Transnistria asks for Moscow's protection to scare Chișinău. Tiraspol’s bluff: the annexation to Russia

A photo made available 18 April 2014 shows general view of the monument dedicated to Second World War (in front) and the Supreme Council of the breakaway Transnistrian Republic (in background) in downtown Tiraspol city, some 80 kilometers south-east from Chisinau, Moldova, on 17 April 2014.
© EPA/STR   |   A photo made available 18 April 2014 shows general view of the monument dedicated to Second World War (in front) and the Supreme Council of the breakaway Transnistrian Republic (in background) in downtown Tiraspol city, some 80 kilometers south-east from Chisinau, Moldova, on 17 April 2014.

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The alarmist predictions that Transnistria will call for the annexation to Russia or that Putin will announce the move in his speech before the Russian State Duma turned out to be unfounded. Separatists called on Moscow to protect them “through diplomatic measures”, but it seems to be an attempt to obtain concessions from Chișinău sooner than a step towards joining the Russian Federation. The recent developments in the breakaway region also seem to be part of the hybrid war waged by Russia against the Republic of Moldova.

Separatists demand protection from Moscow (but also from the CIS, the European Parliament, the OSCE and the Red Cross)

The so-called Congress of elected officials at all levels, which took place on February 28 in Tiraspol, asked on the Russian State Duma to take the necessary “diplomatic measures to protect Transnistria” in the context of what participants have described as “growing pressure from Moldova”.

A resolution adopted by Congress participants, states that over 220 thousand Russian citizens live in Transnistria, recalling that Moscow “takes part in the peacekeeping mission in the region and is a guarantor and mediator in the negotiation process”.

Participants in the so-called Congress in Tiraspol also addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the CIS, calling on the Commonwealth to prevent the “escalation of the situation on in Transnistria”.

Separatists also asked the European Parliament “to make efforts to prevent pressure from Moldova” and the alleged violation of “the rights and liberties of Transnistrians”. Tiraspol also asked the Red Cross “to ensure the observance of social and humanitarian rights, interests and fundamental rights” of the inhabitants of the region.

At the same time, Transnistrian elected officials asked the OSCE “to persuade the leadership of the Republic of Moldova to resume an appropriate dialogue within the international negotiation process and to ensure the premises for a civilized resolution of the conflict”.

It seems that, when they talk about international negotiations, Tiraspol authorities actually refer to the 5+2 format, which includes the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine as mediators, the European Union and the United States as observers, as well as Chișinău and Tiraspol as parties involved in the conflict. Resuming negotiations in the 5+2 format was also previously requested by Russia, which accused the West of trying to exclude it from the process of solving the Transnistrian question.

The last meeting in 5+2 format was before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, and it is hard to imagine that representatives of Kyiv and Moscow would now be willing to sit down at the same negotiating table to discuss the Transnistrian issue.

In fact, participants’ dissatisfaction in the so-called Congress was linked with the new Customs Code of the Republic of Moldova, which took effect on January 1, 2024. The new law provides that, from now on, Transnistrian companies (registered, in fact, as Moldovan companies) will have to pay the same customs duties as any other company in the Republic of Moldova, considering they were previously exempted from these taxes. Tiraspol described these legislative changes as an economic blockade on the part of Chișinău.

Chișinău rejects Tiraspol's accusations. Still no reaction from Moscow

The authorities in Chișinău rejected all the allegations put forth by Tiraspol, both those related to economic pressures and those expressed in the resolution.

The Reintegration Policy Bureau, in charge of managing the Transnistrian conflict, described the allegations as propaganda, pointing out  that “the region of Transnistria benefits from the policies of peace, security and economic integration with the EU, which are beneficial to all citizens” of the Republic of Moldova.

So far, we have seen no official reaction from the authorities in Moscow to the request made by the congress in Tiraspol. However, Russian media writes, citing anonymous sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow, “defending the interests of the residents of Transnistria, of our fellow citizens”, is one of the priorities of the authorities in the Russian Federation. “All requests are carefully examined by the relevant institutions”, the aforementioned sources said, quoted by state-owned media.

In turn, the spokesman of the US Department of State, Matthew Miller, said that, “given Russia's increasingly aggressive and destabilizing role in Europe, Washington is watching very carefully Russia's actions in Transnistria and the broader situation there [...] The United States strongly support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova within its internationally recognized borders, and we continue to encourage Chișinău and Tiraspol to work together in order to identify common solutions to the pressing concerns of communities on both sides of the Dniester”, Matthew Miller said.

According to pundits, the event organized on February 28 in Tiraspol was merely a bluff, meant to put pressure on the pro-European authorities in Chișinău, and that in fact, Tiraspol wants to maintain the current status quo.

The Congress in Tiraspol, nothing short of propaganda. In fact, Transnistria's hands are tied

The Congress in Tiraspol arrested society’s attention not as much through the decisions it adopted, but rather in terms of the speculations it generated regarding a possible request for the annexation of the Transnistrian region to Russia.

On February 21, the Infotag agency in Chișinău ran a story quoting a post by a Transnistrian dissident, Ghenadie Ciorba (convicted in 2020 for criticizing the Tiraspol regime for anti-Covid measures and released in 2021). Ciorba argued that calling on Moscow to “accept Transnistria in the Russian Federation” would be adopted on the sidelines of the congress. According to Ghenadie Ciorba, the Kremlin leader, Vladimir Putin, was supposed to announce Transnistria's accession to the Russian Federation in his public speech on February 29, 2012, which never happened. Vladimir Putin made no mention of Transnistria in his speech.

Ghenadie Ciorba’s statements were also picked up by part of the international and Romanian media, and were even taken under advisement by the Institute for the Study of War. In Romania, Ghenadie Ciorba’s statements remained at the center of debates in a number of media organizations for several days.

The media in the Republic of Moldova was more cautious regarding Ghenadie Ciorba's statements, perhaps because over the years it has developed a certain “immunity” to the messages coming from Transnistria.

Commenting on the so-called Congress in Tiraspol, the president of the Republic of Moldova, Maia Sandu, highlighted the fact that Russian propaganda amplified this event in order cause a society-wide panic.

The decisions of the so-called congress in Tiraspol of February 28 are much less poignant than those adopted at the last such meeting that took place in 2006. At the time, participants decided to organize a referendum whereby the residents of Transnistria voted for the independence of the separatist region and its subsequent accession to Russia.

This time around, Transnistrian officials went for a softer approach, and the key message seems to have been addressed mainly to the inhabitants of the region of Transnistria, in an attempt to convince them that Chișinău is responsible for the economic problems they are facing, and that Tiraspol is doing everything in its power to change things for the better.

In fact, there is little Tiraspol can do right now. There is no military scenario on the table, given that Ukraine has expressed its readiness to intervene in case of provocations and eliminate separatist forces and the Russian contingent in Transnistria. At this point, a Russian land invasion of Transnistria seems highly unlikely. From an economic point of view, Tiraspol cannot but accept the rules of the game imposed by Chișinău, the only de jure and de facto authority that controls the imports from and exports to Transnistria. In addition, most of Transnistria's trade exchanges are with the Republic of Moldova and the European Union, and the most influential businessmen from the separatist region have economic interests in the EU, which they won’t jeopardize.

This does not mean, however, that Tiraspol does not have other instruments at its disposal (first and foremost propaganda and disinformation), which its tries to use against Chișinău. In tandem with Russia, of course.      

EBOOK> Razboi si propaganda: O cronologie a conflictului ruso-ucrainean

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Corneliu Rusnac

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