Transdniester is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its secession from Moldova. On September 2, 1990, nonnative Russian leaders of that area and the local Russian minority of 25 percent of the population proclaimed a separate republic and the goal of preserving the Soviet Union. In August 1991, the region’s leadership and the Soviet 14th Army, stationed there, endorsed the communist putsch in Moscow and seized full power. The same leadership group holds power today in Transdniester–the only place in which the 1991 Soviet putsch succeeded and its results persist.
Transdniester’s army paraded in Tiraspol on the anniversary day. It displayed the armored vehicles, heavy artillery and combat helicopters which were handed over to Transdniester forces by the Russian garrison there during the post-Soviet years. Transdniester’s military hardware is clearly superior to Moldova’s. The latter has not a single battle tank or combat helicopter, and only inferior artillery.
In his anniversary speech, the region’s leader Igor Smirnov rejected Chisinau’s offer of regional autonomy and far-reaching devolution of powers. Smirnov, the State Security Minister Vladimir Antyufeyev and other Tiraspol leaders in their speeches made five basic, interrelated points. First, Tiraspol would only agree to the formula of a “common state” of two coequal entities. Second, Transdniester links its own future with that of Russia, the “Slavic East” and the Russia-Belarus Union. Third, no Western troops can be accepted either as peacekeepers or as guarantors of an eventual settlement; Russian troops must fulfill both roles, with the contribution at most of Ukrainian observers. Fourth, Transdniester will block any removal of Russian arsenals from the region. OSCE decisions notwithstanding, “Transdniester’s people”–as a part of and successor to the former Soviet Union–is the “legitimate owner” of those arsenals. And, fifth, Transdniester’s existence helps “restore the regional balance of power, which NATO seeks to change against Russia’s interests.”
Antyufeyev’s public appearance and confident speech are especially noteworthy. Now holding a general’s rank, Antyufeyev was an OMON major in Soviet Latvia, played a leading role in the 1991 abortive Soviet crackdown in Riga, and is wanted by Latvia on criminal charges arising from those events. Shortly afterward he resurfaced in Tiraspol, under the assumed name Vadim Shevtsov, to head Transdniester’s security apparatus. Antyufeyev is considered the key leader in Tiraspol, more powerful than the official leader Smirnov.
No progress has been made toward withdrawal of Russian troops and arsenals from Transdniester since the OSCE’s 1999 decision. With Moscow content to hide behind Tiraspol’s objections and play for time indefinitely, the OSCE risks a major embarrassment unless it finds soon an antidote to that obstruction (Itar-Tass, September 2-3; Flux, Basapress, September 4-5).
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