OpinionsThe Trasnistrian Conflict – A Possible Solution

The Trasnistrian Conflict – A Possible Solution

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Based on his diplomatic activity and his publications, Mihai Gribincea can be considered the most important Romanian-Moldovan expert on the Transnistrian conflict. 2004, under the pseudonym Mihai Grecu, he co-authored with Anatol Țăranu the series of documents “The Russian Troops in the Republic of Moldova” at the Litera Publishing House, Kishinev. Being no longer limited by his diplomatic status, he republished and completed the volume with additional documents under the title “The Russian Occupation Troops in the Republic of Moldova. Collection of Documents and Sources”

(Cartier Publishing House; 879 pages). The volume is intended to be the first of a longer collection of documents.

Along with this volume, Mihai Gribincea also published five other works on the subject matter: “Bessarabia during its First Years of Soviet Occupation (1944 – 1950”), 1995; “The Russian Troops in Moldova: An Agent of Stability, or a Source of Conflict?”, 1998; The Russian Policy on Military Bases: Georgia and Moldova, 2001; (co-authored with Anatol Ţăranu); “The Transnistrian Conflict: Collection of Documents and Sources” (4 volumes, 2012 – 2014).

For the new edition of documents on the Transnistrian conflict Gribincea also edited an extensive foreward.

The author´s key observation is the more than 200 years long history of Russian military presence on Moldovan territory, the first withdrawal occurring 1791 as part of the Jassy Peace Treaty.

At present the Russian Federation maintains its troops in very many ex-Soviet states, such as Armenia, Belarus, Kirghizstan, Tajikistan, Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. In order to maintain this status quo peaceful means were not always applied: Russia triggered wars or internal conflicts in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. The Transnistrian case is thus not unique, on the contrary.

Soviet troops have been permanently stationed within the present territory of the Republic of Moldova since 1944. As Mihai Gribincea emphasizes, the liberation movement in the late 1980s was enhanced by protests against the presence of Soviet troops. Following these protests, the Supreme Soviet of the Moldovan SSR declared the republic’s territory a “demilitarized zone” and stopped the recruitment of its youth by the USSR. 

The author shows that Russia is currently present in Transnistria through the Operational Group of Russian Troops (OGRT) as well as the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) which were created, armed and equipped by the 14th Army of the Russian Federation, the members of the latter receiving Russian citizenship too. As a matter of fact, as Mihai Gribincea rightly points out, the OGRT is the direct successor of the 14th Army, according to a 1995 order of the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defense, while the 14th Army was founded during the USSR period, in November 1956 (after the Budapest Revolution). During the Cold War, the 14th Army belonged to the Odessa Military District and was charged, in case of an armed conflict, to start an offensive in the Balkan theatre of war. This is, as a matter of fact, the true purpose of the Russian troops in Transnistria, proof of a remarkable continuity in strategic thought, sometimes ignored by the observers of the Transnistrian conflict or by the diplomats charged with solving it. If we accept this truth, we have to also accept Mihai Gribincea’s conclusion: “Moscow doesn’t only want to turn Transnistria into a second Kaliningrad, but the entire Republic of Moldova”.

Besides describing the Transnistrian conflict of the early 1990s, the author is also interested in the attempts to solve it. In his opinion, the first act which violated international law was Boris Yeltsin’s Decree no. 320, on April 1st 1992 “on transferring jurisdiction over former USSR troops temporarily stationed on Moldovan territory to the Russian Federation”. This was an illegal act as it applied to a territory which did not belong to the Russian Federation, to people who were not citizens of this state, to certain organizations and goods which were not the Russian Federation’s, thus flagrantly violating the sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova. Even though, the Kishinev leadership did not oppose it when it was proclaimed, but well after.

Mihai Gribincea believes that the Republic of Moldova should contest this decree, especially considering the ECHR ruling of 2004 in the case of Ilaşcu and others vs. the Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation which denied its direct involvement in the Transnistrian conflict and continues to do so.  Mihai Gribincea dismantles exemplarily this idea, with extremely relevant arguments. First of all, in the case of the Agreement regarding the principles of peaceful regulation of the Transnistrian conflict of July 21st 1992 known as the “Yeltsin – Snegur Convention”, Mihai Gribincea correctly observes that the agreement was signed by the representatives of two states without the involvement of the Tiraspol regime. The author considers the Agreement to be “an agreement regarding a ceasefire between two sides in an armed conflict – The Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation”. Mihai Gribincea is the first to note that the Russian Federation forwarded a copy of the Agreement to the ECHR in the above-mentioned case, which included the signature of Igor Smirnov. The author presumes the signature was added later, precisely because the Russian side realized that such an agreement between two sovereign states is illegal: “Moscow asked Smirnov to sign the original one copy in Russia’s possession”. 

Another of the author´s observation deserving to be mentioned is that the Russian propaganda adverted the operation of pacification in Transnistria as a success, even if it did not contribute to solving the conflict and was just the cover-up which allowed the separatist authorities to consolidate their power and turn Transnistria into a region dominated by organized crime, arms and human trafficking.

The author reviews the conflict solving initiatives, pointing out that the Moldovan-Russian Agreement of October 21st 1994 was a Russian diplomatic victory, as it legalized the principle of “synchronicity” between the withdrawal of Russian troops and the regulation of the Transnistrian conflict. Consequently, Moscow employed the strategy of freezing the Transnistrian conflict in order to avoid withdrawing its forces from the PMR, a strategy practiced to the present day.

Another diplomatic initiative which Mihai Gribincea calls into question is the Republic of Moldova’s attempt during 1997 – 1999 to convince the NATO member-states that Moldova would not to ratify the Adapted CFE Treaty, if Russian troops would still be stationed in Transnistria. The Russian Federation’s pledge at the OSCE summit in Istanbul to withdraw its troops is based on this initiative. Mihai Gribincea points out that on a political and military level this decision was disapproved and considered a mistake of President Yeltsin.

Another diplomatic episode in Moldova’s attempts to begin the withdrawal of Russian troops from PMR territory relates to the UN. The topic was “sporadically” addressed, as the author believes, during the 1993 – 2017 period, and only from 2017 was there a clear interest in adopting a resolution on the subject. Finally, the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution proposed by the Republic of Moldova on June 22nd 2018, an undeniable achievement of the Pavel Filip cabinet. Throughout the entire period of initiating and discussing the resolution, the Russian Federation qualified the Republic of Moldova’s intentions as a hostile act. This act of the Kishinev authorities was opposed not just by Russia, but also by Igor Dodon himself, then President of the Republic of Moldova, who considered it a defying initiative which “exclusively points at aggravating the situation in Moldova and seriously damaging Moldovan-Russian relations” and mentioned the “significant importance of the peacekeeping operation on the Dniester”.

Mihai Gribincea argues for a radical change in how the Transnistrian conflict is being approached: he believes that the solution does not lie in transforming the current military presence into a civilian mission, but in denouncing the Snegur – Yeltsin Agreement of 1992, as the convention itself allows its suspension “through the common agreement of the parties or if denounced by one of the contracting parties, which implies the closure of the Control Commission and its subservient military contingents”. The author believes that this denunciation would not negatively affect the status quo on the ground in the so-called Security Zone, as the Unified Control Commission does not control the situation in the Security Zone anyway. Furthermore, the current status of the Security Zone does not justify the existence of military authorities. If this solution would be accepted, the Republic of Moldova could officially declare Transnistria to be a territory occupied by the Russian Federation, which would allow the Kishinev authorities to demand material compensation for the damage caused in 30 years of conflict followed by the occupation of PMR territory.

The volume “The Russian Occupation Troops in the Republic of Moldova. Collection of Documents and Sources” edited by Mihai Gribincea, with an extensive introduction, represents an important step in understanding the causes and the nature of the Transnistrian conflict, the author proving his deep knowledge of the subject. The work deserves to be referred to, as the author proposes a new method to solve this conflict, which is worth discussing and applying by the Kishinev authorities, with the support of the international community.

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