No nation recognizes the declared independence of the former Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (Moldavian SSR) territory of Pridnestrovie, with Russia as its main backer. (Pridnestrovie is otherwise known as Transdniestria and closely related spellings.) In some circles, these attributes are suggestively used to belittle the disputed territory in question. (The disputed former Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is another example of a completely non-recognized independence claim, nevertheless receiving a noticeable amount of support from an internationally recognized country – in this instance Armenia.)
Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for separatist movements to greatly rely on outside help, in one form or another. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) essentially served as the Kosovo Liberation Army’s (KLA) air force. France played a decisive role in securing the independence of 13 American colonies from British rule. In Pridnestrovie, there appears to be no evidence that Moldova’s government has anywhere near the same level of support as the political structure in that contested land.
Putting aside the influential geopolitical maneuvering of the big powers, from a purely historical and human rights perspective, Pridnestrovie’s independence claim fares better than Kosovo’s. Moldova’s historical claim to Pridnestrovie is weaker than Serbia’s historical relationship with Kosovo. The politically repackaged KLA is not (in overall terms) ethically superior to the political elites in Pridnestrovie. Kosovo does not appear to have a better state of ethnic relations than Pridnestrovie.
The Russian led recognition of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence occurred shortly after the 2008 armed Georgian government strike into South Ossetia. Unlike the other former Communist bloc disputed territorial situations, the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic is the only area that has seen a full scale war since the 1990s. The Russian government’s independence recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is influenced by this dynamic, along with the troubled post-Soviet Russian-Georgian relationship.
There is more to what some have portrayed vis-a-vis the United Russia dominated Russian government indicating a preference for Anatoly Kaminsky’s recent election bid as Pridnestrovie’s president. Kaminsky ended up finishing second to Yevgeny Shevchuk. Without considering a few particulars, while relying on some of the standard English language mass media coverage of Pridnestrovie’s election, it appears especially reasonable to ask Russian officialdom: why risk the possibility (however remote) of betting on the wrong horse and offer your detractors an overbearing image?
Going into Pridnestrovie’s presidential vote, the Russian government indicated displeasure with the then president of Pridnestrovie Igor Smirnov, who was not particularly liked by Moldova and the West. The Kremlin did not exhibit such negativity towards Shevchuk. Kaminsky’s Renewal Party has a working relationship (of sorts) with United Russia. Shevchuk ran as an independent.
Russia is by no means the only major power to wish that the head of a territory step down. The conduct of the election in Pridnestrovie and Russia’s reply to the result seems more civil than what has been evident in some situations involving other countries. As reported in media and without additional information, the fatal New Year’s Day shooting of an individual at a Moldova-Pridnestrovie checkpoint was quite likely an incident between an unruly person and a frustratingly motivated border patrol response, that perhaps or probably (especially in retrospect) should have shown greater restraint, as opposed to a calculated action to heighten political tensions. (The preceding is carefully stated in a way to not jump to conclusions. Since the fatal incident, an announced investigation is underway, along with a plan to change the checkpoint conditions. Upon the release of this article, please excuse if any new information on this story is not included.)
Elsewhere, it has been said that Shevchuk is somewhat of a geopolitical version of Viktor Yushchenko. Of the major presidential candidates who ran in Pridnestrovie’s presidential election, Shevchuk appears to come the closest to Yushchenko. For now, it is not certain that Shevchuk will reach the geopolitical level of Yushchenko (as in taking noticeably partisan positions against Russian preferences).
Pridnestrovie has limited options, thereby providing a reason to believe that Shevchuk’s current position (in support of Pridnestrovie having better ties with the West, while remaining close to Russia) will not significantly change. So far, the major players in Pridnestrovie and beyond are expressing an optimistic attitude on the election result in the disputed former Moldavian SSR territory.
Russia and Pridnestrovie have a unique relationship that is not so typical. The result of Pridnestrovie’s referendum in 2006 overwhelmingly supports a continued independence and future affiliation as part of Russia. (A similarly stated referendum in 1991 expressed the same overwhelming desire. For more on these referendums, see “Haggling Over the Former Moldavian SSR Dispute,” American Chronicle, May 26, 2010, with a hyperlinked June 7, 2010 version at Eurasia Review.)
The political culture in Pridnestrovie has some concern about potentially losing its standing as part of Moldova, with a Western neoconservative and neoliberal leaning influence in the background. A mutually accepted settlement agreement that formally recognizes Moldova and Pridnestrovie as one nation would likely have to grant considerable autonomy to Pridnestrovie. These last thoughts bring to mind my suggestion for a former Moldavian SSR settlement, as presented at the 2009 World Russia Forum in Washington DC and beforehand.
Premised on a historical review and the respective positions of the parties in dispute, a compromise for a former Moldavian SSR settlement is the creation of a union state of autonomous republics on territory comprising the former Moldavian SSR – with the understanding that such an entity would not join NATO, while having the option of joining the European Union (EU) – the latter which is quite possibly meaningless (given the limited probability of former Moldavian SSR territory joining the EU as a full member anytime soon, if ever), but one for Western neoliberal and neoconservatives to maybe feel relatively PR comfy enough with.
In this scenario, Pridnestrovie would not be part of Moldova, in a similar way that Scotland is not part of England and vice-versa (while both are in the United Kingdom) and New Jersey is not part of New York and vice-versa (with both being in the United States).
Not to be completely ruled out is something less for Pridnestrovie, on the possibility of influential power broker Russia feeling that it will get something deemed as good from the West and/or Moldova – in return for the possibility of Pridnestrovie being less self governed and more distant from Russia.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic.
The above article is a longer version of the one that was placed at Foreign Policy Journal on January 7.
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Pavlo Skoropadsky and the Course of Russian-Ukrainian Relations
Beyond the Edward Lucas-Peter Hitchens Exchange on Russia and Ukraine
The Future of Russia-NATO Relations
Differences Over Disputed Territories
Haggling Over the Former Moldavian SSR Dispute
Addressing Some Views About Bandera, Ukraine and Russia