May 31st 2011,
Rumours are circulating in Tirsapol, capital of the unrecognized breakaway Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) of a change in political leadership at the next Presidential elections, due in December.
The PMR has been run by former Communist appartchik, Igor Smirnov, since the conflict which led to its succession from the rest of Moldova in 1992, and, since that time, has developed an international reputation as a hotbed of smuggling, corruption and authoritarianism.
But while any meaningful attempt to address these problems is unlikely in a place where a handful of people own almost the entire economy, and there is no real history of free or fair elections, at least some superficial alteration among the current leadership may be in the offing.
The reason behind this trend is a newly heightened pressure from Russia, which retains 1200 peacekeepers in the PMR, and (so it is said) wants the intransigent Smirnov out of the way so they can move forward with a plan to bring the frozen Transnistria conflict closer to resolution.
This, in turn, is seen as a first step as part of a controversial broader proposed deal with the German government, contained in the “Meseberg Memorandum” (signed by Chancellor Merkel and President Medvedev last June) which could potentially give Russia an enhanced voice in the EU’s security decision-making bodies.
A possible liberalization of visa restrictions for Russians entering the Schengen zone may be an additional incentive.
Apart from the rumours, another, more concrete indication of Russian intentions is that formal internationally brokered negotiations on a settlement of the PMR’s status are expected to reconvene at a meeting in Moscow on 21st June, after a break of some five years.
But while the formal resumption of negotiations would certainly be a step in the right direction, Smirnov’s ouster, if and when it comes, is likely to be a more significant indicator of Russian seriousness in relation to moving the process forward, and it will be interesting to see how things progress following the selection and announcement of Presidential candidates in September.
Democratist remains sceptical about the extent to which other EU members will be willing to accept any Russian influence over their foreign policies in the coming years. But we hope that some tentative peaceful move towards a resolution of the current stalemate, combined with a change at the top (even a stage-managed one) will nudge the long-suffering Transnistrian people (unemployment is 49%, and 80% in the villages) a little closer towards considering the possibility of eventually taking their destiny into their own hands.