May 30, 2007

Transdniestria: Russia and Moldova's Secret Deal

Source: Stratfor
May 30, 2007 19 18 GMT


Russia and Moldova reportedly are in secret talks to create a treaty that will allow Russia to keep a military presence in Moldova's secessionist region of Transdniestria for another 10 years but will allow that region to reintegrate into Moldova. The deal looks highly favorable for Moldova, which has struggled against the small enclave since it declared independence in 1993. However, the deal also gives Russia official permission to remain in the country for a decade -- and a lot can happen in 10 years.


Russia and Moldova are in secret talks on a treaty that will allow Russia to keep a military presence in Moldova's breakaway Transdniestria region for another 10 years, Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported May 30. However, the deal will make the unrecognized republic part of Moldova with special status -- meaning that Russia has agreed to reintegrate Transdniestria into Moldova. The deal also allows Moldova access to Russian markets it has been denied for the past year.

The deal appears to favor Moldova in the long run, but it could answer a lot of immediate concerns for Russia.

Moldova, sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, is the poorest state in Europe. Transdniestria, the eastern sliver of the country along the Ukrainian border, is mainly populated by ethnic Russians and Ukrainians and is Moldova's industrial center; without Transdniestria, Moldova is left with an almost completely agrarian economy, which has struggled since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Transdniestria declared its independence in 1993 after a brief war and exists as a self-proclaimed republic with strong Russian support. Since 2003, the small enclave has been subject to economic measures from Moldova that have amounted to a blockade.

Moscow is chiefly interested in keeping Transdniestria under its influence because of the breakaway republic's strategic geographic position on the far side of Ukraine and on Europe's border. Russia has maintained approximately 2,500 troops in Transdniestria as part of a "peacekeeping" mission. This violates the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) because Russia's military presence in the region has no peacekeeping mandate. The Moldovan government has passed myriad laws to push the Russian forces out of the region, with little success. Russia hit back by banning Moldovan access to its markets -- specifically for Moldovan wine, saying the product was of poor quality. As a result, Moldova's revenues from its wine sales -- on which it relies heavily -- shrank more than 90 percent year-on-year in the first few months of 2007.

Moldova continues to protest Russia's military presence, saying the European Union and the United States support its claim (though neither has moved against Russia). In the past few years especially, Moldova has more actively pursued membership in both the European Union and NATO. Both the EU and NATO have explicitly stated that the Transdniestria issue must be resolved before Moldova can actually be considered for membership. Moldova is attempting to show it is an enthusiastic candidate by sending troops to Iraq and using NATO funds to upgrade its military capabilities.

Russia is, of course, watching Moldova's movements very closely -- especially since NATO and the United States have moved farther into Eastern Europe, with U.S. troops in Romania and two missile defense systems possibly being built (one in Poland and the Czech Republic and the other in Southeastern Europe). Russia has seen NATO encroaching and knows that it must maintain its foothold in Transdniestria.

Russia also has another card up its sleeve: Serbia's secessionist region of Kosovo will soon gain its independence, which is expected to flare up other secessionist regions like Transdniestria. Moldova has been very worried about Transdniestria having a legal basis for secession, like Kosovo, and about Russia funding an uprising to demand that secession. However, any conflict in Transdniestria could prompt Western forces to intervene, like in the Balkans, which Russia would not want.

Considering all the circumstances, a deal between Moldova and Russia on the issue is not a huge surprise. The deal the Russian press is speculating about would give Russia an upper hand straight away, but over time looks to be in Moldova's best interest. Though Moldova will greatly benefit from having Russia's economic sanctions rescinded, it also will be inviting Moscow to stay on its turf for another decade. Russia will benefit from Moldova's official approval of its military presence; it will eliminate any CFE complications and Western protests and allow Russia to keep its foothold as the United States and NATO move closer to Russia's territory. It also will allow Russia to maintain forces on the other side of Ukraine, which has been flip-flopping between pro-Western and pro-Russian powers.

However, the deal will come back to haunt Russia since it is committed to reintegrate Transdniestria into Moldova and withdraw its troops in 10 years. Moldova is essentially looking at the long-term picture, knowing that ties between Russia and the West are growing tenser everyday. Then again, Russia knows a decade is a long time for Moldova to wait for those results, and a lot can happen in 10 years

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