|CAN TRANSDNESTR WIN INTERNATIONAL
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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-