Dniester Deadlock Part 2: Transnistria between Romania and Ukraine

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April 27, 2018 – Fort Russ News –

By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold –

Continued from Part 1 

Following Ukraine’s statement its interests are threatened by Russian troops in the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, Kiev also announced that it is ready to provide a “green corridor” for the peacekeeping contingent to withdrawal. The poignancy of the situation is that the Transnistrian War was fought between Moldovan authorities and Romanian fascist volunteers on the one hand and, on the side of Transnistria, the Russians, Ukrainians, and Moldovans of the Left Bank of the Dniester River alongside numerous volunteers from Russia (Cossacks and mountaineers from the North Caucasus) and Ukraine. The latter included nationalists from the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People’s Self Defense Organization (UNA-UNSO) – a rare case in which Ukrainian nationalists fought on the same side of the barricades as Russians. I have more than a few friends among the Cossacks who fought in the war, and they maintain that it was not a war against Moldovans (who, alongside Slavs, made up most of the PMR’s units), but a war against Romanian fascists.

Ukraine officially disowned its compatriots on the Left Bank of the Dniester. This responsibility was borne by Ukrainian nationalists, who did not hide that they wanted to annex Transnistria to Ukraine. UNA-UNSO subsequently established organizations and conducted propaganda amongst Transnistrians. Yet Russian influence remained predominant. When the Georgian-Abkhazian War broke out in 1992, PMR volunteers fought alongside Russian Cossacks and mountaineers. On the enemy side were their yesterday allies – the Ukrainian nationalists from UNA-UNSO.

Kiev’s offer of a “green corridor” for the withdrawal of the Operative Group of Russian Troops from Transnistria is fraught with traps. Even if Russia hypothetically agreed to such, Ukraine has no right to decide the fate of the force whose joint peacekeeping units include troops from Moldova, Transnistria, and Russia – Ukrainians are present only as observers.

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In the PMR itself, and partially in Moldova, these Russian peacekeepers are seen as guarantors of peace on the Dniester. Given the intensifying operations of pro-Romanian unionists (those who want Moldova to be annexed by Romania), the withdrawal of peacekeeping forces would leave the Transnistrian Republic defenseless. After all, even the majority of Moldovans are against annexation by Romania. And in some parts of Moldova, such as Gagauzia and neighboring districts, the Bulgarian population is against such to the point of taking up weapons. This is why the Operative Group of Russian Troops boasts massive support not only in the PMR, but also in Moldova.

In Romania itself, as far as I can see, some support the idea of annexing Moldova without Transnistria. I think that if these plans were realized, Transnistria would be absorbed by Ukraine. Otherwise, another sharp conflict could erupt between Romania and Ukraine. To recall, the lands of Northern Bukovina (now Ukraine’s Chernivtsi region), Budzhak, and part of Subcarpathian Rus (the Transcarpathian region) have Romanian or Moldovan populations and previously belonged to the Moldavian Principality or Romania. Thanks to the Soviet government, these lands were unjustly annexed to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Romania and Hungary are historical opponents of Ukrainian nationalism. Both Romania and Hungary are now carrying out passportization policies among Ukrainian citizens – and not only for those of Romanian (or Moldovan) origin, but also local Slavs. The Ukrainian authorities have responded by supporting the development of Moldovan identity against pro-Romanian unionism.

In this context, we are seeing an attempt to push Russia out of Transnistria accompanied by claims that the status of the Operative Group of Russian Troops is illegal. Moldovan and Ukrainian authorities are acting in concert and synchronously. But it remains unclear what the precise motivation of Poroshenko’s regime is – is he acting in the interests of Romania, thus simultaneously trying to weaken pro-Romanian separatism in the Ukrainian regions and secure the approval of Ukraine’s entry into NATO, or is Poroshenko striving to take advantage of a Russian withdrawal from Transnistria in order to absorb this region? Poroshenko might be aiming for the latter in order to advertise a big geopolitical victory against Russia (and Romania), which will be used by him in his bitter domestic political struggles.

No matter what, the current foreign policy configuration surrounding Transnistria, especially as concerns the alliance between Moldova (with Romania behind it) and Ukraine against Russia, could easily develop into a new Romanian-Ukrainian confrontation over the inheritance of Romanian (and Moldovan) populated lands. Russia’s position remains unclear. Ukraine, the “weak man of Europe”, might thus turn out to be the one at whose expense the severity of these geopolitical contradictions will be resolved.

 

Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation. 

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