Stalemate in the negotiations to end the stand-off were motivated further in 1995 by the severe food crisis and rapid inflation in the TMR and the election of Petru Lucinschi in 1996 as President of Moldova. Lucinschi argued that his good contacts in Moscow (he had been First Secretary of the Central Committee of Moldovan Communist Party and later, a member of the CPSU Central Committee and a member of the Politburo) would help to gain Russian support for the Moldovan position. By the middle of 1997, further Russian pressure to reach agreement resulted in the signing by Presidents Smirnov and Lucinschi of a memorandum in Moscow on May 8, 1997 that provided a basis for a settlement. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and Niels Helveg Petersen, the acting chief of the OSCE mission to Moldova, also signed the memorandum as guarantors. The agreement states that the two sides will develop ties within a single state existing inside Moldova's January 1990 borders but the special status of the TMR still has to be negotiated. President Smirnov especially welcomed the fact that two large countries--Russia and Ukraine-- became the guarantors of the TMR sovereignty (RFE/RL Newsline, May 9, 1998).
Further agreements between Moldova and the TMR reached in Odessa on March 20, 1998 in the presence of President Kuchma (Ukraine) and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin have not been met. The main aim of these confidence building measures is to build trust, open bridges to trans-Dniester traffic and to decrease the presence of military forces in the region. The bridge at Dubossary has not yet become available to heavy trucks and the TMR insists that the bridge can only be open if a bilateral agreement is signed which will exclude its use for military purposes. Also proposed is a reduction of the peacekeepers to 500 troops from each of the participating countries and an invitation for Ukrainian peacekeepers into the security zone. (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 4, 1998, 5).
The ongoing problems of the TMR can be illustrated by the current situation in the city of Bendery, a predominantly Russian-speaking, multi-ethnic industrial center where 98% of its population voted in 1990 for the sovereignty of Transniestria. In autumn 1997, there were about 800 Moldovan policemen in Bendery, controlling a bloc within the city called Varnitsa, a Moldovan enclave within the Transniestrian enclave on the right-bank of the Dniester. With a population of about 5,000, residents of Varnitsa get pensions from the city of Bendery and use its municipal facilities, but are under the formal jurisdiction of Moldova and not that of the TMR. In Varnitsa, there are branches of the Moldovan State Road Inspections, a passport office, the Moldovan court of justice and other state institutions. The effort to extend Moldovan control over the whole city of Bendery unleashed the events in June 1992. The inhabitants of Transniestria sometimes have to address these Moldovan state institutions because civil acts made in the TMR are not recognized in
Moldova, but they are accepted by other CIS countries.
Political Organization and Identities in the TMR
The TMR is not recognized officially by any country, although the pseudo-state has attempted to join the CIS. The republic has been in de facto existence for almost eight years and has most of the attributes of an independent state: legislative, executive and judicial powers, an independent central bank, an army (“the national guard”), a police force and its own currency, Transniestrian roubles. The TMR is a presidential republic, whose current president, Igor Smirnov, was re-elected in February 1998 with 71.9% of the vote. Smirnov lived in the Far East before being appointed director of a Tiraspol factory in Soviet times. The legislative powers of the TMR lie in the Supreme Soviet with two chambers. Each of the large national/ethnic groups (Moldovans, Ukrainians and Russians) have official status and theoretically each has veto power in all key decisions, though this right has not been applied. The president, Smirnov, is Russian; the president of the Supreme Soviet, Marakutsa, vice-president Karaman, and the president of the Defense Council, General Kitsak are Moldovans, as are the majority of the other leaders of the TMR and the personnel of the armed forces. According to official declarations, the TMR is defined as a civic nation, bound to protect human rights and not national rights. On the economic front, the government of the TMR pledges not to interfere in the workings of private enterprises on its territory.
The Transniestrian Chamber of Representatives consisting of five deputies from each of seven municipal units (two cities of Tiraspol and Bendery and five rayoni) and the Chamber of Legislators, where there are 32 deputies elected by constituencies according to a majoritarian system. All the deputies have full-time work in the parliament with joint sessions of the two chambers at least once a month. In autumn 1997, there were three electoral blocs, "independents", the “Movement for the Development of Transniestria”, and "People's Power" ("Narodovalstie"). In the parliament, fractions can only be formed by a minimum of 15 deputies. Because of this high threshold, there are only two fractions, "Agrarians" and "People's Power". However, on important questions, the parliament tends to vote unanimously.
In the TMR, there are about 200 parties and movements, most very small. In autumn 1997, there were five communist parties of different ideologies. The most influential social movements are the United Council of Labor Collectives, whose leaders Smirnov, Marakutsa and others were the founding-fathers of the TMR; the Women Strike Movement, led by Galina Andreeva; the Movement of Defenders of Transniestria; the Union of Reserve Officers; the Black Sea Cossack Army and the Union of Moldovans. But there is no significant opposition to the authorities, which can be partly explained by the presence of a common threat to Transniestrian autonomy and identity and by collective memory of the 1992 war and tragedies.6
One of the most important political principles of the TMR, of which its leaders are very proud, is equal rights for all three official languages - Russian, Ukrainian and Moldovan. All official documents and inscriptions are published in the three languages; there are Russian, Ukrainian and Moldovan secondary schools (though over 90% of the pupils are instructed in Russian - Atlas of the Transdniester Moldovan Republic, 1997, 22); and at the Dniester State Corporative T.G. Shevchenko University of Tiraspol, there are classes in each of the official languages.
As in many other parts of the former Soviet Union, intermarriage between the ethnic groups is fairly common. In the TMR, about 15% live in mixed marriages and multilingual households result. The absence of ethnic strife in the TMR has been attributed to different explanations. Western observers, such as the U.S. Department of State, have criticized the TMR leadership for human rights violations (RFE/RL Newsline, 31 January, 1998) while Moldovans claim that the TMR does not allow free expression of language, cultural and political rights and maintains a repressive security ministry (Ionescu, 1996). Despite some claims of fraud (Kaufman, 1996), it is clear from the high ratios of those surveyed that the TMR leadership has popular opinion on its side and support for autonomy in referenda clearly crosses ethnic lines. It is a mistake to equate the TMR separatism with a simple expression of ethnic territoriality; it is indeed a multi-dimensional dispute that includes “territorial issues but is also wrapped in questions of ethnicity, security, ownership, national identities and idiosyncrasies, pluralism, ideology, religion, and undoubtedly other factors” (Lamont, 1995, 68).
Babilunga (1998) reports the results of a recent survey of 350 respondents in the TMR, conducted by the Tiraspol polling firm “Strategia”, under the sponsorship of the Carnegie Foundation. Eighty-two percent were in favor of keeping the TMR and 91% were in favor of the process of integration into the CIS. In response to another question, “will the situation in the TMR improve as a result of rapprochement with (state name given)?”, Russia was named by 66% of respondents, Ukraine by 17% and Moldova by 16%. In answer to the question, “do you consider yourself to be a citizen of the former Soviet Union?”, 84% of Russians in the TMR agreed, as did 82% of the Ukrainians and 70% of the Moldovans. Clearly, the legacy of the former Soviet Union as well as support for the republic in close relationship with Russia are evident in these survey results and the survey suggests that opinion is unchanged since 1991, despite the many meeting with Moldovan and Russian officials.
The constitution of the TMR allows double citizenship. According to the official data, 88% have citizenship of the TMR, and the variation across ethnic groups is not large, with 78% of Moldovans, 90% of Ukrainians and 90% of Russians having TMR citizenship. Nine percent each have the citizenship of Moldova and Russia (Babilunga, 1998). Because of the difficulty of travelling on a TMR passport, many TMR residents use Russian or Moldovan passports (Interview with Fedor Dubrov, Chair of the Bendery City Council of Deputies, September 24, 1997).
About half of the residents of the TMR see themselves as a specific ethno-cultural entity, distinct from neighbors and they believe that this identity has been forming for centuries under Russian influence. The process of defending the republic against Moldova coupled with a threat factor that views the TMR as isolated has speeded up the process of self-identity. Only 15% support unity with Moldova, 15% want federation with Russia, 20% wish to join the Russian-Belarussian union and 83% want consolidation of the TMR statehood (Babilunga, 1998). (More than one answer was possible). There is therefore the formation of a new identity in the TMR and this development challenges observers who view national identities as unchanging, uniform and singular. In the TMR, the visible signs of a new national construction are evident and in less than a decade, a new identity has taken shape.
Possible Scenarios for the Transniestrian Puzzle
Like many post Cold War conflicts, the resolution of the TMR-Moldovan dispute lies near dormancy. The key outside player is Russia and to a large extent, the continuation of Transniestrian secession will depend on the negotiations between Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. For Russia, interested in maintaining a foothold in the Balkans, agreement with Moldova on economic and military issues within the context of the CIS takes precedence over support for Russophones in Transniestria (Selivanova, 1996). Recent Russian positions in roundtable talks suggest that a growing frustration in Moscow government circles with the perceived intransigence of the Tiraspol authorities is hostage to the interests of more nationalist players in the Russian Duma, on both the left and the right. While each participant in the TMR stalemate is adamant about the adoption of its resolution to the conflict, no participant, direct or indirect, is interested in resuscitating a “hot state” of fighting. The current (mid 1998) positions of the parties can now be defined and some possible scenarios considered.
Moldova: The initial strategy of President Mircea Snegour appeared to be full incorporation of Transniestria, considered vital to the economic future of Moldova, despite the pre-1990 evidence for Transniestrian distinctiveness. Although Snegour was ready to use all means necessary to achieve his objectives, including military intervention, this strategy resulted in an impasse and served to aggravate the regional problem. Following the war of 1992, the conditions for reconciliation proposed by Moldova foresaw the transformation of Transniestria into an autonomous district of Moldova with limited rights; central control of the city of Tiraspol and the ability to administer 50% of all state revenues collected within the TMR would be retained by Chisinau. Officially, Moldova called for a speedy withdrawal of the 14th Army, a request reaffirmed in 1997 by President Boris Yeltsin whenever Moldova wanted. The date of the pullout (three years from October 1994) that Russia promised has passed and there seems no great urgency since, in reality, the Moldovan authorities appreciate the stabilizing role offered by the Russian army in Transniestria.
Recent elections in Moldova of President Petru Lucinschi in 1996 and a coalition of center-right parties coming to power after general elections in March 1998 (the Communist party received 30 percent of the vote but the center and right parties formed a blocking coalition) have not changed the geopolitical calculus, despite Lucinchi’s claim of close relations with Moscow. The vice-president of the TMR, Alexander Karaman, said that the coming to power of “right-wing forces in Chisinau may drive the settlement of the Dniester problem region into a blind alley”. Since former President Mircea Snegur heads the ruling “For Democracy and Reforms” parliamentary alliance, Karaman believes that the memorandum of principles signed in Moscow in 1997 is now in jeopardy (RIA Novosti April 27, 1998 as reported in BBC Global News Bank, April 27, 1998).
Transniestria: At the beginning of the conflict, the TMR accepted proposals of regionalization or even economic autonomy, in effect a de facto self-government. Later, proposals were offered by the TMR leadership for a Moldovan federal structure that would group three distinct subjects - Moldova proper, Gagauzia and Transniestria; following the 1992 war, this proposal took the shape of a loose confederation with a large amount of sovereignty for the subjects. The Transniestrian regime thus modeled itself after other small states, such as Luxembourg or Singapore: Saul Cohen (1991) has termed these small states as “gateway” countries, since they take on the function of intermediaries at the juncture of broad geopolitical, cultural and economic spaces. In this light, President Smirnov of the TMR has suggested the establishment of a free trade zone that would serve as a bridge between Russia, the Ukraine and the Balkan nations
The federalization of Moldova that was first proposed by the Transniestrians did not account for the interests of the Russophone population of the major cities of the right bank - Chisinau and Beltz - where Russians constitute almost half of the local population. A “Belgian option” - the creation of ethno-cultural communities with local powers - was initially supported by President Snegour but it became evident that this option was too exotic for Moldova. Another proposal called for creating a parliament with separate national chambers, though this strategy was rejected by the Moldovan parliament at the time (Nezavissimaya Gazeta, 9 July 1992).
More recently, the TMR position has hardened. President Smirnov has stated that the TMR should be integrated into the full political and integration processes of the CIS since “the Transniestrian republic has proved its viability during the previous seven years. Under current conditions, it is necessary to preserve the sovereignty of both Moldova and Transdniester and to build a common state consisting of two equals” (RFE/RL Newsline, October 24, 1997). The TMR wants “the creation of a common state on a confederal basis and on the issues of partition, of delegation and of integration of the competencies of two equal subjects” (Interview with the Vice-Speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the TMR, Vladimir Atamaniuk, September 25, 1997; his emphasis).
According to an agreement signed in October 1994, Russia is supposed to remove all troops from the region within 3 years and also hand part of the army property and equipment to the TMR and to Moldova. However, because of the unwillingness of the TMR to give up weapons, Russia has suspended the destruction of weapons and stopped the removal of equipment. The fear is that the Georgian disaster, where vast quantities of arms fell into the possession of the belligerents after Russian troop pullout, will be repeated.
Russia: All important political circles in Russia are interested, first of all, in maintaining Russian influence in the Moldovan zone that has traditionally served as Russia’s entry-way to the Balkans and remains vital considering the events in former Yugoslavia. Russia has, in fact, declared on several occasions that the withdrawal of the 14th Army was linked to the resolution of the Transniestrian status as part of a united and indivisible Moldovan state. This message was directed clearly towards Chisinau, where Moscow hoped to find a stable and convenient partner in a united Moldova inside the CIS.
The continued debate surrounding the 14th Army, remains tied to the numerous guarantees made by Moscow to the Transniestrian population. Further, there remains the issue of the enormous army resources accumulated in the TMR since Soviet times that were geared towards the deployment needs of several divisions in the south-west. The TMR authorities have declared that all military installations found within its territory belong to the TMR “by law”. Russian government officials reject this proposition and also object to the eventual transfer of former Soviet possessions into the hands of Chisinau. The immediate Russian objective was to prevent the use of the weapons of the 14th Army by either side in the conflict but, of course, this problem became intertwined with relations with the Russian and Russophone populations of the district and there is little doubt that the support of 14th Army personnel was crucial in the early years of the TMR.
In his many public pronouncements, General Alexander Lebed, before his removal as 14th Army commander, considered it paramount that the 14th Army be transformed into a de facto Russian army base, as was accomplished in Georgia. This base could then serve as a guarantor of Transniestria’s independence. According to the “Lebed Plan”, the status of the TMR within Moldova would be like Finland within the Russian Empire or contemporary Tatarstan, following the signing of its treaty with the Russian Federation. The TMR leadership rejected this proposition, however. Continued attempts by Lebed as well as his military commander, stationed in Tiraspol Col. Bergman, completely to discredit the Smirnov regime by accusing it of corruption, thus rendering it more pliant to negotiations with Moldova, were especially noteworthy and received plenty of attention in Moscow and in the West.
After the 1992 war, there were, in effect, two Russian positions, the governmental one elaborated by Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev that tried to reconcile the positions of the warring parties and that of Russian Vice-President Rutskoi that supported Tiraspol (Selivanova, 1996). These two positions are still relevant as indicated by recent events. In September 1997, leftist politicians from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine joined in the 7th annual independence day celebration in Tiraspol and were strongly condemned by the Chisinau authorities (RFE/RL Newsline, September 5, 1997). In October 1997, at the time of the CIS Chisinau summit, President Boris Yeltsin declared that Russia is ready to withdraw its troops anytime that Moldova asks. Tiraspol and Chisinau closely monitor political maneuverings in Moscow since the outcome thereis crucial for the resolution of the TMR dilemma.
Rumania: The Rumanian strategy, if it is elaborated, is largely based in an integration of Moldova into the Rumanian state. Radical Rumanian nationalists would also like to reclaim all of Bessarabia (including those parts that now lie outside of Moldovan control), as well as Northern Bukovina. These two regions are now overwhelmingly Ukrainian in composition and any push in these directions would cause conflict with Ukraine and possibly spread. As far as Transniestria is concerned, according to President Ion Iliescu, Rumania would not make pronouncements concerning its absorption though Bucharest would support eventual reassertion of Moldovan control over Transniestria. Rumania was quite open in its support of the Christian Democratic Front whose objective is complete reunification of Moldova and Rumania.
The ideological basis of this unification strategy is the negation of the existence of a separate Moldovan national identity and its incorporation within Rumanian ethnicity. Well aware that it would be quite difficult for Rumania to establish control over Transniestria given the lack of historical precedent for such a claim, Rumanian authorities hoped to use the TMR as a bargaining chip with the Ukraine for Bessarabia and/or Northern Bukovina. This has been one of the key reasons why Rumania has had a strong interest in allocating Transniestria to the Moldovans.
Ukraine: The interests of the Ukraine in Transniestria center largely on the protection of the latter’s Ukrainian population, as well as maintaining peace along its south-western borders. The Kravchuk administration (1991-1994) wanted to avoid Ukrainian involvement in the Moldovan conflict. For Ukraine, plagued as it is with its own separatist concerns in Russian-dominated Crimea, direct support of the Tiraspol authorities was unthinkable (just as it was for the Russian government). Kiev was also wary of any potential problems with Rumania that could have led to a re-emergence of the latter’s territorial demands. After 1994, Ukraine became more directly involved in the discussions of the TMR issue and in 1998, finally joined Russia in guaranteeing the implementation of any agreement between the TMR and Moldova.
Scenarios: On March 20, 1998, Presidents Kuchma (Ukraine) and Luchinschi (Moldova), Prime-Minister Chernomyrdin (Russia) and the TMR leader, Igor Smirnov met in Odessa to discuss ways of restarting the peace process in Transniestria. This meeting was caused by the obvious failure of the Moscow memorandum to make any considerable contribution to the improvement of the situation around the conflict in Transniestria because all sides interpreted it in different ways. The meeting led to the signature of three documents suggested by the Russian delegation, with some corrections made by the other participants. It contained a protocol about the activity of the four sides in continuation of the political arrangement of the Transdnestrian conflict, the joint declaration of Russia and Ukraine and the agreement between Moldova and Transniestria about further development of the peaceful process.
Vice-President of the TMR Karaman declared that the organization of the meeting just a few hours before the parliamentary elections in Moldova on March 22 was only "an imitation of negotiations" and "an attempt to provide political support to certain forces in Moldova". At the same time, a movement to promote the TMR’s accession to the Union of Russia and Belarus was created in Tiraspol under the leadership of Karaman. The founders of this movement are the Union of Ukrainians of Transniestria, the Union of Moldovans, the Union of War Veterans, the Union "Memory" and the Communist Party of Transniestria. On the other side of the Dniester in Moldova, the bloc "Socialist Unity", which contested the March 1998 national elections proclaims the same goal, is convinced that Moldova has to enter this Union. They also believe that Moldova should recognize the statehood of Transniestria and make Russian the second state language. (Izvestia, March 21, 1998, 4 and Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 21, 1998, 5).
A draft agreement by the Joint Control Commission allows the TMR have its own constitution, parliament, flag, state symbols, and separate anthem, and continue to operate with three official languages. The draft also gives Transniestria the right of self-determination if Moldova loses its independence (unity with Rumania) and also the right to consult in foreign policy and budget decisions. The TMR can also determine its own structure of local government. Though local residents are annoyed with the frequent security checks by the peacekeepers and non-recognition of the TMR status (Interview with Fedor Dubrov, Chair of the Bendery City Council of Deputies, September 24, 1997), they understand that this situation is likely to continue indefinitely.
It is evident that the basis for a permanent agreement between the TMR and Moldova lies in the Joint Control Commission document but its implementation is constrained by the balance of political power between the Yeltsin government and the opposition in Moscow, by the balance between the socialist bloc and the center-right coalition in Chisinau, and by the development of a separate TMR identity that is constituted as loyalty to the Smirnov government. Whether three sets of circumstances will coincide to allow the implementation is uncertain and in the meantime, the TMR continues to remain in geopolitical limbo. In the meantime, the elites on all sides have been able to use the hostilities to promote their own agendas, economic, national and political. There is little incentive for them to move to a resolution and so, it is the external parties – Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE – who are most likely to move the resolution agenda forward.