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Transnistria in crisis, the forgotten breakaway state of Moldova

On 14-15 December, during the EU Summit, the EU leaders decided to open accession talks with Moldova, marking a significant moment for Moldova's integration into the EU. On the other hand, the conflict of the de facto state of Transnistria within the Moldovan proper remains far from resolution. 


Since the Russian aggression in Ukraine last February, Europe has undergone enormous turbulence in the energy market. Moldova, being a post-Soviet country as well as the neighbouring country of Ukraine, inevitably fell victim to the repercussions of the war. With the sudden cut off of the natural gas supply the previous winter and blackouts due to the Russian missile attack in Ukraine, Moldova has been facing skyrocketing energy prices leading to high inflation and unaffordable energy bills. While much attention has been paid to the unfortunate events in Ukraine, Transnistria, the de facto state (1) of Moldova, was barely mentioned by the media. Interestingly, the ongoing Russian-Ukraine War still left its marks on the Moldovan separatist region. 



Soviet Legacy in Transnistria 


One must dive into the historical aspect to understand how much of an influence Russia has on Transnistria, unlike most post-soviet separatist regions where conflicts occurred due to ethnic diversity. In the case of Transnistria, conflict was driven by territorial allegiance rather than ethnicity. 


The pro-Russian sentiment in the Moldovan separatist region stems from the Soviet legacy. When the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic was formed, the left bank of the Dniester River and the northern part of Bessarabia were also included due to the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which is the thin strip of what is the de facto separatist region – Transnistria. During that period, mass migration from Russia and Ukraine to the left bank of the river was encouraged for industrialization. However, at the same time, strong policies of Russification were promoted, as well as the Moldovan language. Mass migration and the process of Russification eventually resulted in a division among elites, with the right bank sided with Romania and the other with Moscow's Russification agenda. "This division translated into a competition for economic resources and favours from Moscow." The separatist region's pro-Russian sentiment can also be observed in Russia'sRussia's military presence.

The Frozen Conflict 


In the final years of the Soviet Union, a secessionist movement took place due to the 'division, resulting in the confrontations between politicians who called for the unification with Romania and the ethnic Russians in Transnistria. Nevertheless, in 1992, when a Civil War took place, the Russian-backed Transnistria declared itself independent, officially known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), despite not being recognized collectively and internationally. 


A recent update on the breakaway region suggests that the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) had condemned Russia's aggression against Ukraine since February 2022, especially on their illegal "occupation of its Transnistrian region". Unfortunately, the issue of the frozen conflict is not likely to dissolve despite intensive supervision from the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, as Russia has been excluded from the Council of Europe and is no longer obliged to implement any decisions after September 2022. 



Energy paradox: Moldavskaya GRES power plant versus Moldovagaz 


The Soviet legacy not only led to a divergence of opinion in terms of allegiance to Russia, but the energy infrastructure was also as heavily impacted under the Soviet regime, resulting in Moldova generating only 10% of its electricity supply, the other 70% from Transnistria (Moldavskaya GRES power plant) and 20 % from Ukraine. 


On 22 November 2022, an X post (formerly known as Twitter) by Russia's Gazprom claimed the reason behind the cut off of gas supply to Moldova was due to Moldova's late payment. Many believed that the actual reason behind it was geopolitical, very likely associated with Moldova's recent pro-EU trajectory, argued Moldovan deputy prime minister Andrei Spînu. Moreover, Russia applying pressure through Gazprom due to Moldova's pro-EU trajectory has ignited Moldova's pro-Russian opposition parties, forming a schism within the already chaotic country. Russia's decision directly impacted Moldova's gas supply due to its high dependence on Russian gas. Such a reaction only led to restricting gas supplies from Moldovagaz to Transnistria, which then naturally received a negative response from Tiraspol, blaming Moldova for causing the economic crisis and even the suspension of electricity supply from Moldavskaya GRES power plant to Moldova proper.



A peaceful resolution? 


According to bne IntelliNews, there are three drivers to ensure the future resolution to the Transnistria conflict remains peaceful. First would be Moldova's pro-EU trajectory. As Moldova is already one of the candidate countries, they are obligated to resolve the conflict through peaceful negotiations to comply with European values of peace and stability. 

The second driver is the structural deficiency of Moldova's military apparatus. According to the 1994 constitution provisions of Moldova as a neutral state, "[t]he Republic of Moldova shall not allow the dispersal of foreign military troops on its territory." 


Finally, the third driver suggested an increase of dependency of Transnistria on the Moldova proper. While the EU and the U.S. have been bridging the gap of energy dependence and infrastructure of Moldova on Transnistria, Ukraine ensured the disconnection of Transnistria to Moscow and the global market, leaving the separatist region no choice but to depend on Moldovan proper and potentially the EU. 


The future path of Transnistria remains to be determined. Suppose a peaceful resolution to the conflict were ever successful. In that case, Moldova still faces possible repercussions, such as a socio-economic collapse of the separatist region and a refugee crisis. 


Edited By: Josh Reidelbach


Photo: Balkan Insight/Transnistrian diplomacy website


(1) A de facto state or a 'pseudo-states';' quasi-states is defined as, according to Kolossov and O'Loughlin (1999); Kolstø (2006), a state that has "for a period of two years or greater, established territorial control in a distinct geographic region and proclaimed itself an independent sovereign polity but failed to acquire widespread international recognition and legitimacy ..." (O'Loughlin et al., 2015,p.424)



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