BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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Transnistria 2006
HITS: 9896 | 19-02-2008, 15:07 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
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On 3rd March, 2006, the Ukrainian customs authorities suddenly implemented a new system of control along the 310 mile-long border (c. 5000 km) with the internationally-unrecognised republic of Transnistria (PMR). The Ukrainians announced that henceforth they would only permit goods bearing official customs stamps from the Republic of Moldova to enter Ukraine or to transit across its territory. Until 3rd March, the Ukrainian customs had accepted PMR’s customs stamps as validating goods for import into Ukraine or for transit across its territory.
The effect of this sudden unilateral act was to produce a dilemma for the Transnistrian authorities in Tiraspol. Either they could accept the Ukrainian act as a fait accompli which would mean effectively transferring customs revenues to the Moldovan capital Chisinau and renouncing their economic sovereignty and therefore their self-proclaimed independence since 1990, or they could refuse to comply with the Ukrainian demands and in effect accept an embargo on their exports with all the severe economic consequences which would flow from stopping the country’s exports.
This crisis was precipitated at the height of the Ukrainian parliamentary election campaign and two BHHRG representatives took advantage of their presence in Odessa to visit nearby Tiraspol on 27th March, 2006, where they interviewed the PMR’s President, Igor Smirnov, and the recently-elected chairman of PMR’s Parliament, Evgeny Shevchuk, about the crisis.
As the stand-off continued it became clear that the West saw it as part of a general problem of unrecognised statelets across the former Soviet Union. Although the United States and its European allies promoted the break up of both the USSR and Yugoslavia and have created the conditions for both Kosovo and Montenegro to breakaway from Serbia, the West demands the reintegration of other breakaway states under their internationally-recognised rulers. Is the West’s intervention in the former Soviet Union helping to solve problems or, as in the Balkans throughout the 1990s, far from playing the role of firemen dowsing conflicts, is the West risking re-igniting frozen conflicts in its struggle for influence with Russia in the former Soviet Union?
On 6th July, a bomb exploded aboard a taxi bus in Transnistria’s capital, Tiraspol, killing seven people including one Russian nurse serving with the Russian peacekeeping contingent and wounding two Russian soldiers among the survivors. Although no-one claimed responsibility for the explosion, it could not be ruled out that it was aimed at the Russian peacekeepers by pro-Moldovan agents anxious to force them out and either replace them with NATO troops or even to provoke a renewed conflict between Moldova and Transnistria.
Three days later, a remote-controlled bomb killed the secretary of the South Ossetian Security Council, Oleg Alburov, as he opened his garage in Tskinvali. The two near simultaneous acts of violence suggested the possibility of a coordinated onslaught on the unrecognised republics. One South Ossetian official told the Interfax news agency, “"Today's terror attack targeting Security Council Secretary Oleg Alborov is probably connected with the taxi bus bombing in Tiraspol… These terror attacks aim to upset stability in South Ossetia and in Transdniestria ahead of the Group of Eight nations' summit, and to discredit Russia's peacekeeping efforts in our republics," the official said.[1] However a Russian expert from the FSB in Moscow, Mikhail Savitsky, suggested that the primitive homemade nature of the explosive used in the bus bomb suggested that it was not provided by a sophisticated foreign agency and so may have had local roots.[2]
Uncertainty about what the purpose of the bus bombing was follows months of tension between Moldova and Transnistria along their common border. Moldovan policemen and security agents have been apprehended on the PMR side and Moldova claims that para-military personnel from the secessionist republic have entered its territory.
About 1,500 hundred people were killed in the brief war between Chisinau and Tiraspol in 1992. Russian troops have provided a cordon of peacekeepers between the two sides ever since. That conflict took probably as many lives as were lost in Kosovo in 1998-99, and certainly proportionately more people were killed in the Transnistrian conflict than in Kosovo which aroused so much international concern. Maybe Transnistria and Moldova have been lucky that the international agencies who effectively fomented so much conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s have been largely absent from the scene, particularly Western peacekeepers. Only the OSCE led by veteran US diplomat William Hill has played a significant role similar to that played by its analogues in the Balkans. The main success of the OSCE mission has been to stymie any agreement on Russian proposals to resolve the dispute, or in one case to reverse agreement between Chisinau and Tiraspol when they came to a settlement in principle in November, 2003.[3] At best the Western mediators have acted as road blocks to a locally-negotiated solution between Tiraspol and Chisinau and at worst they may have instigated further turmoil and the risk of renewed conflict.
 
Blockade or Auto-Blockade?

 

Although technically it was the Transnistrian authorities who blocked export traffic after the Ukrainian authorities refused to accept the PMR’s customs stamps insisting on ones issued by Chisinau, in effect the government in Tiraspol was put into an impossible position. If it accepted the Ukrainian demand it would not only renounce its self-proclaimed sovereignty which had been operating for fifteen years it would also dramatically reduce the state’s income because customs revenue would accrue to the Republic of Moldova. By refusing to accept the Ukrainian demarche Tiraspol put itself in the position of upholding its sovereignty but at the expense of its customs revenue.
In the three months which have passed since the blockade entered into force, it is striking how little traction on Transnistrian public opinion the authorities in Chisinau have succeeded in achieving. The only public demonstrations have been by Transnistrian patriots displaying banners and their national flag at border crossings with Ukraine to denounce Kiev’s collusion with Chisinau. Despite the widespread laming of Transnistria’s steel and textile industries which had been thriving recently by contrast with Moldova’s economic stagnation (which nonetheless is always highly-praised by Western-dominated agencies like the World Bank and OSCE), and the dependence of laid-off workers on the minimum wage and donations of food and other aid from Russia, any expectation that the sealing in of around 600,000 people by the CIS’s two pro-NATO members, Moldova and Ukraine, would provoke a “people power”-style revolution have so far proved unfounded.[4]
If the population inside Transnistria has not yet been divided or polarised by the joint-Moldovan-Ukrainian action, the risk of violence between Tiraspol and Chisinau remains.

 


[1] See http://www.interfax.ru/e/B/0/28.html?id_issue=11549936,
[2] See
http://social.moldova.org/stiri/eng/14039/,

[3] The Jamestown Foundation’s Vladimir Socor went ballistic at the news that a peace deal had been reached: “Soviet ghosts have stolen a march on the OSCE, severely embarrassing its Dutch chairmanship, the U.S. State Department and the European Union in the process. On Nov. 17, the KGB alumnus in the Kremlin and his Moldovan Communist vassal-in-waiting -- presidents Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Voronin -- announced that they have made a deal, behind the West's collective back, to turn Moldova into an outright Russian bridgehead in Europe, complete with Russian troops and political oversight.” See
http://www.iasps.org/eng_editor/wallstreet.html?article_id=331. The so-called “vassal-in-waiting” soon found serfdom to the West more attractive and abuse of him in neo-conservative circles was promptly dropped,
[4] Ukraine’s Channel 5 News in English reported (1.20am, 19th May, 2005) that the Transnistrian authorities had banned the provision of cash from foreign sources to local NGOs as a precaution to cut off the sort of bribes from abroad which played a large part in Ukraine’s so-called “Orange Revolution” in 2004.

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