On July 31, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Transnistria is entitled to self-determination, implying secession from Moldova. Answering questions at the Kremlin-sponsored Camp Seliger Forum, Putin stated: “Many problematic spots have remained after the Soviet Union’s fall, and Transnistria is one of them. Only the Transnistrian people, people living in Transnistria, can determine its fate. The international community, including Russia, will respect that choice” (RIA Novosti, July 31). A few days earlier, State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Grigory Karasin, writing in the Russian government’s daily newspaper, had introduced the wording “Transnistria’s aspirations to self-determination.” Karasin directly supervises Russian diplomacy’s work on the Transnistria conflict. (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, July 23).
These statements’ quick sequence indicates that they are calculated. The reference to self-determination is a novel one in Moscow’s rhetoric about the Transnistria conflict. Putin lends it additional throw-weight, lumping Transnistria with other ex-Soviet enclaves that claim to have exercised self-determination (Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with ethnic cleansing in each case). In Transnistria’s case, Putin realizes that the self-determination claim is the weakest, there being no such thing as a “Transnistrian” ethnicity (Moldovans form a plurality of the population, with Ukrainians and Russians the second- and third-largest groups). This is apparently why Putin changes tack from “Transnistrian people” to “people living in Transnistria.” Raising the prospect of a “self-determination” claim seems intended to increase psychological pressure on Chisinau, and raise the stakes in the international 5+2 negotiation process
On August 2, Putin signed a presidential decree appointing (in fact, re-confirming) Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to the additional post as Special Representative of the Russian President for Transnistria (“po Pridnestrovyu”). Ex-president (now prime minister) Dmitry Medvedev had appointed Rogozin to that additional post in March of this year (see EDM, March 23). But Putin has now decided to further strengthen Rogozin’s authority, underscoring that the latter holds his mandate henceforth from Putin himself (Interfax, August 2).
On that same day, Rogozin received Transnistria’s leader Yevgeny Shevchuk in Moscow. They omitted to mention the titular sovereign state of Moldova (let alone its territorial integrity), except when Rogozin assailed Chisinau. He practically ruled out conflict-resolution negotiations: “As long as Chisinau is getting ready for unification with Romania, it would be a stupid thing to talk about [conflict-]resolution in Transnistria.” They discussed Russian economic assistance to Transnistria’s population of “Russia’s citizens and compatriots on Transnistria’s territory [sic]” (Interfax, Olvia-Pres, August 3).
“Compatriots,” a definition without legal basis, practically applies to all former Soviet citizens and their offspring, with ample scope for Russian political operations in targeted territories. Moscow claims intrusive rights of protection covering such compatriots, as well as Russia’s citizens, unlawfully created through “passportization” in secessionist territories (despite Russia’s citizenship law requiring residency in Russia and not allowing dual citizenship).
In a joint Rogozin-Shevchuk appearance after the meeting, Russia’s state flag and Transnistria’s “state flag” were displayed next to each other on an equal footing; Transnistria’s flag and coat of arms showing the red star and hammer-and-sickle Soviet symbols (www.president.pmr.gov.org, accessed August 5) that were recently banned in the rest of Moldova (see EDM, July 18). During his recent visit to Chisinau and Tiraspol, Karasin indignantly defended the Soviet flag with the hammer-and-sickle and red star: “We underscored one thing in all the meetings: this [ban] is a blasphemy, an affront to us. I do not rule out that Moldova’s healthy forces will, in due course, protest against it and seek a legal reappraisal [of the ban]” (Kommersant, July 30). This last remark openly encourages Moldova’s Communist Party, which indeed is protesting against that ban in the street and in court.
Rogozin also received the chief executive of Moldova’s Gagauz Autonomous Territorial Unit, Mihail Formuzal, in Moscow on the same day. The Gagauz population is genuinely pro-Russia; and Formuzal is playing a balancing game between Chisinau and Tiraspol. He increasingly hints at demands for autonomy on behalf of certain localities in Moldova’s heartland on the right bank of the Nistru (Dniester) River. In this meeting, Rogozin accepted an invitation to visit the Gagauz Autonomy, again with no reference to Moldova (Interfax, Olvia-Pres, August 3).
Rogozin’s pretext for such a visit is that “Gagauzia is Orthodox.” However, more than 90 percent of Moldova’s population is Orthodox, their great majority being affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church. Demarcating the Gagauz in this way from the rest of Moldova is a means to encourage their political demarcation. A visit by Rogozin or other senior Russian officials to the Gagauz Autonomy would serve to pressure Chisinau, raising the specter of Gagauz demands for “enhanced” autonomy or “federalization,” as Formuzal from time to time suggests.
Putin’s, Rogozin’s, and Karasin’s latest statements follow on the heels of the twentieth anniversary events honoring Russian “peacekeeping” in Moldova. On the July 28 anniversary, Russia took further steps toward de-recognizing Moldova’s territorial integrity for most practical purposes (see EDM, July 27, 31). Moscow’s July 31 and August 2 statements add further elements of de-recognition, firming up suggestions for Transnistria’s “self-determination” and acknowledging its “state” attributes (territory, flag). The latest statements also seem to extend Russia’s political intrusion into Moldova’s right-bank heartland, encouraging Communist agitation and potential centrifugal tendencies by some Gagauz leaders in Moldova’s south.