After a runoff vote against incumbent Igor Dorton, opposition incumbent Maia Sandu won Moldova’s presidential election in November 2020. After she won the elections, she immediately made a call for Russia to withdraw its forces from Transnistria. Is it possible for Moldova to solve the Transnistria puzzle in the near future?
Starting with the independence movement within Moldova, Moldova tried to loosen its ties with Russia. Therefore, several reforms were started to implement. On August 31, 1989, the Moldavian SSR’s Supreme Soviet chose Moldovan as the official language, with Russian kept mainly for secondary purposes, reverted Moldovan to the Latin alphabet, and declared a joint Moldovan-Romanian linguistic identity. Ethnic minorities felt frightened by the risk of losing Russian as the official language, which functioned as a medium of interethnic communication and the possibility of future reunification of Moldova and Romania. In early 1990, the nationalist Popular Front won the first free parliamentary elections in the Moldavian SSR, and its program began to be implemented gradually. Following a successful referendum, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed as a Soviet republic on September 2, 1990In October 1990, the Popular Front asked for volunteers to establish armed militias to prevent an autonomy referendum in Gagauzia, which had an even higher proportion of ethnic minorities. Transnistria established volunteer militias in response which led to the Transnistria war. The Transnistria War arose from small-scale military conflicts between Transnistrian separatists and Moldova as early as November 1990 at Dubăsari. Moldova was supported by Romania, whereas Russia supported Transnistria. On March 2, 1992, Moldova and Transnistria engaged in concerted military action. Throughout early 1992, the conflict became more intense. A cease-fire agreement struck on July 21, 1992, is still in effect today. However, Transnistria is not recognized by any countries in the World and remains a conflict between Russia and Moldova. Transnistria has been virtually independent of Moldova since 1992 when the Moldovan–Transnistrian issue escalated into armed conflict. While the Moldovan government has effectively addressed its second major regional conflict with Gagauzia, Transnistria has proven to be a complex affair to solve. Gagauzia was the first area to declare independence on August 19, 1990; but, in 1995, the Moldovan and Gagauzian leaderships agreed on devolution of power and the establishment of an autonomous territorial status. (Roper, 2010)
Transnistria has been virtually independent of Moldova since 1992 when the Moldovan–Transnistrian issue escalated into armed conflict. While the Moldovan government has effectively addressed its second major regional conflict with Gagauzia, Transnistria has proven to be a complex affair to solve. Gagauzia was the first area to declare independence on August 19, 1990; but, in 1995, the Moldovan and Gagauzian leaderships agreed on devolution of power and the establishment of an autonomous territorial status. (Roper, 2010) The difference between two teritorial status between Transnistria and Gagauzia conflict, parties were able to solve the conflict due to constructive dialogue. However, it was not the case for Transnistria conflict since both of the parties did not commit for comprimising policies.
In the 2001 elections, only three of the 31 political parties received more than the 6% of the popular vote required to secure seats in Parliament. The Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova won 49.9 per cent of the vote, 71 of the 101 parliament seats, and Vladimir Voronin was elected the country’s third president on April 4 2001. Leaders of Moldova had different approaches to Transnistria. Vladimir Voronin took a closer approach to Russia in the first place; however, 6 years after his appointment, he clearly stated that Russia should withdraw its forces from Transnistria. Voronin stated, “When the country is reintegrated, no foreign soldier must remain, no military structure of any state.”, where he believed that Russia’s peacekeeping troops should withdraw, which will eventually help for the political settlement in the area. Voronin also mentioned that Russia should take actions immediately, by stating “The withdrawal of Russian troops should take place before a political settlement or, at least, not later than that.” (Socor, 2007) Russia later on stated that the deal Voronin was offering was unlikely to implement.
Before the 2020 elections, right before Maia Sandu was elected, Russia announced that they were waiting for Sandu’s approach about Transnistria. According to Nescutu, Sandu was careful about her policies towards Transnistria. Sandu was cautious not to frustrate Moscow during her election campaign (Nescutu,2021), which the Kremlin acknowledged. However, Kalashnikov said Russia was concerned about her “pro-Europeanism” and that she would attempt to “merge” Transnistria – or even Moldova – into Romania. After Sandu won the elections and took Office, she immediately made a call for Russia to withdraw its military forces from the back of Dniester. According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, such problems have not yet been discussed with Mandu after she started to hold the Office. At the same time, Peskov stated that Moscow anticipates a constructive dialogue and that the Moldovan leadership’s policy would remain consistent. However, a few days later, after Sandu’s statements, the foreign minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, clearly stated that Russia would not withdraw its forces from Transnistria. According to Russian experts, Sandu’s assertion that Russia “must do something” appears to be motivated by the new Moldovan president’s desire for Western favour rather than the actions of an independent politician.
Transnistria remains as an unsolvable disagreement between Moldova and Russia. Scholars believe that the Transnistrian conflict settlement process has made no progress towards a solution. (Beyer&Wolff, 2016) The policies of both countries that do not compromise their attitudes further complicate the problem. Although it is not clear what the situation of Transnistria will be soon, the decision of the leaders to be taken with the standard will be a progressive step for the resolution of the Transnistria conflict. The communist leaders in Moldova, known for their closeness with Russia, could not reach a joint decision with Russia on the Transnistria issue. For this reason, Russia should pursue more solution-oriented and peaceful policies in order for Sandu to be successful in Transnistria. As Dmitry Peskov has stated, it is clear that the Transnistria conflict can be overcome through constructive dialogue between the parties.
- BBC. (2020, November 16). Moldova election: Pro-EU candidate Maia Sandu wins presidency. BBC News. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54942847
- Beyer, J., & Wolff, S. (2016). Linkage and leverage effects on Moldova’s Transnistria problem. East European Politics, 32(3), 335-354.
- Nescutu, M. (2021, July 26). Can Moldova’s new government solve its oldest problem, Transnistria? euronews. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://www.euronews.com/2021/07/23/moldova-s-new-government-has-an-oldproblem-transnistria-can-it-solve-it
- Novosti. (2020, November 30). The Russian Federation comments on the statements of the president of Moldova on the need to withdraw the Russian contingent from transnistria. Военное обозрение. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://en.topwar.ru/177615-v-rf-kommentirujut-zajavlenija-prezidenta-moldavii-o-neobhodimosti-vyvoda-rossijskogo-kontingenta-iz-pridnestrovja.html
- Moldova’s new government’s stance on Transnistria. Warsaw Institute. (2019, July 26). Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://warsawinstitute.org/moldovas-new-governments-stance-transnistria/
- Nescutu, M. (2020, November 1). How transnistria could help win Moldova’s election for Igor Dodon. euronews. https://www.euronews.com/2020/10/31/could-the-russiabacked-breakaway-region-of-transnistria-swing-moldova-s-election-for-igor
- Socor, V. (2007, July 27). Jamestown.org. VORONIN NEGOTIATES WITH THE KREMLIN ON TRANSNISTRIA. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://jamestown.org/program/voronin-negotiates-with-the-kremlin-on-transnistria/