Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, is backing
independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia's two rebel
provinces. The vote came after a brief war between Russia and
Georgia following Georgia's assault on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali
on Aug. 7. Now, the president of Russia has also agreed to support recognition of
the independence of these breakaway provinces. Both countries won de facto independence in the 1990s after
wars with the government in Tbilisi. Bearing the some five thousand
ethnic groups of the world in mind, it seems the road that started with the Kosovo
UDI seems to stretch across the globe.
After the separatist movements in Geogia, Transnistria looks to be the next breakaway province in Europe. Let's look at this next possible new state a little closer:
- Pridnestrovie - also known by the unofficial name, Transnistria or also Transdniester - is a new and emerging country in South Eastern Europe, sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine. Although widely seen as part of Moldova, historically, Pridnestrovie and Moldova were always separate. Throughout 2500 years of history, the Dniester River, which forms the current border, has been a traditional boundary between the Slav lands (Scythia, 450 B.C.) to the East and Romanian lands (Dacia) to the West.
- The population of Pridnestrovie is around 550.000 and is mostly Slavic. This is a stark contrast to Moldova, on the other side of the Dniester River, where four-fifths of the population are of Romanian descent and where ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians only make up 6 to 8 percent, respectively.
- Pridnestrovie meets the requirements for sovereign statehood under international law, as it has a defined territory, a population, an effective elected authority, and the capability to enter into international relations. It is currently seeking international recognition of its de facto independence and statehood.
economy of Pridnestrovie is a mixed market-based economy. Following a large
scale privatization process, most of the companies in the country are now
privately owned. The economy is export-oriented and based on a mix of heavy
industry and manufacturing. According to the latest data from the nation's
Customs, Pridnestrovie now trades with 99 foreign countries.
has already existed as a de facto independent state for close to eighteen
years, having declared independence on September 2, 1990. In the historical
context, Transnistria has been unaggressive and peaceful throughout its entire
However on May 22, 2008, Moldova's parliament approved a national security strategy that named Transnistria a danger to Moldova and squarely identified it as a Moldovan war target. President Vladimir Voronin signed the strategy into law on May 26 and it was officially published and went into effect on May 27.
The move came just a month after Transnistria proposed a formal Friendship and Co-operation Treaty between the two sides. Transnistria's plan wanted to establish good neighbor relations between Moldova and Transdniestria and bilaterally renounce all kinds of military force.
Transnistria could be the next breakaway province, but this separation could be made without the use of force or violence. However, implementation of Moldova's security policy could also escalate in that direction. In any case, because Transnistria is developing statehood elements and progressing its economy, it can soon ask for international recognition.
The next question is, in the case that conflict does indeed become violent in Transnistria after it seeks international recognition, will there be any policy recommendations for the conflict? The root of the problem is that the international community cannot agree on rules for the independence of small regions. Imposed solutions (like Kosovo) are not long lasting. One positive thing is that in April 2008, Moldova and Transnistria resumed a direct dialogue. The outcome of these negotiations could mean anything from full independency to various federation models, autonomy models (e.g. Åland or Hong Kong model) or other regional self-governance models.
The EU should do everything possible to facilitate these negotiations with support for local stakeholders in order to create a specifically tailored model for the region and commit to helping development and implementation with help from EU funding. The bottom line is to support Transnistria and Moldova to find a peaceful and balanced political agreement for both sides without the use of force or threats.
Ari Rusila is a development project management expert from Finland with a special interest in the Balkan region. His other interests include civil crisis management issues and middle East. Sources and additional information about Transnistria is available from The Tiraspol Times. More about the Caucasus conflict can be found on Mr. Rusila's BalkanBlog.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Judy Fu: End the Isolation of Secessionist Movements
- Leonie Holthaus: The Caucasus Conflict Needs EU Mediation
- Ulf Gartzke: Georgia's Recklessness Pays off With NATO