We have just launched www.yptransnistria.com, with our partners in Tiraspol.
Following is an article giving some background to the country, and the conflict.
(Own report) – The German government has initiated a new test run for a German – Russian cooperation that bypasses the USA. The laboratory for this experiment is Transnistria, a southeast European secessionist region that broke off from Moldova in the early 1990s, during the collapse of the Soviet Union and claims independence, even though it has not been internationally recognized. Russian troops are still stationed in Transnistria, which, because of its pro-Moscow orientation, is considered a Russian outpost in southeast Europe. The German government has initiated a fundamental change of course in the Transnistrian conflict. To weaken Russia, it had previously taken Moldova’s side in the secession conflict demanding the complete reintegration of Transnistria. Now it is beginning to adopt Transnistria’s position as its own. Critics point out that this Transnistrian standpoint corresponds to that of the Russians and strengthens the Russian position in southeast Europe. Berlin and Moscow consider this a test run for a joint EU-Russian “security structure” – bypassing the USA.
In the early 1990s, as Moldova had just declared its independence from the collapsing Soviet Union, the more industrialized eastern region of Moldova seceded, under the name of “Transnistria.” A brief civil war was terminated with the intervention of Russian troops. The separatist regime in Tiraspol, the Transnistrian capital, has persisted even though it has received no international recognition. According to the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, only Russia is cooperating “closely with the government in Tiraspol, supporting it politically, financially, economically, and militarily.” The conflict continues with Moldova, which seeks to reintegrate Transnistria. A conceivable solution could have been found, when the Moldovan Communist Party won a landslide electoral victory in the 2001 and formed the government. The party chair, Vladimir Voronin, became president and sought to have Moldova join the Russian-Belarus Union. For a while, it even seemed as though neighboring Rumania would seek to escape western influence as well, to orient itself more strongly on Russia. Throughout the past decade, German influence in Moldova has remained relatively meager. Bilateral trade has remained at a negligible level. There has been a minor cooperation with the armed forces in the realm of officer training.
In 2005 – shortly after the pro-western putsches in Georgia and the Ukraine – the EU, including Germany, initiated efforts to terminate the Transnistrian secession, which would have further weakened those East European forces closely cooperating with Russia. After a pro-western re-orientation of the ruling Communists in Moldova, Brussels established the EUBAM mission (European Commission Border Assistance Mission to the Republic of Moldova and to Ukraine). EUBAM provided surveillance on the borders between Transnistria and the Ukraine, intended to aid in restricting the separatist government in Tiraspol. Fifteen German police and customs officers were participating in this EUBAM mission. However, these measures merely led to the strengthening of Transnistria’s dependence on Russia. Moscow furnishes natural gas at bargain prices – a bonus, only internationally recognized former Soviet republics have had – and has its troops stationed in Transnistria.
In 2008 – 2009, tensions again rose in the area. First, there was the 2008 Georgia War, which ended with Moscow recognizing the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two autonomous Georgian republics. Shortly following the war, Germany’s Green-affiliated Heinrich Boell Foundation reported that within the Ukrainian political elite there was “the apprehension that what had happened to Georgia” – the recognition of the secession of 2 strips of that country’s territory – “could be repeated (…) in Transnistria.” The second reason for the rise in tensions was that in Moldova, a strongly pro-EU oriented government took power in 2009 – with western help. The EU has been engaged in negotiations with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM), which has since remained in power, on questions of an association agreement, including a free trade zone. Germany’s CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation has been in cooperation with this party since 2010. Transnistria, with an eye on what happened in the Georgian War, and apprehensive that Moldova could – in close collaboration with Brussels – seek to settle the secession conflict militarily, called on Russia to increase the number of its troops stationed there. So far, an escalation of the situation has been avoided.
The Europeanization of Transnistria
The negotiations around the conflict – the “5 + 2 Talks” between Moldova, Transnistria, Russia, the Ukraine, the EU and the USA – have been in a stalemate for years. About a year ago, a speaker at the Heinrich Boell Foundation made a plea for the EU “not to leave the initiative and the power of definition of the solution to the conflict up to Russia.” The EU should also strengthen its direct contacts to Transnistria, to advance Transnistria’s “Europeanization.” At the same time, the EU should also intensify its public relations efforts in the region, after all, the so-called development aid should be transferred directly to Transnistria and not pass via Moldova. Especially Germany’s influence in Transnistria would benefit from a closer cooperation between Brussels and Tiraspol. Alongside Italy, Germany is this separatist territory’s only other EU trading partner, with business relations at a low but constant level. Transnistrian companies developed trade relations with Germany already a decade ago. There are currently around 20 German-Transnistrian joint ventures. Recently – in September 2010 – the Chamber of Commerce in Tiraspol, which has ties to the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Leipzig, invited Saxon investors to an investment forum. One northern Saxon city, Eilenburg, has even twinned with Tiraspol.
European-Russian Security Architecture
In the summer of 2010, the utility of closer German-Transnistrian cooperation became apparent. At the time, Chancellor Merkel and Russian President Medvedev met at the Meseberg Castle, where they reached an agreement on a memorandum (the “Meseberg Memorandum”). This memorandum contained the proposal for the development of a joint EU-Russian “security architecture” – “bypassing NATO and the USA,” as critics noted. A new Eurasian “security forum” would grant Moscow influence within EU structures, exceeding those of the United States. For a test run of the new “European-Russian Political and Security Policy Committee,” the “EU and Russia should work particularly towards finding a solution to the Transnistrian conflict,” according to the German-Russian “Meseberg Memorandum” – an EU policy stipulation made without the agreement of other EU governments.
Bypassing the USA
Berlin is already planning further steps. According to a German government working paper, Moldova and Transnistria should form a federation. The Transnistrian government should be allowed to make alterations of the Moldovan constitution. The presence of Russian troops in Transnistria – currently at 1,375 soldiers, according to the German state run “Center for International Peace Operations” (ZIF) – are not criticized. This constitutes a basic shift in German policy. Critics explain that, with this new proposal, Berlin has, in fact, adopted the Russian position on the conflict and is exemplarily working on a solution bypassing the USA. As a matter of fact, the independent German-Russian Transnistria initiative could serve as a test run for cooperation that, if proven successful, could open the door to Germany taking further steps away from transatlantic cooperation.