What is Transnistria like, the pro-Russian region in Moldova that asks for “protection” from Moscow

What is Transnistria like, the pro-Russian region in Moldova that asks for “protection” from Moscow


Pro-Russian leaders in the separatist region of Transnistria, in eastern Moldova, called on Moscow on Wednesday to provide them with “protection” in the face of what they consider an economic “suffocation” of the Moldovan government.

Legislators approved a resolution in an extraordinary congress held in Tiraspolthe capital of the separatist territory that is not recognized as independent by the international community.

But since the Russian-Ukrainian war began two years ago, the status of Transnistria has been an open flank, given that it is a region adjacent to the Ukrainian southeast.

Transnistrian deputies alleged that the Moldovan government in Chisinau, the capital, has unleashed an “economic war” against them, blocking vital imports with the aim of turning the region into a “ghetto.” “The international community cannot ignore the decisions of the current congress,” declared Vitaly Ignatiev, head of foreign policy of the secessionist republic.

“We are talking about a request for diplomatic support,” he later told Russian state television. Its president, Vadim Krasnoselskiy, distanced himself from the legislators’ pronouncement and said that he seeks a “peaceful dialogue” with the Moldovan government, which is pro-European.

But the president of Moldova, Maia Sandu, rejected this Wednesday that there is an offensive against the region’s economy: “What the government is doing today is taking small steps for the economic reintegration of the country,” she declared.

Transnistria is located between Moldova and UkraineBBC

Since its self-proclaimed independence, Transnistria has been at the center of geopolitical disputes in Europe over its possible annexation to Russia, as has happened with other former Soviet regions.

And with the start of the war in Ukraine, analysts believe that Moscow could try to open a new corridor from the west. But how did this pro-Russian republic emerge and why is it of interest to the Kremlin?

Transnistria is a small region bordering Ukraine that is located in the west of Moldovaa country that was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1940 until its dissolution in the early 1990s.

Shortly before the total collapse of the former communist power, a conflict broke out there between the newly independent Republic of Moldova and separatist groups in Transnistriawho wanted to maintain ties with Moscow.

The civil war did not last long, but since the ceasefire in July 1992, nearly 1,500 Russian soldiers have been stationed to “keep peace” in the territory.

With the end of the conflict, Transnistria declared its independence. But, apart from other disputed regions such as Abkhazia, Nagorno Karabakh and South Ossetia, no member state of the United Nations recognizes it.

The flag of Transnistria is the only one in the world that still includes a hammer and sickle, symbols of the USSRGETTY IMAGES

The territory has its own Constitution, government, army, currency and even passports, which are practically useless. It is so autonomous that even the Moldovan authorities admit that they have no control about him.

Most of its population of around 500,000 inhabitants has dual or triple nationality, whether Russian, Moldovan or Ukrainian. Less than 70 km southeast of Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, lies Tiraspol with its 130,000 inhabitants, a small city that is often described as “stuck in the USSR”.

In this regional capital there is no shortage of streets named after communist figures or important dates from the Soviet era, nor is there a large statue of Lenin that stands in front of the local brutalist-style Parliament building.

Since Transnistria declared its independence three decades ago, Tiraspol’s population has decreased by at least a third. Most of its inhabitants have left to look for work abroad, many in Russia, because economic prospects plummeted after the fall of the USSR.

Salaries here are even lower than in the rest of Moldova, which is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Although Transnistria’s three predominant ethnic groups (Russians, Ukrainians, and Moldovans) are similar in size, Russian is the dominant language.

Tiraspol maintains many symbols of the Soviet eraGETTY IMAGES

Likewise, Russian flags fly alongside those of Transnistria – the only one in the world that still includes a hammer and sickle – on many buildings in the city.

Transnistria is also acquaintance for housing the largest arsenal of the Cold War: a warehouse with about 20,000 tons of weapons and ammunition.

Although according to its critics an explosion in this place could generate a detonation equivalent to that of the Hiroshima bomb, other experts point out that this is unlikely, that these are old and disused weapons.

The weapons depot Kolbasna, near the Ukrainian border, It was erected in the 1940s, when Moldova was still part of the Soviet Union.

With the end of the Cold War it became the place where the weapons that the Soviet forces brought with them when they withdrew from East Germany, Czechoslovakia and other countries of the former communist bloc were stored.

At a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), held in 1999 in Istanbul, Moscow agreed to withdraw part of the ammunition and weapons it kept in Transnistria.

Between 2000 and 2004, he took entire trainloads of weapons and ammunition from the warehouse of Kolbasna, where by then it was estimated that there were about 40,000 tons of this material. That process, however, was paralyzed by the decision of the Transnistrian authorities and has not been able to be reactivated.

In September 2021, in her annual address to the UN General Assembly, the Moldovan president reiterated her call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria and the disposal of weapons and ammunition stored in Kolbasna. But Moscow has refused to allow other forces to take over the safeguarding of the material or peacekeeping tasks in the area.

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