It has been 30 years of the freezing of the Transunion conflict that occurred by signing the agreement on the peaceful settlement of the armed conflict in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova, known as the Yeltsin - Snegur Convention, on July 21, 1992. When the Convention was signed, in accordance with its provision, the hot phase of the Transnistrian conflict (Nistru war) ended and the conflicting sides stopped the military confrontations and withdrew the troops, fighting equipment and armament, creating a security zone. The control over this zone started to be exercised by a Joint Control Commission consisting of representatives of three sides that participated in the settlement process, namely Chisinau, Moscow and Tiraspol. By the document signed by the two heads of state 30 years ago, the bloodshed in the conflict was brought to an end and a tripartite mechanism was formed to oversee and maintain peace on the banks of the Nistru.
It stopped bloodshed but froze conflict for an indefinite period of time
The Yeltsin - Snegur Convention is appreciated for the fact that it has kept peace on the Nistru by preventing the reappearance of military hostilities during these 30 years after the armed conflict ended. But the Convention provided for the ending of the armed conflict and didn’t create preconditions for settling the conflict, actually generating its freezing for an indefinite period of time. Moreover, behind this Convention, a Russo-Ukrainian complicity mechanism for regulating the security zone was institutionalized and this leads to the constant marginalization of Chisinau’s position. The signing of the Convention and the constitution of the Joint Control Commission led to the dissolution of the international quadripartite conflict settlement mechanism, excluding two neighboring countries from the process – Ukraine, temporarily, and Romania, for good.
During 30 years, the political Transnistrian conflict settlement witnessed a number of initiatives and different documents signed by participants in this process, which led to the identification of solutions to a number of private cases in the relationship between Chisinau and Tiraspol, but practically didn’t ensure significant progress in the comprehensive political settlement process. The continuous ramification of the international conflict settlement mechanism also didn’t contribute much to the political settlement. This is currently frozen in the 5 + 2 format and is rather worthless.
Rather declarative attempts to politically resolve conflict
The only consistent attempt to politically settle the dispute was made in 2003 based on the principles of the Kozak Memorandum. Burt this failed and caused a profound syncope in the Moldovan-Russian relationship. This failure further added importance to the Yeltsin - Snegur Convention whose provisions continue preserving their fundamental value in the Transnistrian settlement process. For example, the provisions of the Convention are the only legal basis that legalizes the stay of the Russian military presence on the territory of the Republic of Moldova as a peacekeeping force. Moreover, the Convention legalizes the separatist paramilitary forces as regards the military peacekeeping mission with the Transnistrian component as a legal element.
In time, Chisinau made rather declarative attempts to review the Convention of 1992 so as to have the Russian troops, (Operational Group of Russian Forces in Transnistria) withdrawn from the left side of the Nistru and to transform the current peacekeeping operation in the conflict zone into an internationally mandated civil mission. But these approaches made by Chisinau were vehemently dismissed by Moscow and Tiraspol as attempts to unfreeze the Nistru armed conflict. The Kremlin has permanently used the Convention as legal cover for the Russian military presence in the eastern districts of the Republic of Moldova and to cover the military cooperation practices with the paramilitary forces of Tiraspol.
Important role in Russo-Ukrainian war to Ukraine’s detriment
The war in Ukraine caused a real enigmatic state around the Transnistrian conflict. The Russian army attacked Ukraine, turning into a real military enemy of the Ukrainian army together with the Russian military presence in the separatist Transnistria, which poses a threat to Ukraine and can be used to give a blow to the Ukrainian army from behind. The existence of this danger requires the concentration of a particular number of Ukrainian troops for neutralizing it. This necessitates the redirection of an appreciable Ukrainian military contingent form the Eastern front of the war against the Russian army. This way, the separatist Transnistria by its existence plays an important role in the math of the Russo-Ukrainian war to Ukraine’s detriment.
In such circumstances, it is normal for Kyiv to examine different scenarios to counteract the military danger on the part of Transnistria. Among the scenarios was publicly presented information about possible preventive actions by the Ukrainian army aimed at annihilating the Russian military danger in Transnistria. Given the fighting potential of the Ukrainian army, which has been demonstrated in the confrontation with the Russian army the past few months, the success of the Ukrainian military operation aimed at neutralizing Transnistria becomes more than probable. The conducting of a military operation on the territory that belongs to a neutral state, like the Republic of Moldova, is the main obstacle to such of an operation. This way, the Ukrainian officials underlined that the Ukrainian army can perform such a military operation in Transnistria only with the consent of Chisinau.
Ukraine waits for Chisinau’s consent
As it was expected, this consent is not possible when the position of Chisinau is strictly focused on the necessity of avoiding any involvement of the Republic of Moldova in the war in Ukraine. This indirectly saves for now Transnistria from the implementation of the military scenario by the Ukrainian forces for annihilating the presence of the Russian troops in this territory. Even if Tiraspol tries to maintain a real diplomatic balance between the necessity of keeping the obedient political loyalty to Moscow and its neutrality towards Ukraine, Kyiv does not have doubts about the real political essence of the separatist regime in Tiraspol. This is confirmed by a recent statement by a high-ranking Ukrainian official, who reiterated Ukraine’s readiness to offer all the necessary support to the Republic of Moldova for getting rid of the Russian military presence in its territory, which this described as occupation troops. The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky earlier said that he possesses information according to which Transnistria gets ready for a military attack on Ukraine and promised to respond with a “blow” to that territory that de jure belongs to the Republic of Moldova. “We must do our best for the Russian aggression to no longer threaten Ukraine, Moldova or someone else in Europe. I raised the problem of the risks of such attacks in the discussions with Missis President,” the Ukrainian President stated after Maia Sandu’s visit to Kyiv.
After Moldova was granted the EU candidate status, the accusations about the transformation of the Republic of Moldova into the second Ukraine trough the agency of “its Western partners” intensified in Moscow. Immediately afterward, the so-called minister of foreign affairs of the separatist region Vitaly Ignatyev announced Tiraspol’s decision to obtain independence for Transnistria with the subsequent union of the separatist republic with Russia. It is well known that Ignatyev, being a direct creation of Moscow who was sent to Tiraspol on a mission, delivers only the messages formulated by his bosses from the Russian capital. This shows Moscow’s intention to apply in Transnistria the same scenario as the one used in the case of other separatist entities in Georgia and Ukraine - recognition of the so-called independence of the separatist republic with subsequent annexation.
Dangers of unfreezing and variants of annihilating them
It is evident that the prospects for unfreezing the Transnistrian conflict depend on the developments at the theater of war in Ukraine. At the moment, Moscow is not interested in forcing the deterioration of the situation in Transnistria at a time when the Russian army didn’t manage to create a land bridge with the separatist region of the Republic of Moldova. If this situation continues, the regime in Tiraspol will be caught between two powerfully interconnected entities: Europe and Ukraine. This will inevitably lead to the weakening of Russia’s influence on the Transnistrian conflict.
However, until the war in Ukraine is over, for Chisinau it is important to assume a political line of neutralizing the danger of unfreezing of the Transnistrian conflict, blocking this way the expansion of the war into the territory of the Republic of Moldova. This political line should derive from the understanding that Russia, in the short and medium terms, does not want the conflict to be solved and aims to keep its geopolitical influence over the Republic of Moldova and to have a military bridgehead at the back of Ukraine. Among the few possibilities of not allowing the Republic of Moldova in the hands of Russia are to review the provisions of the Convention of 1992 and to renounce Russia’s decisive role in the political Transnistrian settlement process by adopting a solution to temporarily detach Transnistria from the European integration process of the Republic of Moldova. Such a solution would mean European integration in stages, at the first stage only for a part of the Republic of Moldova, with Transnistria temporarily detached from this process, but by keeping de jure the territorial integrity of the state. The temporary detaching of Transnistria will enable the Republic of Moldova to gradually integrate safely into the EU space, contributing to the EU’s and the U.S.’s greater involvement in the political settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, diminishing this way the probability of its unfreezing by reanimating military hostilities on the Nistru.
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