Alegerile parlamentare din 2021 în Republica Moldova -

The hostages of Transnistrian regime

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Igor Botan / March 14, 2006
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Propagandistic campaign against “blockade”

The effects of the introduction of the new customs rules for the Transnistrian economic agents by the Ukrainian authorities on March 3, 2005 are novel phenomena that deserve an appropriate approach. The eventual introduction of the new rules was known for a long time. In principle, Ukraine accepted in May 2003 to allow the transit of goods to and from Transnistria on basis of the customs documents issued in compliance with the Moldovan legislation. The introduction of the new regulations was postponed three times meanwhile, last time on January 25, 2006.

Thus, Transnistrian authorities were perfectly aware of the high probability to implement the new customs rules. However, the preparations for the new customs regime have strangely focussed on the exchange of experience and improvement of the propagandistic art within the international conference held on February 16–17 and themed “International right and realities of the modern world. The Moldovan Transnistrian Republic — an existing state.” The resolution of the conference attended by Transnistrian officials called for the international recognition of Transnistria’s independence.

Under these circumstances, the Transnistrian and Russian authorities launched a propagandistic campaign, insisting that the introduction of the new customs rules means “the setup of an economic blockade on the prospering Transnistrian state.” The propagandistic wave was somehow attenuated by explanations of the Moldovan and Ukrainian authorities who had to clarify once again well-known things — the new customs rules aim to ensure the legality of foreign trade of the Transnistrian economic agents who will get registered with the relevant institutions of the Republic of Moldova in a simplified temporary or permanent regime in order to obtain commodity origin certificates and the internationally recognised customs documents. The legalisation of Transnistria’s foreign trade should take place in parallel with the settlement of the proper conflict. This is what the Transnistrian and Russian authorities describe as an “economic blockade” aimed to influence the negotiation process. According to Transdniestrian and Russian officials the “right of Transnistria to independent external economic activity” is stipulated by paragraph 3 of the May 8, 1997 “Primakov memorandum” and this is the key argument.

Apart from the propagandistic campaign aimed to accuse the Moldovan and Ukrainian authorities of introduction of the “economic blockade” the Transnistrian authorities: a) announced that Ukraine cannot be anymore a mediator and guarantor of the negotiation process for the conflict resolution anymore, with this role being played by Russia only; b) threatened to leave the negotiation process; c) blocked the railway and motor transport crossing the region in transit; d) banned the Transnistrian economic agents that practice import-export operations to get registered in the Republic of Moldova; e) prohibited the external financing of nongovernmental organisations labelled as the “5th column” (of course, except for the “Proriv” corporation founded and financed with the assistance of a high-ranking dignitary from the Kremlin administration); f) organised coordinated protests of “defenders of Transnistria” at the recommendation of lawmakers of the Russian State Duma, in order to demonstrate to the “progressive mankind the cohesion of the Transnistrian people, fighting for its right to independence”; e) created an “anti-blockade committee” aimed to “mobilise the resources” and to estimate how close is the “humanitarian catastrophe” in order to demand the help of the Russian Federation; f) threatened to denounce the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine in international justice institutions and WTO[1], etc.

These events create a complicated and dangerous situation. One can argue that, to some extend, the citizens from Transnistria became hostages of the separatist elite. In these circumstances it is extremely important that now the Republic of Moldova is not isolated like it was in the early 1990s, when the Transnistrian conflict was inspired for outbreak. Thus, the European Union and the United States have approved through institutions and high-ranking dignitaries the measures taken by Moldova and Ukraine in order to legalise the foreign trade of Transnistria. It was established within the Permanent Council of the OSCE in early February that the right of Transnistria to independent foreign trade is not an absolute one and it must be exerted in compliance with the generally accepted international norms, and this could be achieved by following the new procedures of registration of economic agents and issuing of customs documentation. The imposed interdictions of the Transnistrian authorities are qualified as a “self-blockade” aimed to fortify the propagandistic effect of the campaign of condemnation of actions of Moldova and Ukraine that could generate a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

Validity of the “Primakov memorandum”

The invocation of violation of the May 8, 1997 “Primakov memorandum” by the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine can be useful to Moldova because it allows Chisinau to demonstrate that the memorandum concerned did not have another value but to ensure the interests of Transnistria and of the Russian Federation, though the preamble of the document assures that it aims at the “rapid settlement of the conflict”. Nevertheless, Transnistrian and Russian authorities insist that this memorandum has the status of an international agreement.

Firstly, nine years have passed after the signing of the memorandum and this outlines its uselessness to contribute to the “rapid settlement of the conflict”, which has turned into a “frozen” one. Of course, a document aimed to contribute to the rapid settlement of a conflict is not applicable for frozen conflicts. Thus, in 1997 The Republic of Moldova, in its quality as a subject of the international law, and Transnistria, as broken part of Moldova, committed to create a common state within the borders of Moldova as available on January 1, 1999, both are the signatory parties of the memorandum. Russia and Ukraine have signed the memorandum as mediators and guarantors of the conflict resolution process, while the OSCE as mediator. In fact, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has established with seven years after the signing of the memorandum through its judgment on the “Ilascu case” that this status is not appropriate at all to one of mediators and guarantors. According to conclusions of the ECHR, Russia is responsible for the state of things in Transnistria since it had armed, provided military, political, economic and financial assistance to the separatist regime led by its citizens. Under the judgment, by signing the agreement on principles of a peaceful settlement of the armed conflict in the Transnistrian region of Moldova on July 21, 1992 along with the Republic of Moldova, Russia can be identified as a party of the conflict rather than as a mediator and guarantor. If it is a guarantor, it guarantees its own interests and the March 10, 2006 declaration of the Russian State Duma saying that the decision of Moldova and Ukraine to implement the new customs rule “contravenes to the interests of Russia” confirms this assertion.

Secondly, if the Transnistrian leaders and their supporters in Russia consider that the Primakov memorandum has the status of an international document in force, they should take into consideration the fact that the provisions of such documents should be fulfilled with “good faith”[2]. The fact that Smirnov has started the modification of constitution in 2000 in order to withdraw the interdiction to hold more than two mandates of president of the self-proclaimed republic arguing that he has promised to Transnistrians “not to leave his post as long as Transnistria does not gain its independence” outlines the fact that by signing the memorandum Smirnov did not think at all about implementing it with “good faith”.

In this context it is worth mentioning as well: a) the annual ostentatious celebration of the “independence day” with the participation of Russian authorities who encourage with promises to recognise the independence of Transnistria; b) the participation in forums of the “separatist international” (Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Mountainous Karabakh) in the Russian capital, where the strategies of complete separation are being coordinated; c) building, with the support of high-ranking dignitaries in the Kremlin administration, the “civil society” that promotes the detachment of the separatist enclave such as the “Proriv” corporation with branches in Transnistria, Crimea, Abkhazia and South Ossetia and financed, of course, from sources of those who have founded them and impose the promotion of the idea of the Russian President concerning the recognition of the independence of separatist enclaves in the eventuality of an eventual international recognition of the Kosovo province. All these actions demonstrate the price of the “international document” called “Primakov memorandum” and the “good will” for respect for its clauses by two of its signatories.

Thirdly, the memorandum concerned stipulated respect for human rights. Does the separatist regime respect the human rights after they generated: the crisis of the “Moldovan schools”; the limitation of access of Moldovan farmers from Moldova-controlled villages on the left bank of the Dniester river to their agricultural land; the blockage of the passage of citizens on the bridge over the Dniester river; the introduction of “migration taxes” for Moldovan citizens who enter the territory controlled by the separatist regime, etc? These flagrant violations are part of the documents by OSCE, country reports on human rights of the U.S. Department of State. Under these conditions, the call of separatist leaders and the Russian supporters for respect for clauses of the Primakov memorandum and imperative demands of Transnistria to be awarded the right to issue the customs documents on behalf of the Republic of Moldova seem astonishing impertinent.

Fourthly, the alleged right of Transnistria to independent foreign economic activity sanctioned by paragraph 3 of the famous memorandum stipulates express the agreement of the “sides”, that means of Chisinau, too.

More, the Primakov memorandum stipulates that the parts will observe all the previous signed agreements. Thus, the Protocol on the resolution of custom problems between Republic of Moldova and Transdniestria, of February 7, 1997, signed by Moldovan President and Transdniestrian leader and countersigned by Russian, Ukrainian and OSCE representatives, provides for “disband of Transdnistrian custom posts at the entrance from the territory of Moldova … and the set up of joint custom posts on the Transdiestrian segment of at the Moldova — Ukrainian boarder”[3]. After Transdniestrian regime received Moldovan custom stamps in 1996 it categorically refused to implement the above quoted obligations. At the same time, after the Promakov memorandum was countersigned by Russian and Ukrainian Presidents on May 8, 1997, both of the issued an joint Declaration saying: “the memorandum provisions cannot run against international law, and will not be interpreted and used against the existing international treaties, OSCE decisions, the joint declaration of the Presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Moldova of January 19, 1996, which confirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova”[4].

It is clear from what was mentioned above that it is difficult to believe that Chisinau can be interested to guarantee the right of Transnistria to external economic activity, delegating its competences of ensuring import-export operations to the breakaway enclave since separatists flagrantly violate the provisions of the memorandum and act with “bad will” ostentatiously. Even more, the illegal privatisation process in Transnistria was cynically commented by local economics minister Elena Cernenco, who said that this privatisation must rapidly develop in the region with the participation of Russian capital, “so that not to leave anything to Moldovans.”

Fifthly, in fact, the actions of the Primakov memorandum are not applicable since 2003 after the confusion related to the signing of the Kozak memorandum. Thus, on the one hand the “Kozak memorandum” did not stipulate any deployment of new Russian peacekeeping troops to the eastern districts of Moldova and this fact was confirmed by a developer of the document, Dmitrii Kozak himself, who said on November 17, 2003: “Russia does not raise the problem of military guarantees in the process of peaceful settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.” On the other hand, Russian Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov was quoted by the ITAR-TASS agency as saying after only four days, on November 21, 2005: “Sergey Ivanov has ordered the General Staff to draft proposals on creation of stability peacekeeping forces, which would be deployed to Moldova with the agreement of Chisinau… The number of the contingent must not exceed the limits imposed by CFAE flanks; that means maximum 2,000 persons. They would be deployed to the territory of the future federation until complete demilitarisation of the state by not later than until 2020. Peacekeepers would not hold heavy weapons, but only light weapons and helicopters to control the demilitarisation[5] process.”

Thus, the development of provisions of the Primakov memorandum into the provisions of the Kozak memorandum was preparing the full dependence of the Republic of Moldova on the will of Transnistria, as according to memorandum the later was to preserve its statehood with all its institutions available at that moment, as well as the absolute right to veto on any decisions of the alleged federation. And this was to take place under the exclusive military presence of Russia in Moldova, which was to be completely demilitarized. Of course, these were unacceptable things and the memorandums were turned down from these reasons.

What effects could the threats of Transnistrian leaders have?

The recent threats of the separatist leaders to withdraw from the negotiation process, to call on the international justice and to complain on Moldova to the WTO, deserve to be widely spread and eventually supported.

Firstly, the withdrawal of Transnistria from the negotiation process would definitively confirm the nullity of the Primakov memorandum, bringing back the situation of 1992, when a tetra-lateral mechanism existed, except for the fact that Romania would be replaced by the U.S. and E.U.

Secondly, starting calling on international justice institutions the Transnistrian leaders could be confirmed their right to such appeals, but they will be recalled that they also have obligations, for example, not to halt Russia to influence them positively in order to release the two members of the “Ilascu group” from prison, in compliance with the definitive judgment of the ECHR.

Thirdly, the appeal to the WTO would be useful to the Transnistrian leaders to clarify what are the entities aimed to ensure the implementation of the international trade rules and what are the subjects of arbitrage in this institution.

Fourthly, the call on the support and economic assistance of Russia, “the only mediator and guarantor” could outline the untruth of Russia’s arguments that it lacks levers to influence the Tiraspol regime in order to honour its obligations to release the prisoners from the “Ilascu group” and that Russia cannot overpass the obstacles of the Transnistrian authorities in the process of withdrawal of troops and ammunition from the breakaway region. Seeking and receiving the Russian assistance, the separatist leaders would embarrass Russia to explain why it assists a regime that obstructs it to honour its international commitments resulted from an international judgment and treaty, not a worthless memorandum.

Finally, by threatening with the sanctions that Russia could apply on Moldova and Ukraine in order to rescue the Transnistrian regime from the “economic blockade”, the separatist leaders should understand that this kind of threats attracts very unfavourable suggestions for Russia, which, on one hand had, drowned the Chechen separatism in blood, fact that generated the replying terrorism, while, on the other hand, it supports the “separatist international” that claims to be of pro-Russian orientation.

Reactions of the Russian Federation

Of course, Russia may punish Moldova for defending its interests to ensure the territorial integrity. In fact, Russia has already done this. The three resolutions of the Russian State Duma adopted in February 2005 that recommended the Russian Government to introduce economic sanctions against the Republic of Moldova and to increase the gas prices were partly implemented.

The March 10, 2006 declaration of the State Duma regarding the “blockade” on Transnistria was pale enough and this fact reveals the realism of the Russian political class. In this context the threats of some Russian politicians to recognise the independence of Transnistria are a bluff.

It is clear that the threat to “universally apply” the eventual Kosovo precedent on Transnsitria and on other enclaves from the “separatist international” is not applicable. Firstly, the Russian and Chinese presidents signed a joint declaration last summer in which they condemned separatism and that is why the “universal principle” will be unlikely applied. If applied they will not be “universal” at all, if they fail to envisage Taiwan, too. Or, the “strategic partner of Russia” will not like at all the playing of “universal principles” even if Russia promises to apply them differentially.

Secondly, the probability of applying the eventual Kosovo precedent on Transnistria and other enclaves in the “separatist international” is even on the decline before Russia’s takeover of the chairmanship in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in May 2006 and the Russian chair in the G8 club. However, Russia could support later the separatist regime under favourable conditions, if they survive until then.

The bad side is that after the recent failure to “tame” the HAMAS and Iran, in order to erect itself into a first-ranking international actor, Russia has not other worthy subject then Moldova to demonstrate its international importance and weight. Of course, this honours Moldova very much, but complicates dramatically its existence.

Eventual effects on Ukraine

Ukraine has never been part of credible partners of the Republic of Moldova. The new customs rules introduced by Ukraine are the expression of an advantageous compromise for this country, compromise which aims to find a balance between the resolution of security problems of great interest for the E.U. and U.S. and the interests of Ukraine to develop economic relations with them. The “bonuses” that Ukraine has recently received from the U.S. and E.U. through its recognition as a country of market economy, withdrawal of objections against Ukraine’s entry in the WTO, exclusion from the list of states that fall under the Jackson-Vanik amendment are of a fundamental importance. The eventual negative effects related to the implementation of the so-called “blockade on Transnistria” seem to be minor on this background.

Even more, the setup of legality in the separatist region of the Republic of Moldova favours Ukraine, which faces separatist trends as well, as for example in Crimea. Leaders of the separatist movement “Proryv” in Crimea are part of the same “international corporation” the Transndiestrian “Proyv” is, founded and supported openly by high-ranking dignitaries from the Russian presidential administration. These leaders have declared for show a couple of months ago during the “war of beacons” that the situation in Transnistria is a model to follow.

These factors also suggest at the first glance that the recent events in Transnistria should have a rather positive than negative impact on Ukraine. However, the western favours are offered to Ukraine as state entity, while the losses from the new customs rules would be suffered by certain corrupt functionaries, mafia clans for whom “charity begins at home.” Being blackmailed and practicing the blackmail, the reactions of the latter may have very negative effects. It is true that many common citizens may suffer, though the new customs regime should not affect the volume of trade exchanges of the Transnistrian enclave with the adjacent Ukrainian regions, if the self-blockade was not inspired.

The electoral campaign for election of the Supreme Rada is a factor of vulnerability for the Ukrainian authorities. The “well-wishers” have already insinuated just before elections that some detention facilities of CIA were located in the territory; threaten to turn off the electricity supply to the Odessa region, which is provided current by the Transnistria-based Kuchurgan station; interpret the problem of the new customs rules as an “action against Ukrainian co-nationals in Transnistria,” etc. Of course, this kind of provocations, as well as others much more dangerous may be on the rise until March 26, when the elections will take place.


  1. The Republic of Moldova should build a strong argument in order to resist to pressures of the Russian Federation and those influenced by Transnistrian propaganda related to the “blockade”. The goal is to settle the conflict peacefully and to restore the good relations with the Russian Federation rapidly later. Moldova cannot have any interest to antagonise Russia, facing the economic sanctions of the latter, its threats to introduce European prices for gas supplies, etc. At the same time, the logic of Russia’s behaviour during development of the Transnistrian conflict does not leave too much manoeuvre field to Moldova.

  2. Russia’s support for Transnistria is the best evidence that the separatist regime survives due to the deliberate assistance of Russia. This fact highlights the need to insist that Russian Federation fulfil its international commitments to withdraw its troops and ammunition from the eastern districts of Moldova.

  3. The key document on settlement of the Transnistrian conflict cannot be other but the July 22, 2005 Law # 173-XVI on basic provisions of the special legal status of localities from the left bank of the Dniester river (Transnistria), which was based on the June 10, 2005 Declaration and two appeals of the Moldova Parliament regarding the initiative of Ukraine on settlement of the Trasnsnistrian conflict and measures for democratisation and demilitarisation of the Transnistrian region. The invocation of all sorts of memorandums must be ignored.

  4. The Moldovan authorities should call on the Russian leadership to take urgent measures in order to persuade the separatist leaders who are citizens of Russia to eliminate the obstacles that self-isolated the breakaway region. The self-blockade endangers the normal existence of dozens of thousands of Russian citizens, while the Russian Federation, according to its legislation, has to ensure the rights of its conationals, and not of separatist regimes which claims to be pro-Russian and which in fact transformed Trnasdientrians is hostages of its interests. The entire world knows how Russia can fight regimes with capture hostages and it has an excellent opportunity to demonstrate its firmness in this respect.

  5. The Republic of Moldova and its western partners cannot be sure that Ukraine will resist much time in maintaining the new customs regime. All the more no one is certain that this customs regime will survive the Ukrainian parliamentary elections and this could depend on the political composition of the parliamentary majority created after elections. These circumstances should be taken into consideration in order to have an adequate reaction, including by international community, which has expressed support for legalisation of business and securing of borders near the E.U.

  6. The eventual failure of the recent try to legalise the foreign trade of Transnistria as premise for further complete settlement of the Transnistrian conflict will dramatically move away this desideratum and could even make it impossible. The conduct of the Transnistrian leaders in the period of self-blockade outlines the fact that they will be unable even to simulate free and fair elections in December 2006, when presidential elections are expected to be held in the secessionist region. In this context, the Moldovan authorities must have their own strategies to influence the situation in Transnistria.
  2. Международное право, Дипломатическая Академия МИД РФ, Москва, издательство “Международные отношения”, 1995, стр. 52–55
  3. Protocol on resolution of custom problems between the Republic of Moldova and Transdniestria, February 7, 1996, the library of Institute for Public Policy
  4. Ibidem
Improvement of electoral legislation Summary of ECHR judgments and decisions on appeals vs Moldova