MonitoringPoliticsCommentaries

Quo vadis?..

|print version||
Igor Botan / January 15, 2006
ADEPT logo

Elections in Transnistria and the context in which they took place

Although the legislative elections in Transnistria took place more than one month ago, their eventual impact on the process of settlement of the separatist conflict remains unclear. Firstly, some of the “founding parents” of the separatist regime admit that the region does not have authentic political parties, but only groups of interests that act the way the conjuncture suggests to them. Secondly, the favourable or unfavourable conjuncture of settlement of the Transnistrian conflict was and is determined mainly by behaviour of Russian and Ukrainian authorities. Of course, all groups of interests from the new composition of the Supreme Soviet in Tiraspol are pro-Russian and this is an absolutely normal thing since the separatist regime had appeared and consolidated as “besieged fortress” with the direct military, political, economic-financial support of Russia and on account of “goodwill” of Ukraine, which allowed the Transnistrian commercial transit, as well as of other nature through its territory.

Three more or less consolidated groupings are represented in the Supreme Soviet of the self-proclaimed Transnistrian republic after elections. They are: 1) the Obnovlenye (Renovation) movement that represents the interests of big business in Transnistria. The official leader of the movement, Mihail Burla, claims that this movement holds 23 out of 43 seats, it means the absolute majority; 2) the “Respublica” movement inspired by separatist leader Igor Smirnov that represents the interests of the “old guard” of “founding parents” of the separatist regime; 3) informal grouping of local security bodies supported by similar circles from Russia, which look for own niche in the local business, in relations with chauvinistic and revengeful circles from the Russian Federation, and “People’s Volition” party, headed by deputy chairman of the State Duma Sergey Baburin.

The victory of pragmatic representatives of Transnistrian business and the fact that population in the region pleaded for “change” do not mean that the new trend favours the reintegration of the Republic of Moldova. The quasi-unanimous opinion that differences between the three groups represented in the Supreme Soviet are related only to certain aspects of interior policies connected to economic interests in the region has consolidated, while the vectors of external orientation of the three factions are convergent. The fact that interests of the “Smirnov clan” are represented in all three movements, including the victorious movement Obnovlenye is a proof in this regard. The famous firm “Sheriff” has among its leaders one of Smirnov’s son, who has recently became lawmaker, supports the latter. Of course, no serious clan “keeps its eggs in one basket,” and this thing also defines the Transnistrian pluralism that the so-called democratic elections in the region were based on. One can say the three heads of the same “separatist dragon” form the political pluralism in Transdniestria.

The election of a leader of Obnovlenye, Evghenii Sevciuc, as head the Supreme Soviet confirms only the fact that this movement holds the absolute majority in this body. The former posts of Sevciuc in the structures of Sheriff and commercial bank Agroprombank, which is also owned by Sheriff, confirms that this structure has the ambition to control both a part of the economic life in the region and the political life, in order to extend its economic domination. The demonstration of force and propaganda efficiency of Sheriff was impressive. Their seriousness was demonstrated last summer within the so-called initiative on modification of the Transnistrian constitution.

Evghenii Sevciuc himself, who was deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet, was the leader of the group of Transnistrian 17 lawmakers who obtained the voting in the first reading of amendments to the Transnistrian constitution that called for introduction of a presidential-parliamentary regime instead of the presidential regime, in which the Supreme Soviet would hold at least some levers of control on executive. As a result, Smirnov accepted the dismissal of justice minister Victor Balala, obtaining this way a moratorium on amendment of constitution.

The start of the electoral campaign for election of the Supreme Soviet disclosed shady sides of the initiative on “amendment of constitution” through local, Ukrainian and Russian mass media. Thus, it was established that former justice minister Victor Balala is part of the interest group headed by lawmakers of the Russian State Duma — Serghei Baburin and Victor Alksnis. A confirmation is that Balala became adviser for Russian lawmaker Baburin after being sacked. Before that Balala was the main promoter and protector of the economic interests of “Russian patriots” who base their affairs on “protection of rights of fellow countrymen in the CIS area”. For example, Balala has eased the involvement of the Baburin-Alksnis grouping in the obscure affair related to privatisation of the Cuciurgan power plant in exchange for a price which was much lower than the real cost of the station. It was reported that “protectors of interests of Russian fellow countrymen” gained profits of millions of dollars from this deal. In this situation, it was easy to presume that both citizens from Transnistria, and serious business associated with Sheriff do not like the activity of self-declared protectors of their interests. Russian lawmakers Baburin and Alksnis replied by visiting the region during the “constitutional crisis” in Transnistria, in order to protect their contested interests. The failure to save their protector Balala made them to present their official conclusions to the State Duma of Russia.

According to these conclusions Sheriff’s group and its representatives headed by deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet Evghenii Sevciuc, influenced by Ukrainian circles, endanger the “fate and statehood of Transnistria.” The pretensions of Russian lawmaker Baburin and Alksnis are understandable. They counted on “gratitude sentiments” of Transnistrians, as well as on an “adequate” reward for their support of separatist regime. Truly, why the administration of President Putin can venture to “monetise” the relations in the CIS area through intermediary gas providing firms and they could not “monetise” their contribution to “protection of rights of fellow countrymen” from the same CIS area? Baburin and Alksnis themselves have supported the creation of the separatist regime; they persuaded Antiufeev, who became head of the security in the region later, to come to Transnistria after being declared as wanted for crimes in Latvia; they created the main group of Transnistrian lobby in the State Duma; they persuaded the Duma in February 2005 to adopt three (!) resolutions with recommendations for the Russian Government to apply economic sanctions against Moldova by prohibiting the supplies of vegetal, animal and wine products to the Russian market, to increase prices of natural gas provided to Moldova, etc. because the Chisinau authorities block up the separatist regime. And they have succeeded: the authorities of the Russian Federation applied gradually the sanctions suggested by Baburin&Alksnis in 2005.

To calm down the spirits related to “modification of constitution” of the Transnistrian region, the adviser for “relations with fellow countrymen” of President Putin, Modest Kolerov, was deployed to the separatist region in the period concerned. The fields of activity of the group Baburin&Alksnis and adviser for President Putin could be a simple coincidence. However, the visit of Kolerov to Tiraspol has stopped animosities. He had arguments in order to impose the rallying of all groups of interests to Russia, in order to avoid an eventual “orange revolution” in the region. As it was already mentioned, the solution of compromise was accepted by Smirnov, who had to sack minister Balala in order to stop the constitution modification procedure.

The mission of Kolerov did not stop here. The offensive is the best defence and, therefore, he also contributed to “the consolidation of civil society in Transnistria,” becoming the founder of the International Corporation “Proriv” (CIP), which has surprisingly discovered branches in Crimea, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russia supports separatism. Also, Kolerov along with poly-technologist Gleb Pavlovski have started the series of forums based on spreading of the idea of “multiculturalism”, which representatives of separatist regimes should attend in order to coordinate their actions aimed to find arguments to justify the legality of these regimes. Thus, four forums of this kind were scheduled and held in 2005. The forth forum called “Multiculturalism and Ethni-National Development” took place in Geneva in December and it focussed on effects of an eventual international recognition of the Kosovo province, fuelling speculations about imminent reaction of Russia aimed at recognition of separatist regimes in the CIS area.

To give an adequate response to efforts of Kolerov and to eliminate suspicions related to eventual intentions to establish relations of cooperation with Chisinau, the leaders of Obnovlenye movement have started ostentatious actions aimed to demonstrate the contrary, namely that they are pro-Russia oriented. They started collecting “400,000” signatures of citizens before the electoral campaign in the region in order to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognise Transnistria independence, managing to collect about 70,000 signatures, an effort that would makes them credible, however.

This is the context in which the “pluralist” elections in Transnistria that only the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation declared as democratic took place. It happened like in the advertising: “we offer you vehicles of any colour with the condition that they will be black.”

Conclusions

  1. The “change” in Transnistria provoked by legislative actions came actually immediately after the Russian authorities have launched the pragmatic policies of “monetisation” of relations with strategic partners in the CIS. Thus, the Moldovan authorities will face Russian and Transnistrian pragmatics that create a joint bloc openly and ostentatiously.

  2. The pragmatism of Russia is reduced to “monetisation” of relations, especially as regards the fields on which it holds monopoles; blocking up of access to its market of Modovan goods; maintenance of military, political and economic presence in Transnistria in order to oppose unsanctioned “changes of constitution” and eventual “orange revolutions”; differentiated implementation of “monetisation” towards gas supplies to Transnistria and the Republic of Moldova.

  3. The official leader of the Obnovlenye movement has named the parameters of the Transnistrian pragmatism for the Novyi Reghion publication; a) Transnistria will remain politically and economically oriented to Russia. The invoked reason rests with the fact that 30 percent of residents of the eastern breakaway enclave of Transnistria are Russians, 100,000 of citizens hold the Russian citizenship and Russia is the main economic partner of Transnistria; b) Russia does not impose any conditions to Transnistria regarding the payment of the debt of about one billion dollars. The Transnistrian company Tiraspoltransgaz will obtain gas for the old price of 80 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres after the separation from the Moldova-Gaz company. c) Transnistria will opt for independence, but it will accept only a union of two equal subjects with the Republic of Moldova, that means only a con-federal model, if it will have to negotiate a status; d) the Russian will remain a dominant language in spite of declaration of equality of three languages (Russian, Ukrainian and Moldovan) because the situation in the region was constituted this way.

  4. Under these conditions, the pragmatism of Moldovan authorities seems not to have very well sheltered reference points. The settlement of the Transnistrian conflict depends on the external conjuncture more than on capacity and will of the Republic of Moldova to find a solution to fit its national interests. The internal conjuncture is also important. The “national consensus” and relative political stability were obtained on account of dramatic narrowing of the “field of manoeuvre” of the ruling party as regards the conflict resolution principles. This makes the stance of the Republic of Moldova to be regarded as extremely inflexible. On the other hand, giving up this stance may endanger the “national consensus” without any guarantees that a new flexible tackling would bring positive results. It is clear so far that Russia punishes the Republic of Moldova from economic point of view for its stance on mode of settlement of the Transnistrian conflict. Big hopes that Ukraine would honour its obligations assumed in May 2003 and would allow the transit of Transnistrian goods only on basis of customs documents of Moldova (an action that would make the separatist authorities more conciliatory) are useless. Ukraine reconfirmed the May 2003 decision in May 2005, but the things did not change. The reconfirmation of the same thing on December 30, 2005 does not inspire with much confidence, especially because Ukraine faces a new round of political crisis. Under these conditions, the implementation by Transnistrians of the mechanism of corruption of Ukrainian customs officers that Transnitrian foreign minister Valerii Litskai has described for the Glavred magazine would not be very difficult.

In this situation, the Moldovan authorities have nothing to do but to manifest perseverance and consistency in promoting their objective, without knowing exactly the impact and when the expected results will be registered.

A branch of “orange evolution”? New concepts on foreign policy and national security