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Presidential elections in Transdnestria

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December 11, 2001
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Despite the fact that several weeks ago, the President of the Republic of Moldova declared that upcoming elections in Transdnestria are illegitimate, presidential elections were conducted on December 9, 2001. As it was to be expected, Igor Smirnov won. According to the preliminary results he was cast 85% of the votes. Last year Smirnov initiated modification of the Constitution of the breakaway Transdnestrian region. And this was an indication to intention to stay in office for life.

Let’s see review the events that preceded Smirnov’s election. Exactly a year ago, when the President of the Republic of Moldova was elected by Parliament, the future President, Vladimir Voronin, at that time the leader of the communist faction announced after a short visit to Moscow that he has the solution for settling Transdnestrian conflict. He also stated that the conflict would be solved upon the change of the breakaway region leadership.

Once elected President Vladimir Voronin issued a decree outlining strategic objectives for a final resolution of the Transdnestrian conflict.

At that time, Ilie Ilascu was released from prison after years of detention in Transdnestrian prisons. Nicolae Cernomaz gave more insight on the details of the Ilascu’s release, at the request of President Voronin a simple phone call was made from Moscow. It is believed that Cernomaz had a bitter price to pay for his sincerity — his job.

Back then, Smirnov obeyed, but insinuated that he is not willing to mechanically execute Moscow’s orders, which are made at the request of President Voronin. He took some measures to change the situation in his favor; firstly he ceased the dialog process with Voronin. Secondly, he prevented Voronin from visiting Noul Neamt Monastery (in Transdnestria). Furthermore he introduced Transdnestrian passports instead of the old Soviet ones. All of these made Voronin declare Smirnov an obstructionist. Though Voronin added he knows some ways to make Smirnov more cooperative in negotiations.

Upcoming presidential elections were an excellent opportunity for Smirnov to prove that he still enjoys the support of the people in that region. The large public became more aware about Smirnov’s and his family illegal business. Under these circumstances the only chance for Smirnov to preserve voters’ confidence was to exploit their mentality — the way they see Transdnestria as a fortress besieged by malicious Chisinau forces.

Smirnov regarded September 1 introduction of new custom stamps by the Republic of Moldova as an economic blockade. In an effort to keep alive the hopes of the Transdnestrian citizens that their country enjoys a support from abroad and that under his leadership they would heroically overcome the Chisinau blockade, Smirnov made some diplomatic maneuvers. His plan partially succeeded. Smirnov managed to synchronize several actions. Firstly, Gagauz leaders started a pressing on Chisinau, threatening with secessionism unless their claims of federalization or con-federalization of the Republic of Moldova are ignored. This pressing was aimed to show Transdnestrian citizens that reaching an agreement with Chisinau, as was the case of Gagauzia, wouldn’t solve the conflict at all. Secondly, Smirnov managed to meet with the Belarus President Lukashenko and Ukraine President Kuchima. Later on he speculated that Transdnestria’s Slavic brothers de facto recognize its status. Kuchima even contributed to annihilation of the effects the introduction of custom seals was supposed to have on Transdnestria. On the other hand, President Voronin managed to prevent Moscow’s open support to Smirnov regime. Furthermore, the fact that Moldova and Russia signed the Basic Treaty and anti-Smirnov reports on the Russian TV are an illustration of Russia’s support to Voronin rather than Smirnov in this conflict. Russian political analysts speculated on the price Moldova would have to pay for this favor. Namely, federalization of the Republic of Moldova having 3 equal components: Moldova, Transdnestria and Gagauzia under the protection of Russia.

The question is whether the benefits Moldova is expecting are worth the price it has to pay? After his victory, Smirnov will claim that the fate of the so-called Transdnestrian people (which also including 60.000 Russian citizens) may not be decided without him. Voronin’s strategy to make a distinction between Transdnestrian people and its leadership is pointless, given the fact that Smirnov was voted by 85% of the population. A week prior to elections Russian Ambassador to Moldova reiterated what President Putin said earlier this year — a solution to Transdnestrian conflict will be found only as a result of negotiations of five parties, i.e. Chisinau, Tiraspol, Moscow, Kiev and OSCE.

Despite his believe that this is a non-sense, eventually Voronin will have to make a sacrifice and start negotiations with Smirnov.

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