The BBC thinks that Transnistria is the next Crimea—i.e. the next region that Russia will annex. I am a bit skeptical of this claim and want to discuss it a bit.
So, what is Transnistria? And where is it?
Transnistria, also called Trans-Dniestr or Transdniestria, is a breakaway region in what is modern-day Moldova. (In case you’re wondering, it’s a completely different word in Russian [Приднестровье] and I had to look up how to spell it in English, as I only knew it by its Russian name.) It is located between the River Dniester and the Moldovan border with Ukraine. (See map at right.) At 1,607 square miles, it is slightly bigger than the US state of Rhode Island.
The area broke away from Moldova in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union. There was actually a small war there in 1992 called the War of Transnistria. (Surprise and impress your friends at the next cocktail party you attend by bringing up the obscure War of Transnistria!) Luckily, there hasn’t been any fighting since a ceasefire was signed on July 21, 1992.
The current president is Yevgeny Shevchuk and the prime minister is Tatiana Turanskaya.
How is Transnistria unique?
Transnistria is in a very odd situation. Though the vast majority of the world does not recognize its independence, it functions as a de facto independent, if heavily Russian-influenced, state. Unfortunately, it is also a center for organized crime, an idea that Michael Glenny elaborates on in his excellent book McMafia.
The region is heavily Russian-influenced. Russian language and culture are prevalent. I could go on, but as the old saying goes, a picture’s worth a thousand words, so I present this photo from the BBC article linked at the beginning of this post.
The poster is from 2006 and says: “It’s been 15 years.” (Top left corner.) “17 September 2006. Referendum for Transnistria’s independence.” (That’s the writing below the 17.09.06.) “For unity with Russia!” (That’s the small writing on the right.) “We remember: we are not Moldova!”* (That’s the large writing at the bottom.)
So, will Russia absorb it next?
Now, Transnistria may be very pro-Russian, but I do not think Russia will annex it, at least not anytime soon, simply because it wouldn’t benefit the Russians. Transnistria is functioning very well right now for Russia. There is a Russian military presence there. Sketchy businesses and other criminal enterprises can launder or hide money there. Moldova is not powerful enough to seize it, so it just sits there in a state of limbo.
Of course, the question remains of whether the residents of Transnistria themselves will ask Russia to officially take them under its wing. That could happen, but again, I’m not sure I see the Russians doing that.
*Note: One thing I find extremely odd about this poster is the spelling of Moldova used in that bottom line, Мы помним: мы не Молдова! [My pomnim: my ne Moldova!] I have always, always seen the Russian name of Moldova spelt Молдавия [Moldavia] and I cannot figure out this discrepancy here.