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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Ukraine’s Transnistrian card

Reintegration of Moldova needs to be encouraged
1 April, 2014 - 11:25

The Crimea conflict requires an adequate response on our part. Putin’s plan has failed to some extent, for it was not confined to Crimea alone. Like any invader, the Kremlin wanted to achieve much more. It was planned to tear away all the south-eastern regions from Ukraine.

What proves this assumption is the fact that the main strategic goal – to thwart Kyiv’s pro-Western course – was not achieved. On the contrary, Ukraine has only speeded up its movement in this direction, and integration into the Euro-Atlantic organization is a matter of the near future.

Another factor is that it is not as important as it seems at first glance whether or not Ukraine will join NATO in the foreseeable future. The Kremlin must be concerned about the overall deterioration of Russia’s military-strategic position in the Azov-Black Sea region. It is absolutely clear that our relations will be poisoned for a long time due to annexation of a territory and Ukraine will never put up with this.

The hostile, if not to say more, relations are forcing Kyiv to care about updating and rearming its army, even though it is difficult economically and financially. If this occurs, there will be tension and an unpredictable situation along the entire Ukrainian-Russian border. Russia has already spent enormous money on the Crimean adventure and will have, from now on, to spend more and more. Kharkiv is only 40 kilometers from the border, but Belgorod is not much farther either. It is only 100 kilometers between Donetsk and Rostov-on-Don. The nightmare of Russian generals begins to come true – not through the fault of ours. The experience of World War II graphically shows the importance of the south-western direction for the White-Stone City [Moscow. – Ed.]. There is a different epoch now, but Moscow and Kyiv remain in their places and nobody has ever canceled geography. It is hence clear that the whole anti-Ukrainian adventure was conceived not so much for regaining Crimea as for solving far more serious military-strategic and geopolitical problems. For a number of reasons which we are not analyzing here, only a tiny fraction of what had been planned was achieved.

In the current military-strategic situation, we must look at the pro-Russian enclave Transnistria. Let us not forget that the Russian military grouping stationed there poses a threat to our southern regions. It was planned to carry out a strike from there at the acutest moment of the crisis – by first sending Cossack mummers to stir up separatist sentiments and then launching a full-fledged offensive on our rear.

Transnistria and the Russian military grouping are very important for Moscow strategists, for this allows exerting military and diplomatic pressure on Ukraine and Moldova. Incidentally, the latter is the only CIS country that expressed support for Ukraine without delay or reservations. Then Azerbaijan also supported our country’s territorial integrity. No more CIS friends are in sight.

Moscow has been fostering this frozen conflict near our borders for many years and got extremely angry every time Ukraine tried to promote a peaceful settlement in some way. But Kyiv did it somewhat timidly and inconsistently. When Viktor Yushchenko was in power, we first tightened security at the Transnistrian segment of the border with Moldova but gave this up soon. Only now have our politicians become aware at last of the Transnistria danger.

What proves this danger is the fact that those who favor joining Russia have also begun to stir. The Transnistrian Parliament Speaker Mikhail Burla has requested his Russian counterpart Sergei Naryshkin to consider the possibility of the unrecognized republic’s accession to the Russian Federation. He recalled that 97.2 percent of voters had opted for joining Russia in a 2006 Transnistria referendum. A constitutional law has already been passed in the first reading on the recognition of Russian legislation as part of the Transnistrian law. Russian was declared the official language, as there are 200,000 Russian citizens living in Transnistria. No mention is made about Ukrainian citizens.

Transnistrian separatists seem to be right to some extent. The region’s situation may deteriorate if Moldova, which has initialed an association agreement with the European Union, resorts to restrictive economic measures. Geography is also against them. The region borders on Ukraine and Moldova only. The two countries are going to sign an EU association agreement in the near future, and in this case Tiraspol will be really in dire straits. When Yanukovych started to play his association game, this worried Tiraspol very much and it began to prepare the populace for hard times. Then they calmed down a little, but now there is a trouble again.

In all probability, Moscow prompted Burla to make this demarche. Here is one more unrecognized entity that wishes to join Russia. It is a reminder to Kyiv and Chisinau that there can be more instances of secession. Also in Moldova, Gagauz leaders are playing similar games.

Kyiv responded immediately. As the former Transnistrian foreign minister Vladimir Yastrebchak told Nezavisimaya gazeta, Ukrainian border guards are really keeping Transnistrians with Russian passports from entering the territory of Ukraine. “The restrictions, imposed on March 13, also concerned women at first, but now they are aimed at men of a certain age only. Ukraine’s border security service says this is being done to keep away terrorists allegedly trained in Transnistria by, incidentally, the Russian Army Task Force (RATF) stationed in the region. The restrictions also apply to the cargoes intended for the Russian peacekeeping units – the Ukrainians stop freight trains on the Transnistrian border.” According to Transnistria Supreme Council member Galina Antyufeyeva, this measure has not yet been applied to the goods made by Transnistrian enterprises.

Just tightening controls on the Transnistrian border segment was quite enough to cool hot heads in Tiraspol. Kommersant-MD notes that there is no question so far of the Supreme Council of Transnistria formally requesting the State Duma of Russia to recognize the republic. The Transnistrian parliament has not been in session or adopted any addresses to Russia since the Crimea referendum was held. There was only a “personal message” from the Supreme Council speaker. It is also calmer now on the border. The Ukrainian embassy in Moldova has stated: “We announce in this context that, in spite of tightened security on the state border of Ukraine, all checkpoints on the Ukraine-Moldova border, including its Transnistrian segment, are open and function in a customary mode.”

Moscow is not in a hurry either. Vladimir Zharikhin, a well-known Ukrainophobe, deputy director of the Institute of CIS Countries, had to admit that the accession was unlikely “for technical reasons.” “Besides, there are no maritime routes of communication, as is the case with, for example, Kaliningrad oblast. It is a technical and, at the same time, a political problem,” he said.

Nevertheless, it is too early to ease our minds. Moscow is still having an imperialist itch, and this old disease may recur at any time.

What is Ukraine to do?

Firstly, if a right approach is taken, Moscow’s extreme interest in this region can be turned to advantage. Kyiv can set conditions in this case, and Chisinau will accept them.

Secondly, if Moscow goes on misbehaving, a blockade of, first of all, the RATF must be a fait accompli. Let Rogozin and Co., who are in charge of Transnistria, begin to seek a way for negotiations. Let the talks begin, and then we will see.

Thirdly, we do not need at all this breeding ground of separatism near Odesa. Therefore, Chisinau and we should consider and take a number of measures to force Moscow to withdraw the RATF from the region and to replace it with EU and Ukraine civilian peacekeepers. Moldova has been proposing this for a long time, but Moscow rejected this outright, while Kyiv did not insist. The time seems to have come.

Should the RATF be withdrawn, reintegration of Moldova will be the next step. This will eliminate a flashpoint near our borders.