Sponsored jointly by Russian big business and security services, a network of Greater Russia political and “civic” organizations is sprouting up in Transnistria, advocating the accession to the Russian Federation of this part of Moldova. Recent days have witnessed a wave of founding conferences of these organizations.
In the immediate term, this burst of activity is linked to preparations for the referendum that is scheduled to be held on September 17 by the Russia-installed authorities. A leading question on the ballot is asking voters whether they favor Transnistria’s entry into the Russian Federation. The “referendum” will be followed by a “presidential” election that is expected to return Igor Smirnov for a fourth term in that post. In the short-to-medium term, however, Moscow will use these organizations to provide a semblance of “democratic legitimacy” for Russian control over distant Transnistria in the form of a second Kaliningrad.
The Patriotic Party of Transnistria held its founding conference on August 4 in Tiraspol. It elected as its leader Oleg Smirnov, chairman of the Transnistria branch of Gazprombank, a fully owned subsidiary of Gazprom. Oleg Smirnov mentioned in his acceptance speech that the party’s propaganda activities would use “Gazprom’s resources.” He defined the party’s guiding goal as “integration into Mother Russia” (Olvia Press, August 4).
Oleg, who was the single candidate for the leader’s post, is the younger son of Igor Smirnov. Oleg’s brother, Vladimir, is the long-time head of Transnistria’s “customs” service, which has all along been the most lucrative source of illicit income to the secessionist authorities.
The Patriotic Party’s program defines Transnistria as “Russia’s outpost facing Europe.” The party will oppose changes to the format of Russia’s “peacekeeping” operation. It will campaign for international recognition of Transnistria and its “right” to be part of a “union of sovereign states to be unified by Russia, of fraternal peoples tied to one another by their common history, culture, traditions, spiritual values.”
The organization looks like a nomenklatura party at this stage, rather than a popular movement. It charges high membership dues, as “those assembled here don’t need handouts,” Oleg Smirnov told the 300-strong audience at the founding conference.
The movement “For Unity with Russia” held its founding conference on August 3 on the premises of the Ribnita steel plant, in the northern part of Transnistria. Russian business interests closely linked to Gazprom “privatized” the plant unlawfully several years ago. At present, a group of Russian steel magnates is said to control the plant, which is the number one official taxpayer to Transnistria’s budget.
The head of the plant’s rolled-steel section, identified as A. A. Gvozdev, is the movement’s leader, approved by the plant’s “labor collective.” This procedure is reminiscent of the late 1980s-early 1990s when “red directors” mobilized the factories’ “labor collectives” to stand up for the Soviet system or, soon thereafter, the Greater Russia idea.
According to the movement’s founding statement, “No officials or bureaucrats from Chisinau, Brussels, or Washington have the right to question our choice.” The referendum should provide an “unambiguous answer regarding our orientation: To the East, with the fraternal people of Russia, for the statehood of Transnistria and its subsequent entry into the Russian Federation” (Olvia Press, August 4, 8).
The Liberal-Democratic Party of Transnistria held its founding conference on August 1 in Tiraspol. The party is affiliated with Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia. That party’s second-in-command, Alexei Mitrofanov, attended the Tiraspol conference and delivered the keynote speech. The message of the Transnistria branch is confrontationally anti-Western and depicts Transnistria as an extension of Russia (Olvia Press, August 1, 2).
The People’s Democratic Party–Breakthrough held its founding conference on July 26 in Tiraspol. This party grows out of the “Breakthrough” [Proryv] youth organization, which was created from scratch in 2005 by Transnistria’s security service. Its activities thus far have been modeled on the Kremlin-sponsored “Nashi” movement in Russia, also borrowing some elements from the Limonovist national-bolshevik style. The Breakthrough party seeks to appeal to the young generation in Transnistria’s aging population.
At its founding conference, the party hailed the recent meeting in Minsk of Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Alexander Lukashenka of Belarus. The party has symbolically invited both of them to Tiraspol to discuss their “joint struggle for global democracy and the rights of peoples.” Transnistria is a “natural ally” of Belarus, Venezuela, and Cuba in that struggle, according to the founding conference statement (Infotag, July 26). Apart from such theatrical gestures, Breakthrough campaigns for the reelection of Igor Smirnov as president. Smirnov’s closest ally, “state security minister” Vladimir Antyufeyev — who is a Lieutenant-General in Russia’s security apparatus — initiated the formation of that group and oversees its activities.
Russia’s military and administrative control of Transnistria is rapidly being endowed with a “democratic” façade, intended to legitimize permanent Russian control of this distant exclave. The contours of a Kaliningrad-on-the-Dniester will continue to take shape if the West tolerates this until it becomes irreversible.