleagues in Tiraspol. The member of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs and Relations with Compatriots, Oleg Pakholkov, stated:

“Moldovia’s message is: ‘if you are not going to elect a president who is ready to unite the country on federative terms, then Transnistria can wag its tail and leave for Russia.” 

However, all of this populist vanity leaves us to think just how possible in reality it is for Transnistria to repeat the Abkhazian, South Ossetian, or even Crimean scenario. 

As we’ve already seen, experts don’t treat this like pure political fiction, but they do stipulate that there is such a possibility in the case of entirely different factors and events, but this is not a question of the actions of local authorities. Everything boils down to depending on the behavior of Chisinau, not Tiraspol. Or, in an extreme case, it depends on a provocation by Ukraine.

Almost all experts are sure that, if the ceasefire is violated and the conflict is “unfrozen,” as in Georgia in 2008, then Russia can give a tough response. There is no reason to doubt that the Russian defense ministry has developed plans for such scenarios, planned routes for supplying and supporting the peacekeeping contingent there, as well as for strengthening it in the event that the situation escalates out of control. 

A reinforced squadron of the Black Sea Fleet is now stationed in Crimea which includes an aircraft carrier. The majority of vessels are equipped with combat equipment not only for sea, but also for land. Thus, our armed forces are definitely capable of breaking the blockade and establishing contact routes with the Transnistrian Republic.

But at the current moment, Russia absolutely does not need to do this. We do not need an aggravation of the frozen Transnistrian conflict. 

Most likely, Russia will, through both open and closed channels, let it be known that it does not intend to support such provocations on the part of individual politicians from Tiraspol. This means that Russia is not going to unleash a military conflict in the interests of one local leader who is having election problems. Most likely, Russia will even try to calm him down so that he will refrain from such drastic moves if he wants Russian support to continue. 

But, in the event that Moldova decides to break the truce and open fire on our peacekeepers, then Russia will undoubtedly respond. One thing is settling in this situation: since August 2008, there are no fools left in Chisinau who would opt for such a suicidal move. And the adventurists in Tiraspol will almost certainly be calmed down by Russia itself. 

Thus, no deterioration in this region should be expected. 

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