Pridnestrovie is with the noose around its neck


Editor-in-chief of the “Svobodnaya Pressa” Sergei Shargunov speaks with the Head of the MFA of Pridnestrovie

The Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic is a small country that you can travel around it from north to south for the period between breakfast and lunch, and from west to east - for an hour. A narrow strip of land along the Dniester has been an outpost of the “Russian world” for all the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when this expression did not yet come into use. During the years of post-Soviet history the inhabitants of the unrecognized state (today they are about half a million) confirmed four times the wish to be with Russia in a nationwide referendum by an overwhelming majority.

The history of the PMR began on the decline of the Soviet Union’s existence. Moldova’s leadership, overcome by anti-Russian exaltation, held a course for separation from the Soviet Union and the “reunification” with Romania. A discriminatory law on language was adopted in 1989, it required all employees to conduct document flow exclusively in Romanian, mass layoffs of Russian-speaking people began, which at that time went away. Gang of young men walked around Kishinev, examined passers-by on the knowledge of the Romanian language. So, 17-year-old Dmitry Matyushin was beaten to death in Kishinev.

The population of Pridnestrovie could not reconcile itself with the new orders, which consists of one third of Russians, one third of Ukrainians, and one third of Moldovans, a majority of whom created a family with Russians and Ukrainians. As a result on September 2, 1990 the Pridnestrovian Moldavian SSR was proclaimed at the Second Extraordinary Congress of Deputies of all levels of Pridnestrovie. The weakening leadership in Moscow just adopted a resolution on non-recognition of the decision.

Since Moldova attained the independence, nationalists saw a real chance to fulfill the dream of reunification with Romania. But mostly the agrarian Right Bank would be a needless burden to Bucharest, so Kishinev had to return the Left Bank, where there are most of the industrial enterprises. And so the war began. Pridnestrovie fought under red and imperial flags - for the very “Russian world”. Volunteers from all over Russia came to the rescue. The war stopped in July 1992 with the strong support of the Russian army. Our peacekeepers preserve the safety of Pridnestrovians to this day. 200,000 Pridnestrovians have Russian passports.

Now Pridnestrovie is in a particularly serious situation. Kishinev’s quasi-liberal government intensifies the blockade of the PMR, the “military forces”, going away from there, are not allowed to go back. In turn, the new government in Kiev also organized the siege of the fortress “Russian world”. If earlier cargoes crossed the Ukrainian-Pridnestrovian border without problems and people freely went for a work, now near the checkpoints trenches have been dug and armoured vehicles have been installed.

Russia is not able to break the blockade of Pridnestrovie, with which it has not common borders.

Theoretically it would be possible to establish air traffic. A military airfield under Tiraspol was preserved in excellent state. Pridnestrovian authorities think for a long time about converting it into a civilian airport. Why having our internationally recognized peacekeepers we cannot fly to them? Maybe a strong political will is required, to which both Moldova and Ukraine would resign? Their hostility towards Russia is all the more weird - the majority of those leaving from these countries for a work still go to Russia ...

How does Pridnestrovie live today and what does it expect? My interlocutor is Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic Vitaly Ignatiev.

Sergei Shargunov: Vitaly, Pridnestrovie is with the noose around its neck… It seems that the noose is getting tighter. After the Maidan coup the relationship of your republic with Ukraine much deteriorated as well...

Vitaly Ignatiev: Unfortunately, you are absolutely right - relations with Ukraine deteriorated significantly. It should be noted that this judgment relates only to the political and diplomatic contacts and in any way do not affect the people of Pridnestrovie and Ukraine. In fact, we have always been not just neighbours - we share a common historical destiny, common roots with the Ukrainian people, - by the way, in Pridnestrovie there are more than 80 thousand Ukrainian citizens and tens of thousands of ethnic Ukrainians - so we have always been bound with the inhabitants of this country by good kin and friendly relations. During the armed aggression of the Republic of Moldova in 1992, the neighbouring Odessa Region received tens of thousands of refugees from Pridnestrovie. We remember well our history and have never been hostile towards Ukraine.

Alas, the current Ukrainian leadership is in no hurry to listen to the views of Pridnestrovie. For example, in 2014, when the Ukrainian media began to actively overblow a myth about a “Pridnestrovian military threat”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PMR sent to all the heads of diplomatic missions accredited in Kishinev an invitation to visit the Pridnestrovian-Ukrainian border and personally make sure that Pridnestrovie did not make military preparations. As you understand, first the invitation was sent to the Ambassador of Ukraine in the RM, but, unfortunately, he refrained from this visit, as well as his colleagues. Only the ambassador of the Russian Federation visited the border, who, of course, saw no tanks, no “thousands of Russian special forces” - they were not and they are not simply on the border. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s aggressive accusatory rhetoric towards Pridnestrovie continues.

As you know, social and economic situation in Pridnestrovie was complicated largely because of the restrictive actions of Ukraine. Because Ukraine takes very concrete measures of economic strangulation of Pridnestrovie along with militaristic propaganda-oriented statements. Apart from the fact that, because of the complex political and economic situation in Ukraine, the trade turnover of Pridnestrovie with this country has already fell, and a number of major budget-forming enterprises have lost up to 30% of their sales market, at the end of 2014 Kiev limited the movement of excise goods across the Pridnestrovian-Ukrainian border, and fully banned imports of any goods by economic agents of Pridnestrovie, not registered in Moldova.

The agreement recently signed by representatives of Kiev and Kishinev on setting a joint customs and border control on the Pridnestrovian-Ukrainian border can be regarded as preparation for the next step to strengthen the economic blockade of the republic. In fact, this means that on the Ukrainian side there will be Moldovan power structures that, actually, is the final stage of a full-scale blockade of the republic not only at the level of trade and economic activities, but also in the sphere of freedom of movement of citizens.

Thus, we see that Ukraine indulges Kishinev’s destructive actions, aimed at the organization of reservation in Pridnestrovie, which is fundamentally contrary to the basic principles of the negotiation process on the Moldovan-Pridnestrovian settlement and violates a number of previously signed agreements, including the 1997 Moscow memorandum. In practical terms, the appearance of the customs officers and border guards of the RM on the border will mean triple customs and border control for the Pridnestrovian economic agents. The Moldovan legislation will be applied to them, which is fraught with the blocking of certain areas of trade, including the potential destruction of all small businesses in Pridnestrovie, because the PMR and Moldova’s legislations in this area vary considerably.

Thus, there is every reason to believe that today we are on the threshold of the next cycle of tension, which in the presence of negative scenario can affect not only the economy, but also all other spheres of life, including security.

Sergei Shargunov: How does the political crisis in Moldova affect Pridnestrovie?

Vitaly Ignatiev: It should be noted that the political crisis in Moldova did not start yesterday. Year by year in the neighbouring country there has been a succession of resignations of government, early elections, corruption scandals, all kinds of revelations, protracted negotiations on the creation of the governing coalition, and so on. Since the activation of the negotiation process at the beginning of 2012 five Prime Ministers have changed in Moldova to date.

Obviously, such turbulence of the Moldovan political life affects Pridnestrovie negatively, as in our dialogue with Moldova some “intermediate” states dominate: either the recurring elections take place in the RM, and Moldovan representatives do not want to take responsibility for the decisions in the negotiation process, or in Moldova there is no permanent government, what is used by the RM’s negotiators actively to evade work together with the representatives of Pridnestrovie.

At the same time, it would be wrong to say that there is no continuity in the issues of Moldova-Pridnestrovie settlement in Moldova. In particular, the Moldovan side, regardless of whether there is the government, remains an enviable constancy in the invention of new discriminatory measures of pressure on the PMR. So, from 2013 to 2015, Moldova intensified the process of politically motivated prosecutions of Pridnestrovian citizens, including members of the government and entrepreneurs. Some citizens permanently residing in Pridnestrovie were generally deported from Kishinev airport in violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms. Lately, virtually all travel of the PMR’s authorities through the airport of Kishinev is accompanied by intensified checks, including personal search and baggage full examination. Pridnestrovie regards the facts of unjustified personal search of members of the PMR government as targeted actions humiliating honour and dignity of the authorities of the republic. Moreover, such measures are a crude attempt to exert political pressure on the participants of the settlement process, because many officials are heads of relevant expert (working) groups of Pridnestrovie, which are an integral part of the negotiation mechanism.

Our enterprises repeatedly had problems with obtaining licenses in Moldova for imports of raw materials and export of products to the EU countries. Restrictions were imposed in the field of rail and road transport.

The situation is, frankly, been reduced to absurdity. Moldova introduces new restrictive measures with the support of Ukraine, we are trying to resolve the situation through negotiations, we invite Moldovan colleagues to a constructive dialogue, and in response we hear excuses that in Moldova there is not yet the approved government, authorized representatives of the Republic of Moldova do not have intention to take part in the dialogue.

It seems that by these actions they deliberately push Pridnestrovie to responsive actions, provoke symmetric response measures which unlikely will improve the already electrified atmosphere in the relations between the parties. This situation is hard to explain otherwise.

Sergei Shargunov: Due to what does the economy of the PMR exist, despite all the difficulties?

Vitaly Ignatiev: Alas, it must be acknowledged that in the grip of blockade and restrictions emerged since March 2006 the significant development of the economy of Pridnestrovie is out of question. Under the conditions created by our neighbours – and you know that the economy of the PMR depends entirely on exports - we can only survive. We have so far managed to do it with enormous efforts, but considering that the pressure increases exponentially, the safety margin will not last Pridnestrovie for long.

Again, so far we manage to keep cost-effectiveness of the economy, if I may say so. The diverse support of the Russian Federation remains a key factor, of course. During the 2014-2015 years, we signed more than 15 direct intergovernmental memoranda with federal ministries and agencies of Russia. Due to the achieved agreements we were able, for example, to enter into the programme of import substitution in the Russian Federation, to open in a Russian Certification Center in Pridnestrovie. Currently mechanisms are being developed, which could provide a stable easy access of Pridnestrovian goods to the market of the Russian Federation. In this context, the methodological assistance become particularly important, which is provided by our Russian colleagues within the framework of the reached agreements.

Moreover, our bilateral cooperation develops at the level of direct contacts in the trade sphere. For example, due to the signed memorandum on cooperation with the Arkhangelsk Region products of our companies have already supplied to the shops in this region of Russia. We plan that the presence of our products in the markets of Russia will only grow, and the inhabitants of many areas and regions of the Russian Federation will soon be able to assess the high-quality of ecologically clean production of Pridnestrovian enterprises.



In addition, one of the factors that allow our economy to stay afloat is the fact that the functionality of a significant proportion of production and industrial potential, inherited from the Soviet Union, were preserved in Pridnestrovie. Unfortunately, not all enterprises were able to survive in the 1990s, many did not stand the economic blockade. It should be understood that some manufacturing of Pridnestrovie were utterly and completely tied to industrial cooperation with other regions of the USSR. However, once again, much of what we received from the Soviet Union, we were able to preserve, but unfortunately, an accumulating critical mass of negative external factors in the near future can deal a crushing blow to our economy.

Sergei Shargunov: What help of Russia would be the most necessary for Pridnestrovie today?

Vitaly Ignatiev: At the moment, as I said, trade and economic ties have the fundamental importance for us.

I will explain. Until 2006, more than half of Pridnestrovian exports went to CIS markets, primarily in Russia. In 2006 Ukraine and Moldova imposed a new export regime to us – from this year to move their cargoes through Ukraine the enterprises had to register in Moldova, to pay fees and charges in the Moldovan treasury. Double taxation made our products uncompetitive in the RF’s markets, and the business being at the vanishing point, was forced to re-orient to markets in the European Union. After almost ten years, this year we risked losing also this channel of trade with the outside world, since Moldova joined the free trade zone with the EU, which, in turn, meant the abolition of the former duty-free exports to the EU for Pridnestrovie. I will remind you that the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic did not sign the agreement on free trade zone with the EU, because it is contrary to the foreign policy of Pridnestrovie, defined by the people of the republic in the referendum - a rapprochement with Russia, integration into the Eurasian Economic Union.

Thus, the strategic objective for us is to return to the traditional Russian market, the expansion of trade with the Eurasian Economic Union. In this sense, we aim at the development of a special trade regime with the Russian Federation that would ensure the most favorable access to the Russian market for our products. In fact, this would compensate for the costs that our producers bear due to blockade restrictions imposed by Moldova and Ukraine. I believe this decision of Russia will greatly facilitate the conditions for the Pridnestrovian business and will contribute to the reorientation of the enterprises of the republic to the market in Russia and the EEU which is traditional for us.

Sergei Shargunov: Does Pridnestrovie still see itself as one with Russia?

Vitaly Ignatiev: Yes, Pridnestrovians do not separate themselves from Russia. In fact, we feel a part of it, which, against our will, turned out to be separated from the space of the “great Russian world”. Therefore, the Pridnestrovians have indifference and empathy to the difficulties facing by Russia, and sincerely rejoice at its victory.

As for the issue about the place of Pridnestrovie in these processes, the answer lies on the surface - the pressure on Pridnestrovie from the external forces is part of the “big game”, aimed at weakening the position of the modern RF. It is no secret to anyone what our citizens’ intentions towards Russia are. It is all the more quite symptomatic that parallels between Pridnestrovie and Crimea are regularly drawn in the Ukrainian media and statements by representatives of official Kiev.

President of the PMR Yevgeny Shevchuk in his recent interview to the newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta (Russian Gazette) very accurately pointed out that the “hybrid war against Pridnestrovie is part of the war against Russia”. That says it all. Obviously, our beliefs, the choice of the way of an independent and free development of Pridnestrovie in the direction of maximum rapprochement with Russia is the conceptual reason of the extremely difficult situation in which we find ourselves today.


Photo by Buldakov Oleg/ TASS