1 – Transnistria: From entropy to exodus
BSSB.BE ecfr.eu 21.10.2016
Transnistria is no place for young people. An economy in crisis. Few job prospects. An aging population. This sliver of land is effectively stuck in Soviet times, no matter how hard it tried to progress. The newest generations dream of leaving – and leaving for Russia.
Transnistria declared its independence from Moldova shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, and has only continued to exist since then because of Russian money andpeace-keeping forces. It was thanks to soldiers from the Russian 14th Army regiment, stationed in Transnistria, that pro-Transnistrian forces managed to repel Moldovan troops in the 1990–1992 war. Since then, Russia has been considered the guarantor of Transnistria’s security and its economic lifeline.
This idea has been deeply entrenched in the population’s collective mindset thanks to Russian propaganda and a Soviet education system. A new generation has grown up on the ideals and standards of the Soviet Union, quaintly irrelevant in the modern world. The fighting in Ukraine and frustration at Moldova’s pro-European government have only confirmed the notion of Russia as the guarantor of peace in Transnistria.
Transnistria remains internationally unrecognised – except by other unrecognised republics such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These three breakaway regions established a “union of unrecognised states” in 1992, which is also referred to as the “second CIS”, and exists more on paper than in reality. This means that in Tiraspol there are now official representations of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Attempts to establish economic cooperation between the members have not been particularly successful, largely for geographic reasons, but also because economic cooperation embarked upon for political reasons, and irrespective of interest, will rarely amount to much.
Transnistria’s security guarantor
- As for Russia’s 14th Army regiment, most of the personnel and equipment have been withdrawn from Transnistria now, in accordance with agreements between Moldova and Russia signed more than ten years ago.
- Now there is one operational group of Russian troops stationed in Transnistria with two main tasks. The first is to protect local military warehouses, which store explosives from Soviet times that are too dangerous to move or destroy.
- The second task is the peacekeeping operation. The peacekeepers are made up of four infantry battalions split between Russian, Moldovan, and Transnistrian soldiers. Currently, the joint peacekeeping forces include about 1,200 troops – 402 Russian, 492 Transnistrian, and 355 Moldovan, with 10 Ukrainian military observers.
- The peacekeepers are stationed at 15 checkpoints in key areas of the security zone – a 12–24 kilometre wide borderland that stretches 225 kilometres along the Dniester River. Because of the Ukraine crisis, the Russian officers who were previously able to get to Transnistria by transiting through the Ukrainian city of Odesa now have to fly to Moldova directly.
In recent times, the Moldovan authorities have proven reluctant to allow them to do even that. Some have been deported back to Russia upon arrival. Moscow sent a note of protest through the Foreign Ministry, but nothing more than that. Instead, it began to import more agricultural produce from Gagauzia – a historically Russian but autonomous territory in southern Moldova. This was to show the Moldovan government that political loyalty can bring economic benefits. Therefore, it is thought that approximately 90 percent of operational Russian troops are actually Transnistrians who also have Russian citizenship.
Moscow used to provide its military units in Transnistria with all the necessary goods and supplies, but these days it is forced to send funds instead. It is not possible, however, for Russia to ensure that the funds are spent properly because of the inability of high-ranking Russian troops to transit through Moldova. At best, Moscow is kept informed of cases of corruption occurring locally.
The media landscape
However, the visit of Kazbek Taysaev – a State Duma deputy from the Communist faction – suggests that Shevchuk is desperately seeking support from Russia, even among relatively unpopular political forces.
Almost a third of the media market (28 percent) belongs to the Sheriff company, which funds the main parliamentary faction, the Renewal party. Two percent of Transnistria’s media is independent thanks to Western grants. Despite the increasing confrontation between the legislative branch of government (supported by Sheriff) and the executive (Shevchuk), they have agreed on one main point:
Russia is the only possible guarantor of peace on the Dniester and there can be only one political aim – closer ties with Russia. As for TV, Transnistria is dominated by Russian state channels that are included in the basic Sheriff cable TV package. Several Ukrainian and Romanian channels, plus a Moldovan one, are included in other cable TV packages.
Economy in crisis
Transnistria’s economy is in deep crisis and its banking system is poorly integrated into the international economy, making it difficult to complete international payments. So-called state and commercial banks are merely branches of Russian financial institutions.
- The local currency is the Transnistrian rouble, artificially pegged at 11.3 roubles to the dollar. Since mid-March, money-change offices here have stopped selling any foreign currency, making it difficult, if not impossible, to travel outside Transnistria.
- Economically speaking, Transnistria is more connected with the EU than it is Russia. In January–February 2016, Transnistria exported products worth $30 million to Europe, Asia, and America, while only $3 million worth of goods were sent to Russia.
- However, when it comes to imports, Russia is the partner of choice, being the destination of $88 million of goods, while Europe, Asia, and America accounted for just $25 million.
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