On March 15, 2022, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted to recognize Transnistria, a separatist state in eastern Moldova, as a region occupied by Russia. While the resolution was unopposed in the PACE, it raised tensions along the Dniester and highlighted the deep political divide that exists within Moldova.
The separatist authorities in Transnistria criticized the PACE’s decision. On March 16, the de-facto Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement claiming that the PACE’s decision could have destabilizing consequences and reiterated that the 1000+ troops stationed in Transnistria are merely “peacekeepers.”
Transnistria’s condemnation of the PACE’s resolution is unsurprising. In 1992, Transnistria won de-facto independence from Moldova, thanks to military assistance from the Russian Army, and for the past thirty years it has been able to maintain this status thanks to assistance from Russia.
While the rest of the international community considers Transnistria part of Moldova, Transnistria considers itself an independent and sovereign state. The PACE’s designation of Transnistria as a Russian occupied region directly challenges the separatist’s narrative.
Russian troops stationed in Transnistria provide Tiraspol with security guarantees, and Moscow provides the region with free gas and a considerable amount of economic and humanitarian aid. However, Transnistria has been trying to downplay its “pro-Russian” orientation, particularly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Unlike other Russian-backed separatist states, the de-facto authorities of Transnistria are yet to officially endorse Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, since 2016, the de-facto President Vadim Krasnoselsky has gone to great lengths to distance Transnistria from the pro-Russian separatist states in the Donbas.
Transnistria’s unanimous condemnation of the PACE’s resolution is to be expected, as it simultaneously undermines its claim to statehood and draws it closer towards a potential conflict with Ukraine, one of its main trading partners.
The resolution to recognize Transnistria as occupied, has had a far more divisive impact in the Republic of Moldova, as nominally pro-European parties have welcomed the motion, while pro-Russian parties have condemned it.
The Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), a pro-European party currently holding a parliamentary majority in Moldova, stated that they support the motion. Moreover, representatives from PAS in the PACE voted in favor of the resolution. The country’s President, Maia Sandu, also offered her support for the motion.
The pro-Russian Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM), on the other hand, condemned the PACE’s resolution, and labeled it as “short-sighted.” Like the separatists in Transnistria, the PSRM also characterized the motion as provocative and criticized PAS for supporting it.
Likewise, the Shor Party, a minor populist opposition party, also criticized the PACE’s resolution. The party’s leader, notorious businessman Ilan Shor, claimed that PAS was attempting to drag Moldova into the west’s war with Russia by supporting the motion. To prevent this, Shor called on the people to take to the streets and demand early elections.
Moldova’s third-largest parliamentary party, the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM), has yet to officially comment on the resolution. However, given the PCRM’s pro-Russian orientation and their stance on neutrality, as well as their regular criticism of PAS and Sandu, it is unlikely that they will support it.
The PACE’s resolution recognizes that the Russian military is stationed on Moldovan soil without Chisinau’s consent. Yet, it also highlighted the political divisions within the country, and demonstrated that the pro-Russian opposition parties and the separatists in Transnistria hold similar opinions.