“Look over there, beyond the river. This is Transnistria. Life is hard there.” Vitaly Marinota is located on the banks of the Dniester River. When he was still Moldova’s defense minister, his main headache was Transnistria. It has been a latent struggle for more than 30 years. Russian soldiers rule the pro-Russian region which has been declared independent.
Moldova and neighboring Ukraine are watching Russian forces closely. from one Leaked Russian ‘Ten Year Plan’ This week showed that everything is being done to keep Transnistria under Moscow’s control. It is feared that Moscow will ignite the conflict in Transnistria to stir unrest in both Moldova and Ukraine. So the Ukrainian army began digging trenches along the border with Transnistria.
The Russian peacekeeping forces in Transnistria consist of 1,500 to 1,700 soldiers. About half of them guard a large armory with old Soviet equipment near the Ukrainian border. The Kremlin says, without evidence, that Ukraine would like to attack that warehouse.
“Most of the Russian soldiers are actually Moldovan citizens,” said Marinotta, who served as defense minister between 2009 and 2014. “Moldova has not allowed personnel rotation since 2015. That is why the Russian army is recruiting locals to replace them.” The Peace Force seems very small, but it adds up from 6,000 to 7,000 “Transnistrian soldiers”. On the other hand, there is a small Moldavian army of about 6,000 soldiers.
Marionotta does not expect a new armed conflict. “Russia basically wants the situation to remain unstable. You have to see that in light of Russia’s mixed war against Moldova.” Unrest in the region must be fueled by fake news, for example about alleged Ukrainian plans for attacks in Transnistria. “If you turn on the radio here and look for stations, you’ll find two channels that tell the story of ‘Moldova’ and eight channels that have fake Russian news,” says Marionotta.
“Our secret services are not asleep,” he asserts. “Everything is well monitored. Fortunately, many Transnistrians work in Moldova. A lot of information comes through them. We also see that since the war in Ukraine, more and more people want to leave Transnistria.” Many residents have a Moldovan or Ukrainian passport, which gives the opportunity to leave the “living Soviet museum,” as Marinota calls the area.
In the village hall of Holercani, a Moldavian village overlooking Transnistria, people prefer not to talk about the current tensions. A spring party is planned and the whole village is invited, including Transnistrians and Ukrainians who have fled. “Politics is politics,” the regulator says firmly. “We don’t talk about that here.” After further questioning, he said he was not afraid of conflict. “They are Moldovans on both sides of the river, so why is something going on here?”
Meanwhile, the conductor leads the village band onto the stage. The chairs, sponsored by the European Union, are actually arranged in rows under the richly ornamental ceiling. A sticker was affixed to a guitar that read “This product is funded by the European Union”. “We’ve been through a lot here already,” says one Holrakani resident. “There is no point in thinking about conflict. We have to move on.” It wants to bring together population groups through dance and music.
It sounds sympathetic and optimistic, but further rapprochement between Chişinău and Tiraspol is ultimately in the hands of politicians. “Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Transnistria has become more dependent on us, because trade with Ukraine has stopped,” said former Deputy Foreign Minister Julian Groza. “But there are no concrete talks about integrating Transnistria into Moldova.”
He believes that EU membership for Moldova could offer a solution. “Transnistria is run by kleptocrats, who are primarily concerned with their own business and making money.” In other words, if rapprochement with the EU brings them more financial benefits, they will support integration into Moldova.
The solution lies in Ukraine, says former minister Marinota. As long as this country holds out against Russia, Transnistria cannot join Russia. “And once Ukraine wins the war, Transnistria should be part of the peace negotiations. Then we will finally solve it. That’s enough after 30 years of stagnation.”
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