Episode 06. Transnistria (Europe's Last Soviet Republic)
Between Moldova and Ukraine lies the breakaway republic of Transnistria the last nation to hold the hammer and sickle upon its flag, this unrecognized nation doesn't exist on any map but does hold the entire balance of power in Eastern Europe. This is the last barrier between the encroachment of the EU and the heartlands of Russia, so to better understand this breakaway republic we turn to 3 expert witnesses.
Professor of Writing and Literature University of Northern Vermont
Author of Bastard Republic: Tattered Edge of the Fallen Empire
Linguistics and International Relations Expert
Born and bred in Transnistria, currently residing in the capital, Tiraspol
From the University of Riga with a background in Political Science and Soviet History
Host of The Eastern Border Podcast
Part 1: Forever In Limbo (1:09)
When the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic declared its independence from the USSR, not all in its borders agreed. Across the Dnieper River, Transnistrians declared themselves independent from Moldova, precipitating a brief and bloody civil war. The Russian Armed Forces stepped in to stop the conflict in 1994, and the situation has remained frozen since.
With Tyrone Shaw we follow this history to understand the current day region of Transnistria, recognised only by other breakaway states. Even Russia, its patron and protector, who has a consulate set up there, does not officially recognise its independence. Yet for all intents and purposes, it does operate independently of Moldova. They have their own laws, borders, and government. They speak Russian not Moldovan, and use a different currency.
So why has nothing changed here in decades? Well, Russia gains great benefit from ensuring strategic geographic instability on their flanks. For one, no country with a territorial dispute is permitted to join NATO. While Moldova hasn't particularly expressed an interest in joining NATO, that may well be because it's impossible until their territorial dispute is settled. Second, it weakens Moldova through not only loss of territory, energy, and population, but also having to dedicate further resources to defence.
Part 2: Life as Normal as it Could be (17:02)
Dmitri Tokarev helps us understand the on-the-ground situation in Transnistria, from the perspective of someone who was born and raised there, and continues to live there today.
Its internationally isolated status means there are no international companies present; no McDonalds, Starbucks, tech companies, anything of the sort. There are only local brands and businesses operating there, which makes its market utterly unique.
We get the local perspective on why unification with Moldova is so unwanted, and look at the cultural and historical factors that make this conflict likely to last for years to come.
Finally we look around at Transnistria's neighbours and partners, tracking their relationships with each and what economic, diplomatic, and security ties they have respectively. We also look at how the country's isolation affects people who seek to travel from the country, and the policies of its neighbours in dealing with any issues that arise.
Part 2: Promises Made, Promises Broken (35:46)
Kristaps Andrejsons takes us through the referendum in Transnistria about reunification, and the strategic implications of the situation. This includes the power of Soviet-Era nostalgia, pension plans and rules, and the impact of having Russian populations inside countries bordering Russia.
We track the history of comparable states that also border Russia and were formerly a part of the Soviet Union, and the German Unification agreement in 1989 that saw the US promise not to expand NATO further eastward than Germany. This leads us into an analysis of the Russian security perspective, in which enemy troops are now closer to their capital than they have been in decades, across almost entirely flat terrain.
Finally, Adrejsons gives us his view on where Transnistria is headed, and how it plays into Russia's broader strategies in Eastern Europe.
The Red Line's Transnistria Reading List:
We’ve put together some further reading for those of you looking for more resources to help you get across the geopolitics of Transnistria.
Bastard Republic: Tattered Edge of the Fallen Empire
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This episode is dedicated to Patreon member Lain.