Updated: Aug 28, 2019
By: Heidi Koelle
How Did the Annexation of Crimea Effect Transnistria?
The annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 left the International community with many questions about which territory would be next for annexation. One of the highlighted areas was Transnistria.
Transnistria is a breakaway region of Moldova that claimed independence from the Republic of Moldova immediately following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. How has this relationship developed since the annexation of Crimea?
Has there been a significant change in this relationship or has it remained more or less the same?
The Annexation of Crimea: Key Developments Since
Transnistria sent a request immediately after the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, requesting subsequent annexation of its own territory. However, as we now know, the request was not granted.
The Russian deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin said that "Transnistria can be a special area within Moldova" ( Urbanskaya 2015)".
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that during the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, an agreement existed between the parties to "seek special status for Transnistria within the framework of respect for the territorial integrity of Moldova, which should remain a sovereign state with military-political neutrality."
Despite having their request for subsequent annexation denied and not being officially recognized by Russia.
Tiraspol has adopted the notion to have identical legislation with Moscow. In 2016 during his presidential campaign, Transnistrian president, Evgeny Shevchuk, signed a decree which called for the law system in Transnistria should be synchronized per the direction of "internal politics." (Freedom house 2017)
This means that anytime that Russia adopts a new law, Transnistria adopts the same law.
The economic and military support given by the Russian Federation has not been very consistent either.
The sanctions placed on the Russian Federation over the annexation of Crimea has negatively affected Transnistria as well. Transnistria became a lower priority than the Crimean peninsula.
The decline has reduced the flow of remittances coming to the PMR from the Russian Federation (Urbanskaya 2015). The pension that Russian citizens in Transnistria receive has also been limited.
The most significant development for Transnistria since the annexation of Crimea is not with its relationship to Russia, but its ties with Ukraine, which is an indirect consequence.
The annexation of Crimea and fighting in Ukraine has drastically tarnished the relationship Transnistria has with Ukraine. Ukraine has historically held a neutral status towards Transnistria, but has since seen changes. ( Buescher 2016).
It was later discovered that Transnistria contributed to attempts to destabilize Odessa and other Ukrainian regions.
The longtime standing state security member Vladimir Antufeyec played a prominent role in assisting "The Donetsk People's Republic" in building government infrastructure.
There were also a significant number of Transnistrian activists that were active in both Donetsk and Luhansk and has caused Ukraine to enact several countermeasures against Transnistria.
The most serious action they have taken, was forming a joint border control with Moldova in 2017. Ukrainian and Moldovan border guards have started to maintain the collective customs and border crossing control.
They work together with representatives of the EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM) at national border crossing checkpoints (Zoria 2017).
Tiraspol is not a priority for Moscow for the main reason that Russia does not hold the same regard for Transnistria as it does for Crimea both geo-politically and culturally.
The lack of a common border between Russia and Transnistria also makes this issue more complicated.
Transnistria does not even touch the separatist regions of Ukraine either, although Agnia Grigas points out, that it is still not far from the territories deemed as "Novorossiya" ( Grigas 2016 ).
The Minsk agreements have since put a block on the majority of the separatist behavior in Ukraine as well.
The separatism is contained to the eastern part of Ukraine which is still hundreds of kilometers away from the breakaway region of Transnistria.
Crimea is a more vital strategic significance for Russia as it provides a home to the black sea fleet, while Transnistria has only about 1000 Russian troops and a few factories. The initial value Transnistria serves for Russia geopolitically is that it is leverage that it can use against the Republic of Moldova.
As long as the frozen conflict remains, it hinders Moldova's chance of becoming integrated into the west and leaves it with little room for manoeuvre.
The Republic of Moldova has its problems with being in political gridlock. About half of the population remains pro-Russian and is interested in being integrated into the Eurasian Union, while the other half has aligned itself with the west and is more interested in being integrated into the European Union.
In addition, Crimea has deeper roots in Russian nationalist discourse than Transnistria or Moldova (Rogstad 2018). Putin's justifications for the Crimea annexation in his speech to the Russian Federal Assembly on March 18, 2014 (Ibid).
There were many subjects touched on, ranging from Crimea as the location of Prince Vladimir's adoption of Orthodoxy, which "predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus and the regret of the 1954 decision to transfer Crimea from the Russian to the Ukrainian Soviet republic (ibid).
Moldova and Transnistria also do not penetrate the Russian psyche the same way that Ukraine and Crimea do. Therefore, Transnistria is merely a bargaining chip to use as leverage over the geopolitical position of the Republic of Moldova.
The fate of Transnistria relies more on the upcoming developments of Moldova and Ukraine than it does with its relationship to Russia. While Russia benefits the current status quo of Transnistria, it does not appear that it is going to go to great lengths for it as it does for other separatist regions within the post-Soviet sphere.
Adrian Rogstad (2018) The Next Crimea?, Problems of Post-Communism, 65:1, 49-64, DOI: 10.1080/10758216.2016.1237855
Büscher, K. (2016). The Transnistria Conflict in Light of the Crisis over Ukraine. SWP Research Paper 2016/RP.
Grigas, A. (2016). Beyond Crimea: The new Russian empire. New Haven: Yale University Pressץ Profile :Transnistria 2017. (2018, January 16). Retrieved from https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2017/transnistria
Urbanskaya, T. (2015). Trouble in Transnistria. Retrieved from https://www.unian.info/politics/1054236-trouble-in-transnistria.html
Zoria, Y. (2017, July 21). Ukraine helps Moldova regain control over border in Transnistrian region |. Retrieved from http://euromaidanpress.com/2017/07/21/ukraine-helps-moldova-regain-control-over-border-in-transnistria-region/