MOLDOVA UPDATE: SEVERAL ISSUES AT PLAY
By Michael Averko
Flags of Moldova (left) and Trans-Dniester (right)
Shortly after the March 1st, Russia Blog feature Moldova, MiGs and Former Defense Ministers, the Ukrainian "Orange" government of President Viktor Yushchenko announced what amounts to an economic blockade against the disputed pro-Russian Trans-Dniester region within Moldova's Soviet-drawn boundaries (the mentioned Russia Blog piece provides background on the historic and political differences). As a result of this new Ukrainian government policy, goods from Trans-Dniester can't legally enter Ukraine without a Moldovan government stamp approving such items. The governments of Trans-Dniester and Moldova are at loggerheads with each other.
Map of Moldova with Highlighted Trans-Dniester
Ukraine's government initiated this policy to please some influential political forces in Western/Central Europe and North America. An underlying aim of these groups has been to agitate Russia as much as possible without letting boiling water spill over. The Orange move against Trans-Dniester complements earlier Ukrainian government actions like:
- Openly discussing the end of Russia's naval presence in the pro-Russian region of Crimea, that's presently located in Ukraine (In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ceded Crimea out of the Russian RSFSR and put it into the Ukrainian SSR to honor the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslavl, which reunited Russia and Ukraine, after a lengthy period of foreign occupations had separated the two).
- The forging of a rhetorically stated "democratic" alliance with the not-so-Russia friendly governments of Georgia, Lithuania and Poland. Note that Georgia is clearly less democratic than Russia. In relation to Russia, it can be reasonably argued that Georgia is politically closer to Belarus; seen by many as an authoritarian regime. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili won an election with a Soviet-like 96% tally.
Besides trying to please some influential political organizations in the West, there might be another factor involved with the Ukrainian government's decision. Upon the implementation of economic blockades, there is a lot of illicit cash to be made from bribes paid to get around the embargo. Ukraine's government is among the most corrupt in Europe.
The move against Trans-Dniester is likely doomed for several reasons. In response, some Russian parliamentarians are discussing the possibility of deporting up to 100,000 Moldovans illegally residing in Russia. Up to now, many of these Moldovans have sent their earned Russian wages back to their families in Moldova. If deported to Moldova, they will immediately become an economic burden for the Communist government of Vladimir Voronin (Moldova is the poorest of the European former Soviet republics).
Trans-Dniester has its own options as well. These include shutting off the electric power supply to much of Moldova proper and stopping railway travel from Moldova proper to Ukraine and vice versa (Trans-Dniester is the go between route). Trans-Dniester's government has already started halting rail traffic
Since the so called "Orange revolution," a series of public opinion polls reveal that most of Ukraine's citizenry don't want to sacrifice relations with Russia in exchange for closer Western ties. Ideally, many Ukrainian citizens desire simultaneously close relations with the West and Russia. There's an upcoming Rada (parliament) election in Ukraine. It would appear that the move against Trans-Dniester can only strengthen the hand of Ukrainian Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych, who favors closer ties to Russia. Before the move against Trans-Dniester -- Yanukovych had about a 10% poll lead over Yushchenko. The Orange government's eagerness to please outside forces more than the Ukrainian electorate is damaging its legitimacy within Ukraine.
European Union officials like Javier Solana approve the recent move against Trans-Dniester on the basis of respecting Moldova's territorial sovereignty. Coming from Solana, this is quite ironic, seeing how he hasn't encouraged respect for Serb jurisdiction over its southern region of Kosovo. Some influential Western foreign policy elites favor Kosovo to formally secede from Serbia. In this event, look for Trans-Dniester and some other former Soviet territories (like the Abkhaz and South Ossetian regions within Georgia's Soviet drawn boundaries) to demand the same international recognition, with Russian support. In comparison to Kosovo, several former Soviet territories have greater claims to independence.
A recently released Council on Foreign Relations report on Russia stresses the value of strong U.S.-Russia relations. Regrettably, that report repeats a number of misleading accusations which contradict the authors' (Jack Kemp and John Edwards) stated desire for better relations between Washington and Moscow. The report wrongly blames Russia for most of the political conflicts in former Soviet republics. Especially when compared to how some other former Soviet republics are judged (like Ukraine, Georgia and Latvia), balanced constructive criticism of Russia is definitely lacking in the Western media. In turn, this bias creates resentment among many Russians, as well as non-Russian former Soviet citizens who are sympathetic to Russia.
I welcome critical feedback to this commentary.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst whose commentary has appeared in Eurasian Home, Johnson's Russia List, Intelligent.Ru, The Moscow Times, New York Times and Newsday.