Moldovan Division after the Collapse of the USSR

Russia's Role in the Transitional Process of Moldova and its Renegade Province Transnistria

Seminar Paper, 2010

30 Pages, Grade: 1,5 (CH: 5,5)



1 Introduction

2 Historical Background

3 Theory

4 Transitional Process in Moldova and Foreign Impact
4.1 USSR: The Beginning of the End
4.2 Russian Mode of Transition
4.3 International Impact on Moldova’s Transition
4.3.1 Moldovan Mode ofTransition and Interstate Relations
4.3.2 Western Influence on Central and Eastern European Countries
4.3.3 Political and Economic Developments in Comparison
4.4 Conflict Resolution at the Periphery of Europe
4.4.1 Role of the Russian Army and Prospects for Divided Countries
4.4.2 Conflict Settlement without Progress
4.4.3 Transnistria’s Consolidation

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography
6.1 Printed Sources
6.2 Internet Sources
6.3 Secondary Literature

7 Appendix
7.1 Index of Abbreviations
7.2 MapofMoldova
7.3 Index of Figures, Maps, and Tables

1 Introduction

On 21 July 1992, after two months of civil war in Moldova, a ceasefire agreement was signed under the pressure of the Russian government. After the “hot” conflict between Mol­dovan and Transnistrian(-Russian) forces had been settled down, a multilateral peace-keeping force was established. Moldovan, Russian, and Transnistrian forces jointly observed the for­mer front line in a newly set up security zone along the River Dniestr/Nistru. Although this measure helped to implement peace successfully, it also fostered the long time division of Moldova into a mainland west of Dniestr and a renegade province called Transnistria which is situated mainly east of the river (Büscher 2004: 201; see chapter 7.2). Furthermore, it all ac­celerated Transnistrian transition from a Moldovan province into a quasi, pseudo, or defacto state. While peace was provided by the multilateral forces and a participant contingent of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), not a single third state ac­cepted the independence of the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic (TMR). Even Russia, the main supporter and defender of Transnistrian interests, was not willing to officially recognize their sovereignty (Piehl 2005: 472-474, 476).

Today, the conflict concerning Transnistrian separation remains unsolved. Together with the Azerbaijani-Armenian dispute relating to the area of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Trans­nistrian conflict is one of the so-called frozen conflicts in the region. Russia’s role in this con­flict is outstanding because of the unbroken sway in one of its traditional spheres of influence. For this reason, diplomatic relations between Moldova and Russia are still tense and there probably will be no relaxation as long as Russian troops and weapons are garrisoned on Moldovan territory (Gaedtke 2009: 194). This arouses the interest in how these relations have developed and how the common communist past has shaped the transition of these two coun­tries. Furthermore, the role which Russia played in the current discord between the parties of Moldova and Transnistria as well as Russia’s mediating potential in this conflict is of interest. Accordingly, emphasis will be put on three different areas: Firstly, we shall look at the impact of Russian politics on Moldova. Secondly, Russia’s role in conflict resolution concerning the Transnistrian issue will be focused on. Finally, we will go into the strategic interests that Rus­sia is pursuing in Moldova. Therefore, the research question of this paper is threefold: To what extent is the Russian Federation (and the former USSR respectively) responsible for the current political situation in Moldova, why is Russia not interested and/or unable to solve the “cold” intermitted conflict between Moldova and Transnistria, and what political and eco­nomic interests is Russiapursuing within the very area?

The following two chapters are dealing with Bessarabian/Moldovan history and theo­retical approaches, respectively. Chapter four then is divided into four subchapters which are covering aspects of (1) the Soviet demise, (2) the Russian transition, (3) the impact of interna­tional policies on Moldova, and (4) the unsuccessful conflict resolution. Finally, a conclusion will be drawn and the research question will be answered according to the insight provided by this paper.

2 Historical Background

In order to ease the understanding of the current cleavages between different groups of interest in the Moldovan area, a short overview on the course of regional history shall be given hereafter. Since the Roman and the medieval history may be largely omitted for the present purpose, the beginning of the nineteenth century marks the right point of time to start from. The eastern area of today’s Moldova was then part of the Bessarabian Principality whereas the land west of the river Prut (which designates the current borderline between Moldova and Romania) was part of the Ottoman Empire (Vahl/Emerson 2004: 149-151). Af­ter Turks and Russians had fought four wars for supremacy in Bessarabia within a century, Russia finally succeeded and occupied the territory east of Prut in 1812. Meanwhile, the Prin­cipalities of Moldova and Walachia west of the river remained tributary to the Ottoman Em­pire until 1877. One year later, in 1878, a peace congress aimed at settling the eighth Russian- Turkish War was held in Berlin. Romanian forces actively took part in this war helping Rus­sia to expel Turkish troops from the Eastern Balkans. Subsequently, their endeavour seemed to be honoured as Romania became an independent nation-state as a result of the Berlin nego­tiations. All Bessarabian territory still remained Russian and the common border with Roma­nia was designated by the rivers Prut and Danube. Furthermore, the Danube delta - including some areas further south - now belonged to the Kingdom ofRomania (Hofbauer/Roman 1993: 57, 77f., 194-196). Around forty years later, Bessarabian independence became a target after the Russian revolution in 1917. In addition, unification with Romania was set as the final goal by the recently founded local parliament. The 1919 Paris Peace Conference saw the estab­lishment of a special committee on the Bessarabian issue and a special treaty concerning the territorial dispute was signed. France, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom (UK) guaranteed protection of Romanian interests against Russian infringements. Russia did not accept the loss of Bessarabian territory and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR) consequently broke off diplomatic relations with Romania (Vahl/Emerson 2004: 152f.). It is noteworthy that the boundary between Romania and Russia then shifted from the Prut to the Dniestr and divided the area of present-day Moldova roughly into the current Moldovan mainland and Transnistria (see Hofbauer/Roman 1993: 198). During the interwar period, the latter was part of the Moldovan Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic (MASSR) that was founded in 1924 and was integrated in the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic (SSR). Remarkably, today’s Transnistrian capital Tiraspol still became the capital of the MASSR (Crowther 1997: 285). West of the Dniestr, Bessarabia had become an integral part of extended Greater Romaniajust before it was occupied and annexed by the USSR in June 1940. By the end of World War II (1939-1945), the river Prut became the permanent Soviet-Romanian border with ancient Bes­sarabia becoming the Moldovan Socialist Soviet Republic (MSSR). However, southern Bes­sarabia was excluded and became part of the Ukrainian SSR (Vahl/Emerson 2004: 153f.). It was not until more than forty years later, when the constant decay of the USSR had become irreversible, that a new Moldovan perspective arose. Aside from the necessity to stress the significance of territorial issues, it is at least as important that we consider historical develop­ments that led to multi-ethnicity, multi-nationality, and multilingualism. When the Ottoman Empire lost its Bessarabian province to the Russian Empire in the early 19th century, the entire Muslim majority that had inhabited the area, fled. Russian authorities offered free property and further advantages to settlers from abroad in order to fill the vacuum that had resulted from the mass emigration. Some Germans, Serbs, and Swiss accepted the invitation and went to Bessarabia to start a new period in their lives. Additionally, Gagauzians who are of Turkish ethnicity went from Ottoman Bulgaria to Russian Bessarabia because they were not Muslims but orthodox Christians like Russians and Bulgarians. Furthermore, they used Cyrillic writing rather than Arab or Latin letters, which gave them one more reason to change sides (Piehl 2005: 480). Still today, the issue of nationality remains to be a difficult one for Moldovans as their ethnicity and language do not differ from Romanians while their history does greatly. Moldovan state membership changed from a Russian dependence to integration into the USSR with a temporary independence as well as integration into Greater Romania in- between. Finally, what awaited Moldovans in the USSR was no comfortable treatment as half a million of them were deported to Siberia and an ongoing “Russification” (meaning the im­migration of ethnic Russians, the installation of Russian as official language, the ban on the use of Latin letters, etc.) dominated everyday life (Vahl/Emerson 2004: 154). No other part of the Soviet Union knew a similarly rigorous suppression of people or one of a comparable scope and it was this kind of mistreatment that laid the cornerstone of intensified hostility towards Russia (Crowther 1997: 285). By 1985 and after decades of a more or less unchanged Soviet system, USSR-President Mikhail Gorbachev declared Glasnost (“openness”, meaning political liberalisation) and Perestroika (“restructuring”, meaning economic liberalisation) the leading principles to renovate economic, social and cultural life in the Soviet Union. Hence, many people living in the MSSR rethought their own situation and claimed equivalence of the Romanian language to the Russian one. Eventually, Romanian became the official language by legislation in 1989, and the writing was restored from Cyril to Latin letters (Schorkowitz 2008: 153). However, this did not mark the end of diverging interests in the fields of language and culture. Although Moldovans speaking Romanian represent an overwhelming majority of approximately 75% of the population, Ukrainians and Russians today are still important mi­norities representing about 15% of Moldovan inhabitants (Weltalmanach 2009: 361). The remaining part of the population consists of even smaller minorities like Gagauzians, Roma, Bulgarians, Poles, Belarusians, and Jews. Those 560,000 Russians who lived in the MSSR at the end of the Cold War (1949-1989) especially feared becoming a loathed minority in a na­tionalist Greater Romania to come (Büscher 2001: 156f.). Consequently, ethnic Russians - supported and protected by the Russian Federation - continued to pursue their own interests on Moldovan territory even after Moldova had become a sovereign state.

3 Theory

In order to explain the current political situation in Moldova, the focus has to be set on the crucial moment when the communist system in the USSR began to collapse at the end of the 1980s. On the territory where only one type of regime had dominated, the Soviet break­down gave way to numerous regimes ranging from full-scale democracies to repressive autoc­racies. All fifteen successor states of the USSR - including Moldova - therefore underwent different transitional processes leading to a new political system, most desirably a democracy. The issue of transitional processes emerged long before the end of the USSR when Dankwart A. Rustow wrote a seminal article in 1970. Rustow’s main concern was to find out what the required conditions were in order to make democracy possible and sustaining (Rustow 1970: 337). Based on his theory, Terry Lynn Karl as well as Gerardo L. Munck and Carol Skalnik Leff continued research in the 1990s, trying not only to explain paths leading to democracy but to differentiate between several modes of transition. Karl (1990: 7) relied on a path- dependent approach considering institutional and structural preconditions. However, Munck and Leff (1997: 343) stated that transitions had been defined as “formative or founding mo­ments [...] [which] set a society on a path that shapes its subsequent political development.” This definition of critical junctures (see Kriesi 2007: 20) is supposed to be the centre of path- dependent analysis but greater focus should be put on “the very process of transition from authoritarian rule” (Munck/Leff 1997: 344) so that the success of the transition to democracy can be better determined instead of stressing the prospects of democratic consolidation. Thus, emphasis is laid on those regimes preceding transition since their legacies shape the transi­tional process. It is tried to avoid historical determinism even though the approach still relies on path dependency and history, which remain relevant factors of analysis. Eventually, the mode of transition influences several variables of the post-transitional situation in a country: (1) The kind of regime and (2) its politics, (3) the pattern of elite competition and the political influence on this pattern, (4) institutional rules, and (5) the acceptance of these rules by key actors (Munck/Leff 1997: 345).

The theoretical concept applied here shall follow the premises that Munck and Leff for­mulated. Their research is built upon a most different systems design1, whereas the mode of transition is considered to be the independent variable and the emerging type of regime and its consolidation the dependent variable (Munck/Leff 1997: 345f.). In order to “measure” and explain the modes of transition, the variable has been split into two indicators while both of them have two dimensions. One of the indicators designates the agent of change and differen­tiates between incumbent elite and counter-elite. The other indicator identifies the strategy which the agent of change pursues and that can vary between confrontation and accommoda­tion (see figure 1). Implicitly, there are several more dimensions between the poles of identity and strategy of the agent of change. With regard to the optimum outcome of democracy, every mode of transition is more or less leading towards the goal. Thus, a reform through extrica­tion which is a consensus between old and new elites following a mixed strategy between confrontation and accommodation is supposed to be the best mode of transition because “un­restricted democracy” (Munck/Leff 1997: 358) will result.

Democratisation or transitional processes from authoritarian rule occurred in many places at (almost) the same time. For this reason, Samuel P. Huntington adopted a theory of different waves of democratisation whereas those cases tested by Munck and Leff belong to the third wave which took place between 1974 and 1990 (Huntington 1991: 4f.). Furthermore, 1989 indicates a crucial point in time when the third wave entered a second phase that af­fected countries which are of interest to us (Huntington 1991: 44): Romania and the USSR - including Moldova and Russia - are the main subjects to be scrutinised in order to answer the introductory research question.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Munck/Leff 1997: 346.

On the one hand, it is a task to characterise the modes of transition of these countries so as to locate the places which they belong to within the scheme depicted in figure 1. At the same time, the plausibility of Munck and LefTs model will be either reinforced or weakened by adding some more cases. Additionally, emphasis is placed on external causes and effects of the Moldovan transition, mainly those coming from Russia. Influence on Moldova’s devel­opment resulting from policies in Romania and the European Union (EU) is of undiminished interest too. In this context, it shall be demonstrated how the historical conditions materialised during the transitional period and what the outcomes that consequently resulted were. On the other hand, it is important to analyse the impact of external (Russian) policies on Moldova after the transition had been completed. For this purpose, Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan (1996: 3) have generated a definition of how a political system should work after the accom­plishment of the transition:

“A democratic transition is complete when sufficient agreement has been reached about political procedures to produce an elected government, when a government comes to power that is the di­rect result of a free and popular vote, when this government defacto has the authority to gener­ate new policies, and when the executive, legislative and judicial power generated by the new democracy does not have to share power with other bodies de jure.”

This long-winded definition could be simplified by assuming democracy as being the type of regime that is installed after transition and that there is no alternative rule, whatsoever. Ac­cordingly, “democracy becomes the only game in town when no significant political groups seriously attempt to overthrow the democratic regime or secede from the state1 ” (Linz/Stepan 1996: 5). Whether democracy or any other type of regime apart from authoritarianism is con­solidated may be defined at three different levels: (1) behaviour, (2) attitude, and (3) constitu­tion. Hence, (1) no significant actor is spending time on revolutionary activities, (2) a vast majority of the public believe in the current way of rule, and (3) all individuals and institu­tions are subjects to the law that is shaped and sanctioned by the newly adopted political proc­ess (Linz/Stepan 1996: 6). It also has to be borne in mind that the concept of regime is consid­ered to be broader and different from the one of government and state. Structures within the state are supposed to be commonly stable whereas a regime defines the rules of the political game, i.e. the formal and informal mechanisms of how to share power (Hartmann 2003: 55). Eventually, foreign policies from third countries can have a determinative effect on the sub­ject’s transition while democratic consolidation is considered to be determined by domestic political forces. In contrast, a regional great power - such as the USSR - can open a window of opportunity for democratisation of its subordinate regimes. Whether this opportunity - transition to and consolidation of democracy - will be taken is predominantly dependent on domestic constellations (Linz/Stepan 1996: 73). All of these considerations are helpful to “measure” transitional processes and the eras that follow these critical junctures.

4 Transitional Process in Moldova and Foreign Impact

In this chapter, research will be carried out according to an eclectic approach bringing together all aforementioned theoretical strands. The roots of both Moldovan and Russian tran­sition lie in the incorporation into the USSR before the end of the Cold War. Thus in the first place, some thoughts on the communist system are unavoidable.

4.1 USSR: The Beginning of the End

Traditionally, civil society played a weak role and was hardly existent in Russia still a long time before the Soviet Union was founded in 1922. However, the totalitarian Soviet re­gime successfully suppressed any attempt to foster such a civil society and reinforced its weakness even more.


1 Also called method of agreement, it states that only one variable among the cases investigated is equal (mode of transition) and therefore has to be the cause or the effect of a specific outcome (regime type). This method, together with the method of difference was first developed by John Stuart Mill (Berg-Schlosser 2003: 111).

2 Emphasis mine.

Excerpt out of 30 pages


Moldovan Division after the Collapse of the USSR
Russia's Role in the Transitional Process of Moldova and its Renegade Province Transnistria
University of Zurich  (Institut für Politikwissenschaft)
Seminar "State-building, governance and regime change in the post-Soviet space"
1,5 (CH: 5,5)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
2538 KB
Moldova, Transnistria, USSR, NATO, OSCE, Romania, Ukraine, Bessarabia, Transition, Democracy, Authoritarian Rule, Modes of Transition, International Relations, Comparative Studies
Quote paper
M.A. Manuel Irman (Author), 2010, Moldovan Division after the Collapse of the USSR, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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