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Forgotten conflicts: What you need to know about the conflict in Transnistria  Moldova

A Lenin statue in Tiraspol, the largest city in Transnistria.

A Lenin statue in Tiraspol, the largest city in Transnistria., © Michael Gottschalk/photothek.net

19.09.2018 - Article

It hardly attracts any attention - but since the 1990s a dangerous conflict has been smouldering in the Republic of Moldova.

Where is Transnistria?

The Nistru/Dniester: the separatists’ occupation zone begins beyond the river.
The Nistru/Dniester: the separatists’ occupation zone begins beyond the river.© MTI

The region is situated in the national territory of the Republic of Moldova. The country on the Black Sea, sometimes referred to as Moldavia, shares borders with Romania and Ukraine. The narrow stretch of land between the Nistru/Dniester river and the eastern border is called Transnistria by the ruling separatists there. Up to 500,000 people live in the region.

What is the issue here?

Since the early 1990s, pro-Russian separatists have controlled the zone. They can draw on staunch support: the Russian troops stationed in the region during Soviet times have never been withdrawn. Yet that has no impact on the area’s international status: no country anywhere in the world has recognised the “declaration of independence” drawn up by the separatists. Diplomatic relations do not exist. The banknotes printed by the “government” are worthless outside of the separatist zone. Holders of a Transnistrian “passport” are not entitled to cross any international borders.

What is behind it all?

Violence escalated in the early 1990s: bullet holes in the window of a police station in Dubasari.
Violence escalated in the early 1990s: bullet holes in the window of a police station in Dubasari.© Sputnik

For centuries, people with different language backgrounds have lived in Moldovan territory. As well as the Romanian-speaking majority, there are minorities who speak Russian, Ukrainian or the Turkic language Gagauz. In 1991, when the Soviet Union was dissolved, Moldova became an independent state. Yet its new independence from Russia was not welcomed by everyone. In the Transnistrian region, pro-Russian groups sparked an insurgency in which more than 1000 people died. A peace agreement in 1992 put an end to the fighting. However, thanks to the support of the Russian troops, the separatists have been able to retain control of the region ever since.

Why is the conflict relevant?

Experts speak of a “frozen conflict”: even though no violence is currently taking place, the unresolved issue poses a considerable threat to stability. It is a considerable hindrance to development and prosperity in the Republic of Moldova. It creates numerous complications for the people in the country.

How is Germany helping?

Germany is working to set things in motion by means of negotiations. The most important goal: to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova and enable the region of Transnistria to be granted a special status. To this end, Germany supports the mediation role played by the independent OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), of which Russia is also a member. The German Claus Neukirch recently assumed responsibility for the OSCE mission in Moldova

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