Critical thoughts are the seed of change!

Join us today

Moldova – Transnistria Conflict Report

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, a number of conflicts arose in areas of some of the post-Soviet states, usually where the new international borders did not match the ethnic affiliations of local populations. These conflicts are often referred to as frozen conflicts. The term is used for situations in which there is no active armed conflict but at the same time no peace treaty or other political agreement that would satisfy the conflicting parties. Therefore, the conflict can start again at any moment, creating an environment of insecurity and instability.

There are several conflict zones on the post-Soviet territory. This report dwells upon Transnistria – the self-proclaimed Pridnestrian Moldovan Republic not recognized by the international community).

Transnistria is a narrow strip of land (4,163 square kilometres) located east of the Dnieper River. In total, Transnistria is home to some 500,000 people, with Russian and Ukrainian making up 59% of the population and Moldovan Romanians 32%. The capital, Tiraspol, a city of 200,000, is almost three-quarters Russian and Ukrainian.

Transnistria has been linked to Russia since the treaty of Jassy, signed in 1792 when Moldova was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1918-1940 today’s territory of Transnistria has been part of Romania. From 1945 to 1991, the Dniester’s east bank was part of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, one of the 15 republics of the USSR.  After World War II, Transnistria had been heavily industrialized and though it accounted for only 17% of the old Soviet republic’s population, it produced 40% of its GDP.

In June 1990, as the Soviet Union was breaking up, the Russian-speaking population revolted against the Moldovan parliament’s adoption of a law making Romanian the sole official language­­.

On 2 September 1990, the «Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (PMR) was proclaimed («Pridnestrovie» in Russian). The republic is not recognized by the international community. In March 1992, Moldovan nationalist forces tried to regain control of Transnistria but The Moldovans were repelled, in part by the 14th Russian Army, which had its headquarters in Tiraspol. A ceasefire that June ended the fighting but froze the conflict.

The cease-fire led to the creation of a three-party Joint Control Commission, consisting of Russia, Moldova, and Transnistria, which supervises a demilitarized security zone on both sides of the Dniester River. Transnistria has been a “frozen conflict” ever since.

Advertisement: WMO MINDFUL MEDIATION TRAINING – Learn more today …

Conflicting parties positions

The Transnistrian region retains a strong economic, cultural and political orientation east, towards the CIS, and especially Russia and Ukraine. The possibility of union between Moldova and Romania in 1990 caused fears among the Russian-speaking population that it would be excluded from most aspects of public life. A desire to defend a Russian-speaking culture seen as threatened was at the heart of the conflict. As a result, inn September 2006 Transistria’s voted for independence and subsequent association with Russia (97.2 percent). The country has created its own constitution, flag, national anthem, military, police, postal system, and currency. The Speaker of the Transnistrian parliament appealed to the Kremlin for incorporation into Russia. But Transnistria remains a defacto state, unrecognised by sovereign members of the international community – including Russia.

Moldova, in its turn, seeks integration with the EU. It signed the Association Agreement with the EU that includes the Deep and Comprehensive Agreement on Free trade with the EU. International obligations undertaken under this agreement are seen as a campaign of blockade directed at Transnistrian businesses (following the requirements of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU, Moldova is reported to refuse to issue the necessary documents to Transnistrian firms ). At the same time, Transnistria needs access to the European market and Moldova as to the two main destinations for Transnistrian goods.

The results of the Transnistria referendum of 2006 are seen as questionable in Moldova, alternative statistics on people aspirations exist. Transnistrian claims of economic suffocation, exclusion or negative spillover from EU integration are denied by Moldova: Tiraspol was invited to participate in talks on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU, the preferential trade regime for Transnistrian companies was extended till the end of 2015.

The analysis of this conflict requires a broader view as it involves not only Moldova as Transnistria interested parties. Confronting Russia and Ukraine both act as guarantors of a peaceful settlement to the conflict on the Dniester. Over two decades, Moscow claimed that Transnistria should be part of Moldova. However, Kiev expressed concern about the use of Transnistria as a platform for «separatist actions» in the Odessa region and moved to introduce administrative restrictions on the de facto border. Moscow, in turn, sees these actions as a «blockade» against the PMR and as an attempt to change the current format of the peace settlement (or at least make some major adjustments). Also worth noting the fact that the Moldovan-Transdniestrian conflict is the closest ethno-political confrontation in Eurasia to the borders of NATO and the EU. Therefore, internationally, the participants of the conflict settlement negotiations are far from united in their interests and ambitions.

Advertisement: Publish your articles on WMO and become a Fellow Researcher today …

Conflict resolution process

The above-mentioned complications explain the lack of significant progress in conflict resolution. Since 1997, the OSCE has managed a conflict resolution process which now engages seven parties in the “5+2” format which involves the two conflicting parties (Moldova and Transnistria), an intermediary (the OSCE), two observers (the U.S. and the EU), and two guarantors (Russia and Ukraine). The OSCE-brokered talks have helped to defuse occasional crises and to keep the sides in dialogue, but no framework agreement has yet been accepted by all sides.

To contribute to a sustainable settlement of the Transnistrian conflict it is important to increase the level of confidence-building measures and initiatives of the intermediary states jointly with the conflict Sides in order to extend and consolidate economic and social links between them. These measures could ensure that conflict settlement negotiations progress more easily.

Conclusion

The conflict over the Transnistrian region dates back to the end of the Soviet Union and the establishment of an independent Moldovan state. However, until now very little tangible progress has been made towards a sustainable conflict settlement. Understanding both worldviews is inseparable from successful efforts to restore stability in the region. Political will, ability to compromise and persistent confidence-building measures are needed from all actors for the official talks to succeed.

8 Comments on Moldova – Transnistria Conflict Report

The article provides an insight into a very important issue, developing the framework of a conflict resolution process and its contours.

Dear Marina,

thank your for this information. The situation that you talk about perfectly outlines circumstances when political decisions violate public interests and are made without counting in the citizen’s necessities. One of such necessities is a clear ethical identification that also could be understood as a local and communal heritage.

As you stated, very little progress was made regarding sustainable peace building and ‘unfreezing’ this conflict. What would you suggest to be most effective to initiate such a healing process? Would it be an interstate meditation or more likely creating understanding on a citizen’s level? Do we have similar and already settled conflicts that may serve as an example?

Best regards, Daniel

    Dear Daniel,

    your point is totally valid, and I thank you for that.
    To me, in today’s conditions, it is near to impossible that these “historical” talks format in the given composition of parties/observers/ guarantors to negotiations can succeed in this matter. It is up to the citizens, as you fairly suggest, to build up the will and move forward. Through educational programs, culture, sport – you know how much I respect and promote that channel of bringing people together) there can not be a formula here of course.

I enjoyed reading this article and, like Daniel, I ask what you believe may be able to help build the necessary framework for a break the impasse between Moldova and Transnistria. More information about the role of the observers the U.S. and EU would be interesting.

    Dear Charalee,

    I am late at replying but I take a chance to thank you for your time to read the article as well as for the interest showed.

    In addition to what was said in response to Daniel and Aleksander it could be noted that judging by the open source information, there are quite a number of activities going on and supported by different sides of the negotiations, aimed at “peaceful settlement based on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova with a special status for Transnistria” (EU-Moldova relations, Factsheet at https://eeas.europa.eu/). Given the different, if not conflicting interests of the parties involved, the efficiency of the reported joint initiatives “involving local authorities, civil society organizations and other stakeholders from both sides” remains questionable.
    I might be wrong in my understanding – please, feel free to correct me if so – the observers’ role, with certain limitations indeed, is quite close to one of the mediators. Given the profile of this conflict, I believe, the involvement of the US and the EU in the capacity of observers (/mediators) is controversial.

Thank you for this article. I have been to Moldova several times and talked to people and they often emphasise ‘lack of the future’ especially for young people. The analysis in your article is very insightful (especially from an international relations aspect). I am wondering, in your view, what (or when) is the moment where a (protracted) conflict starts to burden a state’s development and expands on different social areas (becomes broader)? I am currently researching a similar question but in connection with Bosnia and Hercegovina where such an impact (of a short-term fix to a conflict) is omnipresent.

    Thank you for your comment Aleksander. It makes me think of a saying “There is nothing more permanent than a temporary solution.”
    I wrote this report after I met some amazing young people from the Moldova Olympic Team that I had the honour to volunteer for at RIO 2016 Olympic Games. The thing is – most of these young people were born and grew up in this state of “a frozen conflict”, not necessarily even realizing that. From my personal point of view, to them it is just the normal way of things that people once accepted and adopted their lives to. No one can put his/her life on hold and wait until some big guys in suits will agree upon borders or trade relations. Instead, people find their ways to go on, to cross those borders, to trade and exchange, to train together, to compete, to build communities… As much as they can. For some – it might be “lack of the future”. For others – it is making that future here and now in the given conditions.
    So answering your question, it could be the moment when a new generation is already there and having to (or choosing to) live their lives in parallel with those fruitless and endless talks.
    This hypothesis surely gives rise to subsequent questions, I realize that, I don’t have answers to all of them but I hope we can find them together)

Thank you for your comment Aleksander. It makes me think of a saying “There is nothing more permanent than a temporary solution.”
I wrote this report after I met some amazing young people from the Moldova Olympic Team that I had the honour to volunteer for at RIO 2016 Olympic Games. The thing is – most of these young people were born and grew up in this state of “a frozen conflict”, not necessarily even realizing that. From my personal point of view, to them it is just the normal way of things that people once accepted and adopted their lives to. No one can put his/her life on hold and wait until some big guys in suits will agree upon borders or trade relations. Instead, people find their ways to go on, to cross those borders, to trade and exchange, to train together, to compete, to build communities… As much as they can. For some – it might be “lack of the future”. For others – it is making that future here and now in the given conditions.
So answering your question, it could be the moment when a new generation is already there and having to (or choosing to) live their lives in parallel with those fruitless and endless talks.
This hypothesis surely gives rise to subsequent questions, I realize that, I don’t have answers to all of them but I hope we can find them together)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. Additional Information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close