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Posted on Apr 23, 2014 in Eastern Europe, Foreign Policy Issues, Ukraine and Crimea | 0 comments

Transdniestria-a litmus test of Russian colonial expansionism

Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), otherwise known as Transdniestria (TD) is a breakaway region of Moldova, just to the north and west of the Black Sea port city Odessa in the Ukraine. In Moldova, with only 5.8 percent ethnic Russians, this sliver of land from the Dniester River, encroaching on the city of Bender on the other side of the Dniestria, has a majority of its population ethnic Russians. Bender was part of the former Bessarabia Socialist Republic in the Soviet Union (USSR). They have come into the news following the absorption of Crimea into Russia as they’ve asked for a similar status. Russia, acquiescing to TD’s vociferous requests to join it, will likely be kept as a bargaining chip only. Such a move would signal the most extreme of colonial expansionist intentions and surely would lead to some sort of military confrontation, which I doubt Russia wants.

Moldova itself, was a Socialist Republic in the USSR and has been part of Romania in the past. Today, there is a region of Romania called Moldolva that is separated from the State of Moldova by a border that runs close to the former major USSR city of Kishinau. It is understandable if the geographical history of this region confuses the reader. I would remind him or her of an earlier post when I noted that Ukraine was a word that meant “borderlands”–and control of these borderlands has changed hands numerous times. I am including, as have the particpants themselves, Bessarabia and Moldova, contiguous to Ukraine, as part of this borderland region. Russia has been one of the players in the grab for control of these borderlands for at least five centuries. (Though it didn’t become an “Oblast” of Russia until 1812.) At one time or another, all of the borderlands we are now talking about were under control of the last Czar of Russia and, following World War II, of the USSR, with control of the area changing back and forth with Romania since the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917.

In 1812, in the Peace of Bucharest, the Eastern portion of the Moldova Principality was transferred to Imperial Russia. As noted earlier, the area of the southern plains of the eastern bank of the Dniester River was known as part of Bessarabia. Hence the southern plains portion of east of the Dniester was included in the then new Russian Governorate of Bessarabia. After the Crimean War, in 1856, this area was returned to Moldovan control. It floated into Romanian control, back to Russian control, and following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the broader area was established as the Molvdavian Democratic Republic and proposed as one of the federal Russian Socialist Autonomous Republics. Settled?  Not so fast. The French and Poles joined the Romanians in intervening militarily, and, though disputedly, Moldova and Bessarabia became members of the Union of the Kingdom of Romania. Romania, in turn, left Besarabia following an agreement as part of the Molotoov-Ribbentrop Non-Agression Pact between Russia and Nazi Germany in August of 1939. The Red Army took control and the territory was integrated into the Soviet Union as the Moldavan Soviet Socialist Republic. A portion of Besarabia was transferred into the Ukrainian SSR.

Following the Nazis invasion of the USSR in 1941, Romania, who was allied with Nazi Germany, moved back into the region. In 1947, the Paris Treaty marking the end of World War II, recognized the new Soviet-Romanian border. That stood until the break-up of the Soviet Union and establishment of the independent nation-states of Moldova and Ukraine. Transniestra asserted their separation from the government of Moldova as Pridnestrovian Moldava. And that’s where this post began.

If you can remember all of this, or at least the general outline of it, you’ll impress your friends enormously. In lieu of that, remember that TD should be used as a litmus test for how far Russian expansionism is prepared to go. Ukranians, especially those near Odessa, have reason to be alarmed, but my guess is that careful diplomacy can keep this litmus test in a safe zone.


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