April 26, 2018 – Fort Russ News –
By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold –
On April 25th, the President of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Transnistria), Vadim Krasnoselsky, met with his counterpart, the President of Moldova, Igor Dodon. Following the meeting, Krasnoselsky confirmed that the republic remains firm in its opposition to the withdrawal of the Operative Group of Russian Troops on which both the government and parliament of Moldova have insisted.
It would seem, thus, that nothing new has happened. Each side has retained its stance. President Dodon continues to play the pro-Russian card, one of whose elements is “constructive dialogue” with Transnistria, while the Russia-oriented Transnistrian leadership has remained firm amidst the republic’s continued surrounding by enemies, an increasingly and especially active one of which is Ukraine.
Nevertheless, some emerging changes can be detected under the delicate surface of tensions.
The situation surrounding the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic is escalating, although not yet to the point of no return. A direct military clash is not yet in the cards, unlike when things were much hotter in October 2017, when several kilometers from the Transnistrian border, Bulboaca hosted the JCET 2017 military exercises involving troops from Moldova, Romania, and the US. Disputes over the participation of Moldovan troops in these exercises erupted into a sharp conflict between Moldovan President Dodon and the Moldovan government, which ended with the humiliation of the president and the drastic restriction of his authority.
The danger of today’s situation is different. Ukraine has joined the economic blockade of Transnistria, and the Transnistria-Ukraine border is set to be jointly controlled by Moldovan and Ukrainian forces. This not only severely restricts the freedom of movement of people and goods across the border, but leaves Transnistria completely landlocked between Moldova and Ukraine.
The blockade has already severely affected the socio-economic situation and moods in the republic. Transnistrians have perceived the blockade as a treacherous stab in the back from Ukraine. The PMR’s population of 500,000 consists of nearly three equal parts: Russians, Ukrainians, and Moldovans. There are also fairly numerous minority ethnic groups (Bulgarians, Germans, etc.). The ethnically diverse republic might thus be faced with humanitarian crisis and even catastrophe. This is probably just what the Ukrainian government wants to achieve.
Another unpleasant surprise from Ukraine is Kiev’s latest initiative calling for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the republic. Ukrainian authorities have claimed that they are “concerned” by the presence of Russian troops (1,600 in total) in Transnistria posing a “military threat” to “sovereign Ukraine.” Of course, such a small number of peacekeeping troops does not pose any threat to the Ukrainian Armed Forces which, after all, is according to Ukrainian propagandists supposed to be “one of the strongest armies of Europe.”
In reality, the Poroshenko regime is guided by other motives in this initiative, namely, annoying and provoking Russia by creating insurmountable problems to its presence in the PMR. Approximately half of the republic’s population (around 220,000-250,000 people) are Russian citizens, and Russia’s peacekeeping contingent is already in a painful situation. The absence of any land or sea corridor makes supplying the Operative Group of Russian Troops possible only via air, which both Moldova and Romania have already seriously tried to hinder. Several egregious incidents have already taken place, such as when a civilian aircraft from Russia carrying Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin was not allowed to enter Romanian airspace. Politicians, deputies, and even artists from Russia landing at the Chisinau airport have been demonstratively deported.
The Moldovan authorities are acting on instructions from Romania, which is a NATO and EU member hosting US missiles. The paradox is that a significant portion of Moldova’s two-million-strong population work in Russia. Thus, Chisinau is pursuing an aggressive policy against its very own creditor – Moscow.
For unknown reasons, Moscow has thus far tolerated the antics of the politicians of the poorest country in Europe. Others, meanwhile, such as Ukraine, have not been so calm in pursuing their “interests.” The different interests involved in this situation and the surrounding region, and their implications will be examined in our next piece.
Continued in Part 2
Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation.