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Embroiling Transnistria in the Russia-Ukraine War

Context:

As the Russia-Ukraine War completes over two months, Transnistria, the tiny breakaway region of Moldova, risks being dragged into the conflict.

Relevance:

GS II- International relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Where is Transnistria?
  2. What is the political make-up of Transnistria?
  3. Why is it in the news now?
  4. What lies ahead?

Where is Transnistria?

  • The de facto state lies between Moldova to its west and Ukraine towards its east.
  •  Often described as a “remnant of the Soviet Union”, Transnistria declared independence like Moldova did soon after the break-up of the Soviet Union.
  • When Moldovan troops attempted to take over the territory in 1990-1992, Transnistria was able to resist them because of Russian soldiers based in Transnistria.
  • Since then, it has remained free of Moldovan control. However, most countries continue to see Transnistria as part of Moldova.

What is the political make-up of Transnistria?

  • Transnistria is not recognised as independent even by Russia and its economy is dependent on Russia for subsidies and free gas.
  • Most Transnistrians have dual citizenship of Russia and Transnistria or triple citizenship of Moldova, Transnistria, and Russia.
  • Unlike the rest of Moldova, which speaks Romanian, the majority of people in Transnistria speak Russian and use the cyrillic script like Russians.
  • It has its own government (which is pro-Russian), Parliament, armed force, constitution, flag, anthem, etc.
  • In a referendum held in 2006, over 97% of Transnistrians voted for future integration with Russia and after the annexation of Crimea, the government asked if it could to be absorbed into Russia.
  • Russia, however, was not keen on this. But Transnistria is host to over 1,500 Russian “peacekeepers” and is home to a large Russian ammunition depot at Cobasna.
Transnistria’s strategic location
  • It is important to the next phase of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
  • The region is not too distant from the Black Sea port of Odesa and also shares a relatively long border with Ukraine.
  •  If Transnistria comes under Russian control, it will enable Russia to create a Russian-controlled corridor along Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
  • If Russia succeeds in linking Odesa with Transnistria, the rest of Ukraine would become completely landlocked and the country would naturally be weakened.
  •  Moldova, on its part, fears that Russia will use Transnistria to launch an attack on it as Russia has long wanted Moldova to be in its sphere of influence.

Why is it in the news now?

  • Transnistria risks being drawn into the Russia-Ukraine war because of reports of a series of explosions in its territory.
  • First, there was an attack by men using rocket propelled grenades on its security headquarters, followed by an attack on a radio centre which broadcasts Russian news.
  • There were also reports that a village which is host to one of the largest ammunition depots in Europe was hit by shots.
  • No one has taken responsibility for these attacks in which there were no deaths.
  • However, Ukrainian officials termed them as a deliberate provocation by Russia to intervene in Transnistria and Moldova while Russian officials blamed Ukraine for the attacks.

What lies ahead?

  • There is little Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, can do in this situation.
  • It is constitutionally neutral and has a very small military force.
  • It is not a member of NATO. So, there is little chance of NATO coming to its rescue, particularly since NATO cannot give membership to countries which have border disputes with other countries.
  • Similarly, it is not a member of the European Union though it is pro-Europe.
  • In March this year, Moldova had signed an official request to join the EU. However, this will take time and the country right now cannot comply with the EU’s conditions for membership.
  • Meanwhile, all eyes will be on what Russia intends to do next in Transnistria as part of its war with Ukraine, which has already dragged on longer than expected.

Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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