Igor Smirnov’s 20-year presidency of Transnistria, a body politic also known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, ended on December 26 when he lost the presidential campaign to Yevgeny Shevchuk, the ex-Speaker of the PMR Parliament. Shevchuk beat the incumbent Speaker and Moscow protege, Anatoly Kaminsky, by more than 50 percent of the votes (e.g., 73.88 percent for Shevchuk and 19.8 percent for Kaminsky) and was proclaimed the next president of Transnistria. His campaign program, entitled “We Need Changes for the Better,” reads that the new administration will rely on professionalism, efficiency, responsibility, and rotation of those holding important executive posts. Shevchuk is known to have declared that Transnistria needs a program that would allow it a way out of depression, given support by the guarantor countries; that this support would allow his country to make changes for the better in a year’s time. Yevgeny Shevchuk was born in 1968, in Ribnita, then part of the Moldavian SSR. He is a graduate of the Agricultural Academy’s Mechanization Faculty, and a cum laude one of the Diplomatic Academy under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.
What does the election of Shevchuk as president of the still unrecognized Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic spell for Ukraine?
Vitalii KULYK, director, Civil Society Problem Study Center:
“Everyone seems to have grown sick and tired of Smirnov’s 20-year-old presidency with its obsolete administration whose political course is best described as vague, unable to settle any conflicts, being aimed at permanent mobilization. This fatigue manifested itself during the recent presidential election when he lost the electorate’s support. This spells fresh risks for Ukraine, considering that the current political alignment in Transnistria may well result in a sharpening of the relationships between the new president and the existing parliament being controlled by the Renewal (a.k.a. Renovation) Party. Shevchuk will apparently have to conduct a dialog with members of the teams of Smirnov and Kaminsky (a.k.a. Sheriff). This will show the extent of compromise or concession to which Shevchuk will agree under the circumstances. There are also quite a few stabilizing factors, with Russia on the one hand and Ukraine on the other hand. Shevchuk’s obvious task is to resume the five-plus-two talks.
“Ukraine’s absence as a political factor during the presidential campaign [in Transnistria] is explained by the fact that Ukraine wasn’t a political force capable of influencing the outcome of this campaign. Ukraine had lost too much in the course of the Transnistria crisis, simply because it remained inactive, because it never took the offensive, because it never declared its interest or defended its nationals [in Transnistria]. Bringing up the Ukrainian factor, spieling about Ukrainian moods [in Transnistria] would seem a farfetched idea today. The local political leadership appears to remember Ukraine only when trying to pressure Russia or Moldova. Shevchuk isn’t likely to make any obsequious gesture toward Ukraine. On the other hand, the man must be well aware of Ukraine’s political situation. Shevchuk also has good contacts in Ukraine, so he may well give the five-plus-two talks a fresh impetus.
“The main point is that Shevchuk has been given a lot of electoral credit, so much so Transnistria’s political course may be radically altered, along with domestic political approaches in terms of economic management, the Transnistria conflict, and other matters that have long concerned [independent] Ukraine, including human rights and liberties in regard to Ukrainian nationals, as well as the economic interests of Ukraine in Transnistria, while keeping this region of the world stable.
“Ukraine has official and unofficial, direct and indirect, economic and political leverage over Transnistria’s new political leadership. Let me stress that Shevchuk’s entourage is only too well aware of Ukraine’s importance in settling the Transnistria conflict. These people are interested in having normal, constructive relationships with Kyiv; they understand the importance of keeping Kyiv’s interests in mind even better than the previous administration.
“Shevchuk is expected to order major bureaucratic replacements not earlier than January 15. Should he confront the Sheriff and Smirnov, this would be Scenario #1. It would spell an aggravated domestic political situation and constitutional crisis. Should he come to terms with the Renewal Party, the posts of the head of government and those of other power structures would go to people found acceptable by all influential groups in Transnistria.”
Oazu NANTOI, program director, Institute of Public Policy, Chisinau:
“Russia evidently wanted to have Igor Smirnov replaced by Anatoly Kaminsky. Kaminsky, as a Kremlin protege, was apparently the result of some arrangements made between the Kremlin and Kaminsky, between the Kremlin and the Renewal Party, between the Kremlin and the Sheriff company if you will. The result was an unexpected situation with Shevchuk winning the election in a landslide, so he now leads an unconstitutional regime, facing a package of sophisticated issues. First, he has to figure out what exactly Moscow wanted Kaminsky to do, considering that Moscow has actually maintained this regime for economic, financial, military, and political reasons. How will the new administration form, considering the presence of a constitution bill? There will have to be prime minister and cabinet. Will Moscow insist on sending its people to occupy these posts? Will Shevchuk succeed in defending his right to man these posts? In terms of five-plus-two talks (that are virtually meaningless), Shevchuk cuts a better figure than Smirnov. Shevchuk’s election as president is Moscow’s headache and no cause for celebration in Chisinau. We have to wait and see what the Kremlin really wants; how Shevchuk will go about forming his team and winning some of the MPs over to his side. This process will be complicated primarily by the absence of political will and consolidation on the right bank of the Dnister. We took our time toying with the idea of an early parliamentary election (this game is actually underway). Changes are sure to take place on the left bank, but it’s anyone’s guess whether they will result in warm embraces on both banks of the river, with the participants in the election race sobering up on the second day after the event.”
What about Shevchuk’s campaign videos, particularly his meetings with Russia’s Gryzlov, Lavrov, and United Russia functionaries? There is also that footage with Shevchuk and Alexei Ostrovsky, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs and Relations with Compatriots, posing for the camera, standing next to him, considering that Ostrovsky campaigned for Shevchuk in Transnistria? How about the absence of footage on Ukraine which is a next door neighbor?
“I won’t mention any facts from Shevchuk’s CV, nor will I comment on his [ethnic Ukrainian] last name, his attitude to Russia and Ukraine. It is perfectly clear that no one running for president of Transnistria would ever think of opposing Moscow. On the other hand, Moscow’s undisguised support wouldn’t serve as a trump card. In this sense, Shevchuk appears to have an extra moral argument to argue his stand in a dialog with Moscow, among other things. Whether he will do so is a question that remains to be answered.”