The beginning of the ’90s were turbulent times for Eastern Bloc countries. Former USSR Republics declared independence and the Socialist Satellite States switched to democracy and adopted Free Market Economy. The initial phase of democratization was peaceful in most countries, characterized by civil resistance and peaceful transition from a one-party state to a multi-party system. Romania was an exception, the deposition of Ceausescu was bloody and the dictator himself was executed. The transition period in 90’s however, seen violent çivil wars, widespread poverty, corruption and famines, most notables were the rise of ‘’Oligarchs’’ in Russia, Chechen Wars, Moldavian Civil War and conflicts in Georgia. This conflicts resulted in some regions declaring their independence, mainly due to ethnic differences.

Former Soviet Republics in 1991

 Transnistria or officially the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic is an unrecognized state, bordering Moldova ( not recognized by Moldova) to the East and Ukraine to the west. ( not recognized by Ukraine ) The territory covers a thin corridor on the Eastern Bank of the river Dniester with a total size of 4,163 km2. It has a population 469.000 with %34 Russian %33 Moldovan %26,7 Ukranian %2,8 Bulgarians and several minorities such as Gagauz and Poles. The country has its own flag, anthem military force, police force, currency ( Transnistrian Ruble ), border checkpoints, president and Parliament.

Gagauz Turks:

Gagauz Turks are an ethnic group, living in mainly autonomous territory of Gagauzia in Moldavia, also has a presence Ukraine, Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria. Their origins are obscure, theories including that claim they are descendants of Oghuz Tribe of old nomadic Turks, or originally a Balkan people who mixed and Turkified aongside migrating Turkic tribes. They are mainly Orthodox Christian, speaking a Turkic dialect of Gagauzian, mostly inteeligable with Turkish.

Flag of Trannistria
Transnistrian Coat of Arms
Territory

To understand the situation in Transnistria, we must know it’s status in International Law and study the history of the Region in order to understand the essence of the conflict. And at the end of the article, we will give practical information for visiting Transnistria.

Status of Transnistria Under International Law:

Transnistria is a de facto state, formed after the civil war in 1990 and only recognized by other unrecognized states; the Republic of South Ossetia, Republic of South Abkhazia and Republic of Artsakh. To explain it’s strange status, first, we must understand what is ‘’state’’ under international Law.

What is a State?

The question itself and efforts to create a consistent explanation defining the state as a political entity is as old as the philosophy itself and the first efforts date back to ancient Greece, famous philosophers Plato and Aristophanes tried to define the state, it’s characteristics and ways of creating a perfect state. Throughout history, many philosophers answered this questions in many different ways and the birth of comprehensive ideologies and Sociology as a science at the end of 19th century transferred this question from a philosophical context to an ideological and technical one. Sociologists and philosophers like Karl Marx, Max Weber and more contemporary ones like Michael Foucault and Jurgen Habermas had explained the state in different ways.

However, in order to define state as a legal entity we must examine legal sources. These can be international agreements, conventions, juridical texts from International courts or arguments from legal doctrines.  

Given the importance of the subject, most international texts don’t contain a compact definition for the state. Reasons for that are both political nature of the issue and difficulty agreeing on a single definition by signing parties. ,

Most accepted state definition can be found in Montevideo Convention, Article 1:

 The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

Article 1 of Montevideo Convention

 This provision sets 4 criteria for a statehood. Due to ambiguity of some criterias, further explainations and principles were created in doctrine in order to create a more complete definition.

Montevideo Convention

The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States is a treaty signed at Montevideo, Uruguay, on December 26, 1933, during the Seventh International Conference of American States.
The convention sets out the definition, rights and duties of statehood. Most well-known is Article 1, which sets out the four criteria for statehood ( Green countries have signed and ratified, yelow signed but haven’t ratified )

Permanent Population:

 Simple as it seems, a state must have control over a population who are residing permanently in the state. The number of citizens is not important.

Defined Territory:

 A state must have effective control over a territory. The question of clarity of borders some controversy in the application of Israel to the UN. Even though Isreal effectively controlled a territory, this territory was disputed and considered unlawful, therefore Arab nations and the UK argued that Israel shall not be accepted as a state and apply to the UN. However there was an earlier decision, German-Polish Mixed Arbitral Tribunal on the case Deutsche Continental Gas Gesellschaft v. Polish State in 1929 which stated that controlled  territory doesn’t have to be defined or undisputed:


„Whatever may be the importance of the delamination of boundaries, one cannot go so far as to maintain that as long as this delamination has not been legally effected the State in question cannot be considered as having any territory whatever (…) In order to say that a State exists (…) it is enough that this territory has a sufficient consistency, even though its boundaries have not yet been accurately delaminated, and that the State actually exercises independent public authority over that territory’’

  Israel was accepted and this criterion was confirmed by several other cases in International Courts.

Government:

 A state must have an effective and stable political structure to exercise it’s control over territory and people.

 This criteria itself doesn’t contain any specifications about type of government, in doctrine, it is accepted that to fulfill the criteria, the governing authority, whether its a democracy or a monarchy, shall be:

  1. Effective
  2. Independent

 By effective, it is meant that the government shall be able to exercise it’s legislative and executive Powers effectively. In practice, they must be able to enforce its laws, perform its duties like collecting taxes. This is evidenced by the dispute on Aaland Islands and Report of Commission of Jurists, appointed by League of Nations to investigate the situation in Finland, which was torn apart by a bloody civil War:


 ‘’ …It is therefore difficult to say at what exact date the Finnish Republic, in the legal sense of the term, actually became a definitely constituted sovereign State. This certainly did not take place until a stable political organization had been created, It is therefore difficult to say at what exact date the Finnish Republic, in the legal sense of the term, actually became a definitely constituted sovereign State. This certainly did not take place until a stable political organization had been created, and until the public authorities had become strong enough to assert themselves throughout the territories of the State without the assistance of foreign troops

Finnish Civil War:

Finnish Civil War was fought in 1918, after WWI during the formation of Indeendent Finland. Conflict was between Socialist Reds and Whites, formed by Finnish and German Recruits. War lasted for 3 months and resulted in White victory, bringing Finland under German influence. More than 40.000 people died during the war.

Another aspect of a suitable government can be seen in the last sentence: ‘’ …and until the public authorities had become strong enough to assert themselves throughout the territories of the State without the assistance of foreign troops’’ As seen here, the governing body must also be independent while exercising it’s authority.

 Independence is one of the most important aspects of statehood. It states that the state must be sovereign in his right and ability to use his authority. This indepependence must contain both right of self-determination and constitiutional indepmendence.

 By self-determination, it’s meant that the government of the state must have the power to exercise his authority to rule without foreign intervention and in a stable manner. The term constitutional independence indicates that a state must not have constitutional limits to its sovereignty. This applies to federated states, where states itself are not actual states because of limits in their independence. The Federation itself, like the USA, counts as an actual state.

Capacity to Enter into Relations With Other States:

 Self-explainatory by itself, requirements necessary to conduct negotiations with other states are indicated in doctrine. One of them is independence. A subject state cannot enter into negotiations with other sovereign states. This is the case for Federal states, only the federation itself can conduct negotiations.  Another requirement for a state to enter negotiation with another state is mutual recognition.

A state cannot enter negotiations with another state which doesn’t recognize it. This topic is especially relevant in the case of Transnistria so it should be analyzed in more depth.

Recognition of a State:

Recognition is a statement by an international legal person as to the status in international law of another real or alleged international legal person or of the validity of a particular factual situation.

 The question of is being recognised is a criteria for statehood had been a subject of debate in doctrine and 2 theories were constituted to give an answer: Constitutitive Theory and Declerative Theory.

 Constitutive Theory implies that recognition is a necessity for statehood. An unrecognised politcal entity cannot be a state and therefore cannot have the rights and responsibilities given by International Law.

 Declerative Theory stands in the opposite side, it states that recognition is a merely accaptence of a current situation and therefore cannot be a criteria for statehood.

 Today Constitutional Theory is criticized for several flaws. Most important argument is that a state which has all requisite attributes and yet unrecognised will be outside the Legislation of International Law, therefore, a legal basis for intervention in case of aggression or any other offence against a state’s sovereignt cannot be formed. The doctrine is more biased towards the Declerative Theory. One document backing the Declerative Theory is Charter of the Organisation of American States which states :


‘’the political existence of the state is independent of recognition by otherstates. Even before being recognised the state has the right to defend its integrity and independence.’’

The theory also fares better with politic realities. Recognition is not only legal status, but also a political tool for states. Today, most Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia and Iraq, refuse to recognize Israel as a sovereign state, arguing that the legitimate owner of the land is Palestine. However, it is not true to think that these states will not call for international aid in case of an aggression from Israel, for they have every right to do so.

Green for states that recognised Israel

Status of Transnistria:

 The Transnistrian Republic contains all aspects of a state. They have an effective government, a president and a parliament. They have their own military, border control and police force. Transnistrian officials check all entries from both Moldavia and Ukraine, the crossing is only possible via designated checkpoints. Therefore it can be said that Transnistria has a permanent population, a territory and an effective government. However, Transnistria isn’t counted as a state by the UN mainly due to its lack of recognition. We cannot make any certain assumptions on the statehood of Transnistria,  but we can assess the situation by reading it’s short history.

Vadim Krasnoselsky, President of Transnistria

Aleksandr Martynov , Prime Minister

S

Short History of Transnistria:

The West bank of Dniester River, now including all territory of Transnistria and some area from Ukraine was part of Moldovian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. During this era, Soviet policy was to distinguish Moldovan identity from Romanian one, trying to impose the idea that Moldovans are historically and linguistically different from Romanians, even though it is not the case. School curriculum was modified and the Cyrillic alphabet became the official, alongside with Russian words, instead of Romanian were introduced to the population. Remaining territory of Moldova was the part of Romania in the name of Province of Bessarabia.

 In 1940, Stalin forcibly annexed the Bessarabian province from Romania through intimidation and the Moldovian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was incorporated to Moldovian Soviet Socialist Republic. During the Soviet Era, a policy of Russification was enacted with Russians and Russian speaking citizens held important offices while Moldovans were mostly in the agricultural business. The policy of separating Moldovian identity from Romanian also endured.


Military ordinance forbidding use of foreign languages and wearing of “Russian caps” in Bessarabia

Time of MSSR saw big Russian immigration to the area and also rapid industrialization, especially in the West bank of Dniester. Cities like Tiraspol and Bender rose as industrial capitals with lots of Russian expats, working in Professional areas. Demographically, however, the area of Transnistria didn’t have an actual majority, both Russians, Ukrainians and Moldovans had similar numbers, with a slight Moldovian majority. Russians however, held the elite jobs in the area with much more influence than others.

The time of Gorbachev and his policy of Perestroika rose the nationalism in Moldova, requests for autonomy from Transnistria and Gagauzia were rejected by central government. This scared the influential Russian population in Transnistria and caused the Moldovian Civil War between 1990-92. With significant Russian support, Transnistrian forced prevailed and declared independence.

Footage from the Conflict

A cease-fire was signed on 14th of June 1992 and since then, the area is a frozen-conflict zone. Since then, several attempts of settling a permanent peace had failed. In 1997, on behalf of OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe ) the Primakov Memorandum was signed, on the mediation of Russia and Ukraine which settled some issues between Moldova and Transnistria but the interpretation of the agreement was fundamentally different in both sides. Unsatisfied with results, negotiations restarted on 2006 and lasted until 2011 without much success. Transnistria is a member of the Community for Democracy and Human Rights, alongside South Ossetia, Karabakh and Abkhazia.

OSCE

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in the largest international organisation with 57 participating states. OSCE is mostly involved in arms trafficing, early warning and conflict prevention. It played a important role during the negotiations between Moldavia and Transnistria.

Transnistria conducted his operations mostly under guarantee of Russia. However, Russia never recognized Transnistria as a sovereign state, unlike his Georgian counterparts. The reasons for that are purely political, Russia uses Transnistria as leverage in his efforts to have Moldova under his influence. In 2014, Transnistria expressed its desire to be annexed by Russia and although this was welcomed by Russia, it didn’t happen.

Most Transnistrians have dual citizenship of Moldovian as Transnistrian Passport will not be accepted anywhere. Their currency cannot be exchanged or accepted outside its borders.

Conclusion:

Today, Transnistria’s statehood is still in a contested position. The conflict itself became so insignificant that it can be said that no state actually cared to take a stance, apart from Moldova and Russia. Alongside separatist sentiment, Transnistria holds important economic ties with Moldova and Russia, which further complicates the issues. So the legal reality of statehood for Transnistria is heavily dependent on the current political situation and especially the stance of Russia. Without significant support from big countries, it is unlikely that Transnistria will ascend to the status of statehood and accepted into the UN. Given the circumstances, neither Moldova nor Transnistria itself has that intention.  

In a purely legal point of view, recognition of Transnistria would not comply with criteria stated in doctrine. Transnistria is a Secessionist state, which means it had broken away from its parent state due to conflicts. Contemporary examples of secessionist states show that the result of recognition varies and a direct legal explanation cannot be created. The violent secession of former Yugoslav states and peaceful secession of Montenegro shows us that the way of secession is less important than it’s political outcomes. There is no certain list of necessities to justify a violent breakaway, but according to academical Works and case law, son prerequisites can be listed:

  • Secession shall be justified with a danger of oppression, genoicide, cultural extinction or assimilation etc.
  • In case of cultural self-preservation, the threat to the cultural identity shall be serious
  • Secession shall be the final solution, before the attempt, all legal ways shall be exhausted and political situation shall be locked
  • The internal and external legitimacy of the central government shall be
  • widely questioned due to its authoritarian and repressive natüre.
  • The secessionist territory shall have a legitimate authority
  • Evidence of extensive, genuine support among members of the disaffected group for breaking away.
  • The group should have historic claims to the territory on which it intends forming its state and constitutes a numerical majority in that area
  • The new state has to be constituted on a democratic basis
  • The emerging state has reasonable prospects of survival and economic prosperity
  • The break-up shall not have severe weakening effect on the parent state’s economy
  • The secessionist movement shall give caution not to create violece during the process

 It can be said that complete dissolution of the parent state, like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, is more likely to give birth to recognized states than breakaway ones like Abkhazia and Transnistria.

 After assessing the sitation under these terms, it is clear that Transnistria’s recognition will violate a lot of them:

  • There was no danger of genocide or cultural extinction, the people who fought against Moldavia were not even the Majority and didn’t have popular support of majority Ukrainians and Moldovians. Instead, they looked for foreign support ( Russia )
  • The government of Moldova during the break-up wasn’t the most democratic one, but still had effective control over its territory and people had a degree of representation
  • The satellite-state of Moldovian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic cannot be counted as a historical claim to that territory.
  • Since it’s formation, the Transnistrian government had fared poorly in freedom indexes, counted as an oppressive government with little democratic representation and limited freedom of the press.

Given these circumstances and the attitude of Transnistrian Government toward russian annexation makes it harder fot itself to be recognised as a Sovereign State. Transnistria has all internal necessities for statehood but fails to fulfill international and legal ones.

Practical Information for Visiting Transnistria:

This section will provide practical information for those who wishes to visit Transnistria.

Entrance to Transnistria can be done either by Ukraine or Moldova. There is no international airport in the country. Upon entry, border poliçe will check your passport and give you an entry visa, valid for 72 hours. There are regular Matrushkas between Tiraspol and Odessa in Ukraine or Chisinau in Moldova. Prices are fairly low.

Tiraspol can be an interesting destination for people who wish to see a proper communist city and architecture. Wide streets and apartment blocs cover the landscape while first signs of privatization can also be seen on colorful signs on stores. The state economy is still socialist but privatization process continues, some international Moldovan and Russians brands are present in the city. Impressive Lenin statues and open-air museum on the main 25th of October Street are also worth seeing.

 The city boasts it’s local brandy, Kvint, sold at incredibly low prices. A 10-year bottle costs about 4 Euro ( 80 PRB ). World’s 2nd biggest Sturgeon Complex ( Aquatir ) is also in Tiraspol. Worldwide famous and high-luxury Beluga Caviar can be found here at an extremely low price at supermarkets. A 50 gr box costs about 25 Euros.

Important information for people who enter Transnistria through Ukraine; there is no border between Moldova and Transnistria as Moldova doesn’t recognise it’s borders. So entering Moldova through Ukraine will result in a no-entry stamp in passport. Moldovan border official recognises Ukranian exit stamp as the entry date and people who wish to stay more than 72 hours upon entering through Transnistria shall register in a Moldovian authority in order to avoid complication while exiting Moldova.

Transnistrian Border Check

Sources:

  • Deon Geldenhuys – Contested States in World Politics-Palgrave Macmillan UK (2009)
  • Malcolm N. Shaw – International Law-Cambridge University Press (2003)
  • Kaufman, Stuart J. “Spiraling to Ethnic War: Elites, Masses, and Moscow in Moldova’s Civil War.” International Security, vol. 21, no. 2, 1996, pp. 108–138. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2539072
  • King, Charles. “The Benefits of Ethnic War: Understanding Eurasia’s Unrecognized States.” World Politics, vol. 53, no. 4, 2001, pp. 524–552. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25054164.
  • International Law and Criteria for Statehood – Ali Zounuzy ZadehVahl, M., & Emerson, M. (2004). Moldova and the Transnistrian conflict. JEMIE – Journal on ethnopolitics and minority issues in Europe, 1, 1-29.
  • Vahl, M., & Emerson, M. (2004). Moldova and the Transnistrian conflict. JEMIE – Journal on ethnopolitics and minority issues in Europe, 1, 1-29.


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