Development of Transdniester conflict is closely related to the process of the Soviet Union's fall. 30 August 1989 is considered the start of the Transdniester conflict, when Moldavia's SSR Supreme Council, disregarding objections from the Russian speaking citizens of the Republic, adopted three new language laws that, firstly, named Moldavian language as the country's official language, the usage of Latin transcription and acknowledged the similarity between Moldavian and Romanian languages. Secondly, Russian language was named as the interethnic communication language. Thirdly, in populated areas of the Gagauzia, the official language status, alongside Moldavian and Russian languages, was guaranteed also to be Gagauzian language. In reaction to the increase of the Moldavian language role, several Russian language protection organizations were established (Yedinstvo on the right bank of the Dniester river and Labourers' union in Transdniester). At the same time, showing discontentment about the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic Supreme Council’s decision, in November 1989, Gagauzia announced about the foundation of Gagauzia’s Autonomy. The conflict escalated when the Moldavian SSR Supreme Council’s 5 June 1990 decision for renaming Moldavian SSR to Republic of Moldova, as well as Republic of Moldova’s declaration of Independence was adopted on 23 June 1990.
In reaction to 23 June 1990 decision, made by the Parliament of Moldova, on 2 September 1990, congress of all Transdniester parliament members took place in Tiraspol, where its participants announced about the foundation Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic. Director of Tiraspol company Elektromas and leader of the Labour union that believed Transdniester should stay in USSR, Igor Smirnov, became the leader of the Republic.
Since 1991, a gradual increase of confrontation has been observed in the Chișinău and Tiraspol relationship. Afterwards, following the example of Russia and Ukraine, Moldova on 27 August 1991 declared its independence. On 1 December 1991, Tiraspol held a referendum on the independence of Pridnestrovian Moldavan Republic in which, according to the official data, participated 78% of Dniester’s left bank citizens and from which 97.7% supported the independence of the Republic. Taking into the account the results of the referendum, Smirnov started the foundation of a new state structure, in the result of which there was an actual bilingualism in the region that paralysed the work of state authorities, police and the judicial system.
From September 1991, the paramilitary worker units that were founded by Smirnov and later became the core of the Republic’s guard (established in December 1991) alongside the newly founded Transdniester police implemented the so called creeping putsch. By doing so, they took control over all the municipal and administrative institution buildings, police stations, schools, local newspaper publishing houses and radio stations on the left bank of Dniester. Over time, it led to an open conflict between Chișinău and Tiraspol.
Starting from the end of 1990, there were several different collisions generated by the bilingualism that existed in Transdniester. That is why Moldova’s political government repeatedly tried to stabilize the political situation by accepting several declarations for peaceful conflict regulation in order to prevent armed conflict. Despite the aforementioned, during the period between 1990 and 1992, there were several incitements witnessed that promoted the continuing of the conflict. The aforementioned has allowed some researchers to propose an assumption that the conflict was deliberately promoted by external factors in order to achieve their foreign policy goals. The aforementioned was indirectly confirmed by interviews with employees of Russian special services, published in Russian media in later years. They with pride were talking about participating in the Transdniester conflict. Similar announcements were heard also from representatives of the Rumanian special services.
1 March 1992 is considered the beginning of the conflict’s military escalation, when Moldova was accepted in the UN. On this date, during a false call, unknown people shot a police car. Dubesari Police Commissioner Igor Sipchenko was in the car during the shooting and later died from the received injuries. Both Moldova’s police and Transdniester special services were blamed for the attack in different information sources. In reaction to the incident, Transdniester guard and local Cossack units took over the Dubesari police station, which at the time was under Chișinău’s control. 27 Moldovan policemen were sent to Tiraspol’s prison, where they were used as targets for testing the strength of armoured vests. In reaction to the mentioned incident, mobilization was announced in Moldova, during which 18 000 reservists were called up.
On 13 March 1992, fighters of Transdniester Republic’s guard attacked the employees of Moldova’s police in Košice; an armed collision rose from it. The mentioned incident was used as a reason to announce state of emergency in Transdniester on 16 March 1992.
On 1 April 1992, new collisions happened between Transdniester and Moldova, when Moldovan police unit was sent to Bender in order to disarm the Transdniester Republic’s guards. It led to armed conflicts and casualties. After this incident, mobilization was announced in Transdniester in which, 14 000 people were given firearms and two bridges over the Dniester river were blown up.
The only serious military battle during the Transdniester conflict happened in Bender between 19 and 21 June 1992. On 19 June, Moldovan Ministry of Internal Affairs received information that Moldovan policemen were detained in Bender and units of the Moldovan regular army and the Ministry of Internal Affairs were sent there to free them. Their goal was to neutralize Transdniester Republic guard’s armoured vehicles and the Cossack units that were moving from Bender to Tiraspol. Moldovan National army did not accomplish the set task and tanks of the Russian 14th Army entered Bender in result of which a several days long battle took place in Bender. The spetsnaz brigade of the Moldovan Ministry of Internal Affairs and brigade of volunteers were involved in the battle. After acknowledging the lack of perspectives, Chișinău began to look for mediators for conflict regulation. On 7 July, truce was signed that ended the military phase of the conflict.
The origin and development of the Transdniester conflict was mainly determined by Soviet Union disintegration process, which started by the end of the 80’s of the 20th century. During this process, ideologically opposite forces came to power in Chișinău and Tiraspol and they were characterized by a diverse attitude towards the collapse of the USSR. While Moldova’s elite saw the collapse of the USSR as an opportunity to unite with Romania, Transdniester region elite, where the majority of population consisted of Russian speaking citizens, resisted this process by actively trying to move closer to the federal centre. Economic causes were also in the basis of the Transdniester conflict, they were determined by Tiraspol elite’s unwillingness to lose control over the industrially developed Moldavian SSR region that ensured 33% of Republic’s industrial production and 90% of electricity. Majority of the large Transdniester industries were under the control of all-union ministries and were more integrated in Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic’s and Ukrainian SSR’s than Moldavian SSR’s economic structure. Such Transdniester industry structure promoted the fact that this region’s industrial company management as well as the political classification was made mostly from Russian and Ukrainian citizens. Although Transdniester region makes only 12% of Moldavia’s territory, its elite already historically, considering the region’s large economic significance, saw Transdniester as an equivalent subject to the Dniester’s right bank Moldavian SSR part. Historically, Transdniester region was added to Moldavian SSR only in 1940, when the Soviet Union annexed Bessarabia region that belonged to Rumania. Since 1924 until then, Transdniester as an autonomous region was in Ukrainian SSR territory, but between 1812 and 1917 both modern Moldova regions – Bessarabia and Transdniester – belonged to the Russian empire. Because of it, in 20th century’s 80s and 90s there was a rather popular opinion in Transdniester that the region has the same historical right to join Russia or Ukraine as Moldova has to unite with Rumania.
Transdniester conflict was largely advanced also by Moscow, who, by trying to prevent the separation of USSR national republics, not only supported various kind international movements in counterbalance to mass movements that already existed there, but also promoted separatism in the national republic regions, where the majority was Russian speaking citizens (the so called Lukanov doctrine that was named after the former USSR Supreme Council chairman, Anatoliy Lukanov). On the aforementioned indicates not only the All-union military industrial complex company’s employee participation in mass demonstrations, as seen since 1989 (taking into account the strict regime in this kind of companies, the decision about the employee participation in mass demonstrations was only possible with a direct order or accept from Moscow) and involvement of the Soviet 14th Army in the foundation of Transdniester unlawful armed formations, but also the testimony of former USSR Supreme Council’s member Victor Alksnis, who was connected to Lukanov.
Moldovan and Transdniester armed formations were directly involved in initial phase of the Transdniester conflict, while the Russian 14th Army, which was deployed in Transdniester, openly interfered in the final phase of the conflict. Until then, it was secretly supporting the self-proclaimed republic. According to August 1992 inventory documents of the Russian 14th Army, in the period between November 1991 and August 1992, Transdniester separatists were delivered 10 951 assault rifles (from 46 000), 453 artillery guns, 242 mortars, 19 tanks and 51 APCs from the Russian army’s warehouses.
As indicated in July 1992 report, prepared by the UN mission, large part of Transdniester armed formation’s combatants were soldiers of the Russian 14th Army and have went on to serve in Transdniester separatist units. In the mentioned report it is also indicated that a part of the 14th Army’s soldiers left the barracks already on 19 May 1992 before the beginning of the intense battles of June 1992. Russia used that fact as a pretence to involve itself in the military conflict.
In the result of the conflict, 1100 people died (400 of them were civilians) and 3500 were injured. During the intense battles (June 1992), Moldova lost 165 people and 1028 were injured. Transdniester officially reports about 500 people dead, 500 lost without a trace and 899 injured. During the conflict, approximately 130 000 people left their homes, of them 72 000 went to the countries of Commonwealth of Independent States (although 85% of them later returned home).
The Transdniester conflict is characterized as the frozen conflict and in its regulation discussions there has not been any substantial movement forward. The most important premise to stop Moldova and Transdniester military confrontation became the agreement “Principles for Military Conflict Adjustment in the Transdniester Region of Republic of Moldova” signed on 21 July 1992 in Moscow by Moldovan and Russian presidents, Mircea Snegur and Boris Yeltsin. According to the agreement, a 20 km wide demilitarized zone was formed alongside the Dniester River. A six battalion large Russian peacekeeping contingent was sent in that zone. Peaceful conflict regulation principles were also declared that foresaw the recognition of Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the necessity of Transdniester special status and right of people living in Transdniester region to vote for the region’s independence, in case there will be a merger of Moldova and Rumania.
Initially, the peacekeeping forces consisted mainly from Russian soldiers (five battalions), but later three Moldovan and two Transdniester peacekeeping battalions were also formed. In 1992, Joint Control Commission was founded, and it consisted of 10 Russian, Moldovan and Transdniester observers; in 1998 it was joined by 10 Ukrainian observers.
From 1992 until October 1994, Moldova and Russia led a discussion about withdrawing the Russian 14th Army’s manpower out of the Transdniester territory. In October 1994, agreement was made that foresaw the withdrawal of Russian troops during the next 3 years and the regulation of Transdniester conflict by giving Transdniester a special status in the Moldova territory. Even though Russia began the army’s withdrawal in 1995, it stopped the process later by renaming the 14th Army as Russian Forces Operational Group. On 8 May 1997, a memorandum about the normalization of Moldova and Transdniester relationship was signed in Moscow, it foresaw that is necessary to resolve the conflict by mutual consultations. OSCE, Russia and Ukraine were appointed as the mediators for Moldova and Transdniester discussions. The latter two were also appointed as guarantee countries for the principle, included in the memorandum that foresaw a united Moldova state principle. Since 2005, EU and USA joined the Transdniester conflict regulation process as observers; by doing so they created the so called 5+2 format. The Transdniester conflict was directly affected by the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) achieved in 1999 at OSCE summit in Istanbul. According to it, Russia promised to withdraw or destroy tanks, combat helicopters, aircraft, armored vehicles and artillery (with caliber that exceeds 100 mm) that were in Transdniester. In the preamble of the Treaty there is a requirement not to deploy their military contingent in territories of other OSCE member states without having their approval. Russia also undertook to withdraw its forces from Transdniester. Although Russia, until the end of 2003, withdrew or destroyed all the military equipment from Transdniester that was mentioned in the treaty, it still has not withdrawn its troops from the region.
Discussions about Transdniester conflict regulation continued in the beginning of the first decade of the 21st century; then several plans were developed.
In July 2002, Transdniester conflict mediators, OSCE, Ukraine and Russia, came up with a Moldova federalization plan, which did not gain a real movement because at the same time Russia came up with the so called Kozak memorandum. It was developed during a bilateral discussion of Moldovan and Russian presidents at the time, Vladimir Voronin and Vladimir Putin, and it was planned to be signed on 25 November 2003.
The Kozak memorandum foresaw to change Moldova in a federation in the framework of which Transdniester and Gagauzia regions would gain autonomy with the right to block all legislation initiatives that are undesirable for them. According to the memorandum, Moldova is to keep the military political neutrality as well as give Russia the right to deploy its troops in Transdniester for the next 20 years, who would serve as a conflict regulation guarantee. But President of Moldova, Vladimir Voronin, in the last moment (on the night between 24 and 25 November 2003) refused to sign the already initialed memorandum, announcing that by signing the memorandum, the independence of Transdniester would be legally recognized.
Voronin’s refusal to sign the so called Kozak memorandum led to obstruction of the conflict regulation discussions. Only in 2005 this process was renewed when the newly elected President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, came up with his own conflict regulation plan that foresaw the presence of international observers during the Transdniester Supreme Council election, planned in December 2005; it would allow to create a legitimate government with whom an official dialog would be possible.
The plan also foresaw to grant Transdniester autonomy in the territory of united Moldova. The document guaranteed the Transdniester region the right to organize referendum about the independence from Moldova, if it lost its independence (by uniting with Romania). According to the plan, Transdniester had to develop a constitution that would correspond with Moldova’s constitution. There would be three official languages (Moldavan, Russian and Ukrainian), the region would also have its own symbols (flag, coat of arms and anthem). The further movement of the plan was delayed by resistance from Russia and Transdniester.
In reaction to the deterioration of Moldova-Russia relationship, that was determined by Chișinău’s unyielding position concerning Transdniester conflict discussions and because of which Moscow in March 2005 appointed Moldovan wine embargo, Voronin renewed the discussions with Moscow about Transdniester conflict regulation. During the discussions that continued until 2009, an idea was moved forward to dismiss Moldova and Transdniester Parliament and held a new parliamentary election in which the Transdniester parliamentarians would gain 18 to 19 (from 101) seats in the Moldovan Parliament. Transdniester would also be represented in Moldova’s executive power by gaining the positions of First Deputy Prime Minister and every Deputy Minister. Nevertheless, in the end Voronin refused to implement the mentioned agreement, just like in 2003.
After the 2011 Transdniester presidential election, discussions on settlement of the Transdniester conflict were renewed to certain extent. The mentioned elections were won by Yevgeny Shevchuk. He was in opposition of Igor Smirnov and declared the so called small step policy in the Transdniester conflict regulation – the necessity to initially resolve the current socio-economic co-operation issues, later moving towards addressing the political issues. The further movement of conflict’s regulation discussions was intercepted by Moldova’s 2013 decision to initial association contract with EU and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine that has been happening since 2014.
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Moldova and the Transnistrian Conflict.
Moldova’s Transnistrian conflict.
Place of the Confidence Building Process in the Policy of Solving the Conflict in the eastern region of Moldova.
Transnistrian Conflict: State of Affairs and Prospects of Settlement
Политик Виктор Алкснис: кто планировал межэтнические конфликты в СССР.
Приднестровский конфликт и перспективы его разрешения: взгляд из Кишинева. https://ava.md/2011/07/19/pridnestrovskiy-konflikt-i-perspektivy/#_edn27
Приднестровский конфликт этапы эскалации (1989-1992 годов)
Проблемы урегулирования приднестровского конфликта.