CAN TRANSDNESTR WIN INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION?


13.12.06
MOSCOW. (Andrei Suzdaltsev for RIA Novosti)

Transdnestr, a breakaway region of Moldova, held a regular presidential election in line with its constitution on December 10.
In September 2006, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) refused to recognize a referendum on the independence of that narrow patch of land on the eastern bank of the Dniester River. Neither does it intend to recognize the results of the December presidential election because it upholds the principle of the territorial integrity of Moldova.
Therefore, the OSCE is trying to prove that the political system of Transdnestr is undemocratic and even autocratic. Apart from that, the organization has one more priority objective in the region: to ensure the final withdrawal of Russian troops from Transdnestr.
For the years of de facto independence the breakaway republic has proven its viability, maintained its economic stability, and developed a financial system and social sphere. It has all the usual branches of power, including an effective bipartisan parliament.
Transdnestr has quickly learned the political ropes in the region, exploiting the opportunities offered by political and economic difficulties in Moldova, Ukraine and even Russia. The government in Tiraspol, the capital, has used everything it could to its advantage, from interest in the output of its plants and mistrust of the West to nostalgia for the Soviet Union.
The breakaway republic has been fighting tooth and nail for its survival, because its leaders know that each day of independent life increases its political stature.
In the early 1990s, the future of Transdnestr could be decided by Russia, Ukraine and Moldova, with the latter playing a rather passive role, whereas today negotiations cannot even start without Tiraspol’s political will. Transdnestr is a de facto independent, though unrecognized, state.
As the republic moves away from a “frozen conflict,” its relations with the OSCE are deteriorating. A veritable crisis darkened relations between Tiraspol and the OSCE mission in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, this autumn.
Since September, the sides have been exchanging words and even fighting.
On November 12, members of the OSCE mission physically prevented the deputy education minister of Transdnestr from entering a school in Bendery.
On December 9, Tiraspol accused the OSCE of financing the election campaign of a presidential candidate. It also claims that the OSCE is organizing special operations against Transdnestr.
For all intents and purposes, relations between the two sides have been severed.
The OSCE mission, which was sent to Moldova in 1993, has not always played a negative role. It should be said, for fairness’s sake, that it has done a good deal to normalize Tiraspol-Chisinau relations at the level of ordinary people and businesses. The OSCE hoped that the Chisinau authorities would use the peaceful situation to demonstrate to the Transdnestrians the advantages of living in a united country, but the result was quite the opposite.
The OSCE scored a major victory at the Istanbul summit in 1999, where Russia pledged to withdraw its troops from Transdnestr. However, there were about 1,500 Russian servicemen in the republic this year.
This is one of the main reasons for tension between Russia and the OSCE, although the latter respects Tiraspol’s desire to keep the Russian military in the republic. However, the organization believes that the territorial consolidation of Moldova would be given a political boost if Russian troops left Transdnestr, irrespective of the possibility that violence would erupt.
Tiraspol thinks that the OSCE is paving the way for NATO peacekeepers to enter the self-proclaimed republic.
Seeking to oust Russian peacekeepers from the region, the OSCE did its best in 2003 to prevent the adoption of Dmitry Kozak’s plan providing for the federalization (with elements of confederation) of Moldova. The plan put forth by the special representative of the Russian president in the Southern Federal District also stipulated the deployment of Russian troops in Transdnestr for 20 more years as guarantors of peace.
The OSCE used this as a pretext for torpedoing the “asymmetric federation” of Moldova, Transdnestr and Gagauzia, another breakaway region of Moldova.
In 2005, the OSCE cold-shouldered proposals advanced by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko because his plan did not stipulate the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transdnestr.
The organization was especially irked by the proposal to grant Tiraspol the status of an international entity in the event of the collapse of Moldova as an independent state. The OSCE’s actions created grounds for accusing it of a desire to see Moldova incorporated into Romania.
Ukraine, which has territorial disputes with Romania, could not accept such a radical redrawing of borders on its western flank.
Moldova and the OSCE were shocked by Yushchenko’s proposal to give the international community a chance to establish direct contacts with Tiraspol. Yushchenko’s proposals, which were made two years after the OSCE rejected Kozak’s federalization plan as too radical and pro-Russian, turned out to be closer to giving Transdnestr independence than the Kozak plan. Time is on Tiraspol’s side, and the OSCE knows this.
The legal recognition of Transdnestr’s independence would greatly complicate the OSCE’s plan to oust Russian troops from the region, but the organization cannot stop the breakaway republic from becoming a subject of international law.
It has no illusions on this account. The more complicated the social and economic situation in Moldova, the closer it will resemble what in Western terminology is known as a failed state, and the more confident Transdnestr will feel. The OSCE’s options will be limited to the goal of spreading democracy to Transdnestr.
Europe can hardly ignore a region where democratic procedures have become a fact of life. If it chooses to do so, geopolitical interests will inevitably clash with the norms of democracy in Europe itself.
Transdnestr has won a political victory, and its only road to independence lies through strengthening democracy. This is why the OSCE will do its best to prove that the political system in the breakaway republic is undemocratic, its institutes of legislative power are decorative, the republic is ruled by clans, and its executive branch is infested with crime.
Unfortunately, the political reality in Transdnestr gives the OSCE a lot of material for criticism. Igor Smirnov’s fourth election victory may give the residents of Transdnestr tactical advantages in upholding the policy of independence, but its practical result will be to postpone Tiraspol’s international recognition as a sovereign republic.

Andrei Suzdaltsev is an expert at the Higher School of Economics -0-