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Transnistria: Sheriff’s man holds on to power with Moscow’s blessing

Transnistria: Sheriff’s man holds on to power with Moscow’s blessing
©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.

Vadim Krasnoselsky remains at the helm of Transnistria after Sunday’s presidential “election”, which the international community did not recognize. Supported by the Sheriff corporation, Krasnoselsky received the blessing of Moscow, the one who truly controls the breakaway region.

Emulating democracy in order to maintain Moscow’s strongman in power

Vadim Krasnoselsky on Sunday secured a new mandate as president of the Transnistrian republic in the wake of a round of “election” was not recognized by the international community, nor by Chișinău. A total of 144,136 people voted in the ballot. Basically, this was merely a formal appointment of Moscow’s prime candidate, disguised as a democratic voting process that resembled a charade.

“Every vote, every ballot that was cast is a brick without which it is impossible to build a democratic society and the rule of law”, Krasnoselsky said after news of his reelection at helm of the separatist republic broke out.

Whereas in the previous “presidential election” of 2016 we witnessed a game of smoke and mirrors featuring six candidates, of whom two competed to persuade Russia that each was best-suited for a five-year term in office as president of the breakaway region, this time around Moscow opted for the simplified version of enrolling a “favorite” candidate and a “straw candidate”, in order to make a public show to let everyone know that the puppet regime in Tiraspol acts as its proxy, and that there’s no more need for smokescreens.  It’s an ostentatious show of strength addressed to the pro-European government in Chișinău, against which Russia has been waging a guerilla war for several months, exploiting its weaknesses.

The person who ran against the former security general Vadim Krasnoselsky is a “no name” farmer, a deputy with the People’s Deputies Council in the Grigoriopol District. Officially, Serghei Pînzari, Krasnoselsky’s “rabbit”, managed to raise some 11,000 signatures in order to enter the race, which is roughly tantamount to the population of the town of Grigoriopol left of the Dniester.

What was particularly surprising about this round of elections is the fact that the separatist regime decided to eliminate the election threshold. The decision followed after only 57, 536 citizens in Transnistria voted in the election for the Russian State Duma in September this year, which raised major concerns.

Russia has over 220,000 citizens in Transnistria, according to official data. Hence, the math shows that a little over 25% of them showed an interest in this election, although organizers prepared 27 polling stations for them to cast their votes and they had two days at their disposal to do so.

This time, in order to eliminate any concern with respect to a low voter turnout, the election threshold was eliminated altogether. Moreover, separatist authorities in Tiraspol started the voting process early, on December 6, which gave voters no less than six days in order to cast their votes.

Chișinău has its hands tied

Although it’s clear for everyone that the authorities in Chișinău can’t do much regarding Transnistria, the Moldovan diplomacy did protest against this ballot and urged the international community, including Russia, not to send its representatives to this pseudo-election in Transnistria, which it has labeled illegitimate.

“The Diplomacy of the Republic of Moldova reiterates that any participation in these actions is an act of defiance against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, thus undermining the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict”, the spokesman of the Moldovan Ministry for Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Daniel Vodă, said.

As expected, Russia dispatched its “victims” to Chișinău, who were supposed to monitor the voting process in Tiraspol. The Russian delegation included journalists, human rights advocates and analysts. Unsurprisingly, Chișinău denied them entrance, which prompted Tiraspol to play the victim. The Transnistrian Foreign Minister, Vitaly Ignatyev, described the Republic of Moldova as “an uncivilized country”.

“All of Moldova’s actions have nothing to do with the concept of a civilized state that has made a European choice. Chișinău is trying to turn Transnistria into a reserve, in order to sever all ties and contacts. By no means do such primitive methods help the resolution of pending conflicts, or the Moldovan-Pridnestrovian regulation process”, Vitaly Ignatyev added.

The Transnistrian official also referred to the fact that the Republic of Moldova allegedly and deliberated abandoned negotiations in the Transnistrian conflict, after former deputy Prime Minister Vlad Kulminski stepped down after less than three months in office. Paradoxically, Kulminski was the one who made efforts to allow vehicles with Transnistrian license plates to enter Ukraine, to the surprise of a great many people in Chișinău, including diplomats with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Statist patriots, side-by-side with pro-Tiraspol Russian deputies

At the same time, at the end of last week, two days before the election in Transnistria, a picture uploaded to the social media account of a Russian deputy who was here to monitor the voting process created an uproar in Chișinău.

The picture was taken at the Russian Embassy in Chișinău and showed several Russian MPs, including Kazbek Taysaev, the architect of the political fusion between Dodon’s PSRM and Voronin’s PCRM, who joined efforts and created a political alliance for the parliamentary election of July 11 in the Republic of Moldova.

The picture also showed deputies with the Party of Socialists, Corneliu Furculiţă, Zinaida Greceanii, Bogdat Ţîrdea, Vasile Bolea, Vlad Batrîncea, Fiodor Gagauz, as well as their party leader, Igor Dodon. The meeting of Russian politicians with pro-Russian deputies in Moldova was also attended by Olga Cebotari, a former deputy prime minister for the Reintegration of the Republic of Moldova in the Chicu Cabinet, the one who was supposed to oversee relations with Tiraspol in favor of Chișinău

In July, 2020, during a meeting held at the presidential villa in Condrița outside Chișinău, Igor Dodon was the first leader of the Republic of Moldova who used the term “president” in order to refer to Vadim Krasnoselsky. Everything happened right before the November election, when Dodon was hoping to enlist Krasnoselski’s support in exchange for new economic concessions the Moldovan government would grant the Sheriff corporation in Tiraspol.

The narco-state and its extension in Europe

The breakaway region of Transnistria actually has all the features of a narco-state, as defined by Oxford Reference, namely a cartel with illicit dealings that has infiltrated the highest levels of the government. 

The former and newly reelected leader of Transnistria, Vadim Krasnoselsky, is the Sheriff “strongman” who has grabbed all the political power in Transnistria for himself, and has held a monopoly in business dealings in the breakaway region since 2016, when Krasnoselsky took power after ousting Evgeny Shevchuk, the former leader of Transnistria, who Krasnoselsky rivaled for holding control over the region’s shady business and smuggling.

The Sheriff corporation, controlled by local oligarchs Viktor Gushan and Ilya Kazmalyi, two ex-KGB officers, owns most of the trading in the region, from gas stations, supermarkets and caviar to telecom and cryptocurrency.

The rise of Sheriff began in 1997, the corporation continuing to expand progressively in the 2000s, when, one by one, it absorbed a number of companies, including by taking out the competition physically. In turn, Viktor Gushan was the target of a number of failed assassination attempts ordered by his rivals.

Finally, after 2010, Sheriff grabbed total control of the region’s operations, expanding its activity to the telecom sector in Ukraine, becoming the third-largest player on the market. In 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, the telecom company owned by Sheriff – Interdniestercom – was launched in Crimea as well, with Russia’s blessing. Today, Sheriff’s has branched out its operations all the way to Germany, where companies in which Gushan owns a stake control part of the companies that broadcast Russian channels online, as well as their related propaganda.

Therefore, the hotbed of instability propagated by the smuggling platform we know as Transnistria reverberates beyond its immediate borders in Ukraine, all the way to the heart of Europe, more precisely in Germany, where Sheriff’s operations have started turning a profit, thus becoming a platform for laundering money flowing in from Transnistria.

Russia bets on Sheriff

The latest “presidential election” in Transnistria, which was strictly coordinated and monitored by Russia, indicates that Moscow is willing to keep betting on Sheriff and its political puppets. Nothing has changed in Russia’s older policy for the breakaway region – Transnistria continues to be exempted from paying for its Russian gas imports, which have accrued an unprecedented debt of 8 billion USD, an amount Tiraspol claims Chișinău must pay because, officially, Transnistria is a part of the Republic of Moldova. It’s a game of double standards: on the one hand, Russia supports the de facto independence of Transnistria and is taking action to legitimize the elections and the separatist authorities, while on the other hand, whenever it suits its narrative, Russia refers to the official standpoint of the international community, which does not recognize the statehood of the breakaway region. Therefore, Moscow maintains an outpost close to the external borders of the EU and NATO (including by means of its military forces deployed on the ground), while at the same time gaining leverage in order to pressure the Republic of Moldova.

All things considered, it is quite clear that the pro-European government in Chișinău won’t find it easy to open up a decisive negotiation in the Transnistrian file, that should yield significant progress towards solving the frozen conflict. Russia has too much to lose to give it all up.

Tags: Republica Moldova, Russia, Transnistria

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  • Vadim Krasnoselsky on Sunday secured a new mandate as president of the Transnistrian republic in the wake of a round of “election” was not recognized by the international community, nor by Chișinău. A total of 144,136 people voted in the ballot. Basically, this was merely a formal appointment of Moscow’s prime candidate, disguised as a democratic voting process that resembled a charade.
  • Although it’s clear for everyone that the authorities in Chișinău can’t do much regarding Transnistria, the Moldovan diplomacy did protest against this ballot and urged the international community, including Russia, not to send its representatives to this pseudo-election in Transnistria, which it has labeled illegitimate.
  • The breakaway region of Transnistria actually has all the features of a narco-state, as defined by Oxford Reference, namely a cartel with illicit dealings that has infiltrated the highest levels of the government. The former and newly reelected leader of Transnistria, Vadim Krasnoselsky, is the Sheriff “strongman” who has grabbed all the political power in Transnistria for himself, and has held a monopoly in business dealings in the breakaway region since 2016, when Krasnoselsky took power after ousting Evgeny Shevchuk, the former leader of Transnistria, who Krasnoselsky rivaled for holding control over the region’s shady business and smuggling.
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