Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Georgia-Russia Conflict: Possible Implications for Moldova and Transnistria

Part 5 of a 6 part essay on the recent conflict in Georgia, its causes, and its potential implications.

Perhaps no breakaway region has been as strongly supported by (and, as a result, dependent on) Russia as tiny Moldova’s even tinier breakaway region of Transnistria has been. This miniscule Ukrainian and Russian enclave amidst a country of mostly Romanian-related Moldavians was able to achieve de facto independence in 1992, in no small part due to the support of the former Soviet 14th Army that was stationed there.[1]

Ever since gaining such autonomy, though, Transnistria has been in a rather precarious position. A sliver of land across from the Dniester River spanning only 1,607 square miles, Transnistria has little space for any sort of production (though it is fairly industrialized) and has virtually no cushion in the event of a serious attack. In addition, the small separatist region is landlocked in between Ukraine and Moldova proper, making any sort of trade tricky, since Ukraine does not recognize it and Moldova, of course, still claims it. Indeed, smuggling has been one of the primary sources not of only revenue, but also of goods for Transnistria, but even this option is growing less successful: in recent years Ukraine and Moldova have started to crack down more and more on such smuggling activity with the separatist region.[2]

Fortunately for Transnistria, though, Russia has long provided a good deal of support and aid to the breakaway region so that it has been able to maintain its autonomy from Moldova. From various routes, Russian aid and goods have reached Transnistria, helping it keep its economy afloat. As in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russian passports have been distributed to the people of Transnistria. Most critically of all, though, Russian troops remain in Transnistria, helping to ensure that the weak Moldovan military has little chance of retaking the enclave by force.[3]

Although Russia has been able to maintain a strong presence in Transnistria, it would be significantly more difficult for Russia to launch full-scale military operations against Moldova from the enclave than it was for Russia to do so against Georgia through Abkhazia and South Ossetia, mainly due to the fact that Transnistria does not border Russia, as Abkhazia and South Ossetia do, and also that, given the current tensions, there seems to be little to no chance that Ukraine would allow Russian troops to march through its territory to reach Transnistria. For the moment, though, Russia has no interest in such an operation, since Moldova has not been as troublesome as Ukraine and Azerbaijan, and indeed Russia already maintains a strong hold over Moldova because of its support of Transnistria. However, the possibility of such an operation is certainly on the table, particularly in light of the recent events in Georgia.

[1] http://www.american.edu/ted/ice/moldova.htm
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/28/world/europe/28ukraine.html?pagewanted=print
[3] http://www.american.edu/ted/ice/moldova.htm

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