Passportisation in Transnistria

The separatist region in Moldova situated on the left of the Nistru river is addressed by many names: Administrative-territorial units from the left of Nistru, Nistrean Moldovan Republic, Transnistrian Moldovan Republic, Left Bank, Prednestrovia, Transdniestria, and Transnistria. For the purpose of this study, the region will be mostly addressed as Transnistria- the most commonly used name within the Moldovan community. The Transnistrian region can be characterized as being in the condition of a frozen conflict that is destabilizing the Moldovan state for more than two decades. This paper addresses the Russian involvement in the Transnistrian separatist region from the point of view of the passportisation phenomenon. In order to understand this phenomenon, the paper first addresses the historical background of the conflict.

 

Historical Background

Transnistria dates back to 1924 with the creation by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) of the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR) within Socialist Ukraine. Following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a secret pact between USSR and Germany, in 1940, USSR annexed Bessarabia (now Moldova) which was part of Romania from 1918. Consequently, MASSR and Bessarabia were merged together and created the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic (MSSR).

Within the newly MSSR, Transnistria was heavily industrialized and was the home of the 14th Army.[1] The 14th Army was officially under the command of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) before being placed under Russian control in 1992.[2] This action, however, questioned the army’s legal status on the Moldovan territory.[3] It is also important to note that the majority of its troops came directly from MASSR.[4] The presence of the 14th Army in the region proved to be the milestone responsible for a conflict that has lasted for almost 30 years.

After the Moldovan declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the fear of a potential Union with Romania had intensified in the Transnistrian and Gagauz[5] regions. This fear has urged people living in Transnistria to avoid such an outcome even if it meant splitting from Moldova. In August 1989, in Transnistria, the Union of Workers Collectives (OSTK) was formed with Igor Smirnov as Chairman and was seeking independence from Moldova.[6] In September 1990, just two months after MSSR’s declaration of Sovereignty, Transnistria has declared its separation from Moldova, and its desire to act as a separate republic within the Soviet Union.[7] Consequently, separatists have seized control over police stations and local government offices in the region.[8] The tensions have resulted in a confrontation, outside the city of Dubăsari, between Moldovan police and the Transnistrian separatists in November 1990.[9]

The tensions escalated when the Moldovan Government lost its power in major cities in Transnistria due to 14th Army’s involvement. Thus, by late December 1991, the 14th Army has “occupied Grigoriopol, Dubasari, Sabozia, Tiraspol, and Ribnita”.[10] Unfortunately, the tensions did not end there, but spiraled into what Moldovans call today “the 1992 war” or “the Transnistrian war”.

On June 19th, 1992, the Moldovan Government counterattacked a Transnistrian attack on the last police station in the region.[11] The Transnistrian side, however, had a military advantage with the intervention of the Soviet 14th Army.[12] It is estimated that the fighting has caused 1,000 deaths and 130,000 refugees.[13] The fighting ended on July 21st, 1992 with a cease-fire agreement between the Republic of Moldova and Russia.[14] The agreement approved the withdrawal of the 14th Army from the Moldovan territory. It also included the establishment of the peacekeeping mission in the region which has been present there ever since. [15]

 

Passportisation

Transnistria has a population of 550,000[16] people compared to 2.9 million people in Moldova.[17] 38% of the population in the Transnistrian region are Romanian speaking followed by 26% Ukrainian and 28% Russian.[18]As Transnistrian passports are not recognized abroad, the region has allowed dual citizenship as of 1995. Therefore, in order to be able to travel abroad, 90% of Transnistrians have double citizenship.[19]

When it comes to the Moldovan identity, the population is confused about what it is and what it is supposed to be. The multiethnicity of the country and its diverse historical background make it hard for the Moldovan population to reach a consensus about their own identity. Therefore, the country is divided between people who consider themselves Romanian, Moldovan, Russian, Transnistrian, Gagauz, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian. Because of this phenomenon, such countries like Russia, Romania, and even Moldova have used the opportunity to grant citizenship to people who live on the Moldovan territory.

In the case of Romania, the country grants citizenship to people who can prove that they have a Romanian ancestor. A Romanian ancestor can even be considered anyone who was born on the Moldovan territory during its Union with Romania. Therefore, a large number of Moldovans also hold Romanian (EU) citizenship. Since Transnistrians do not fit in this description, the Romanian law on citizenship was modified in 2015. Consequently, Transnistrians are able to apply for Romanian citizenship if they prove their loyalty to Romania, are at least 18 years old, and does not have a criminal record.

In 2006, a Moldovan President degree granted Moldovan citizenship free of charge to people living in the Transnistrian region.[20] In 2014, after the Association Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Moldova was signed, the applications of Transnistrians to obtain Moldovan citizenships has doubled.[21] The free tourist visa regime for up to three months has made citizenship more attractive to the Transnistrian population. Therefore, out of 500,000 of the Transnistrian population, 300,000 of them hold the Moldovan passport.[22]

Only 28% percent of people in Transnistria are Russian speakers,[23] yet, most people in the region have Russian citizenship. In 2004 the Transnistrian “foreign minister” stated that 80,000 people in the TMR have Russian passports.[24] This was made possible with the help of the 2002 citizenship law which grants citizenship to any stateless person who was previously a USSR citizen.[25] However, after the 2014 events in Crimea, the number of Transnistrians that hold Russian passports has peaked. Thus, out of 500,000 people, 200,000 hold a Russian passport.[26] This development is not surprising since in the 2006 referendum 97% of respondents voted in favor of a union with Russia.[27] Moreover, Russian citizenship was extended in 2014, allowing anyone that speaks Russian and has at least one ancestor who lived on the USSR territory, to obtain citizenship. [28]  However, in order to receive Russian citizenship, the individual has to give up other citizenships.[29] Nevertheless, Russia is working on abolishing the requirement to renounce other citizenships before acquiring the Russian one.[30]

A surprising factor is that most Transnistrian authorities are Russian citizens. The New York Bar mission in Moldova, could not find a single Transnistrian senior representative who had not emigrated to Moldova from Russia and Ukraine.[31]

Ceslav Ciobanu argues that “[t]he problem is that the separatist leaders use the protection of Russian or other foreign citizenships to refuse compliance with Moldovan laws and Moldovan sovereignty, pledging to join their “historic motherland” as, for example, “subjects of the Russian Federation,” and challenging international community efforts to settle this conflict.”[32] By granting Russian passports, the Russian Federation is able to protect its citizens against the “oppression” of the Moldovan authorities. According to the Russian viewpoint, Russians who live outside Russia “may form groups” promoting their homeland and settle in Russia and invest in its economy.[33]

 

Conclusion

The 1992 war, the ongoing tensions, and the identity crisis has made Transnistria open to passportisation attempts from three different countries: Moldova, Russia, and Romania. It can be argued that the Moldovan attempt to grant citizenship to the population living in the Transnistrian region is a simple attempt to encourage its own citizen to accept their nationality and to try to further strengthen the National unity and identity. Yet, the Russian and Romanian passportisation policies might follow an alternative motive of imposing their dominance in the region. While the Romanian passport is appealing because of the European Union membership, the acquisition of Russian passports can be attributed to the Transnistrian affiliation to Russia and their attempt of seeking a union with Russia. The illegal presence of the Russian Army in the region of Transnistria, and the Russian continuing attempts to increase the number of their passport holders, can become a real threat to the Moldovan sovereignty. Considering the Russian actions in Eastern Europe, in the case of Georgia and Ukraine, it is important to closely monitor the Russian passportisation attempts in Transnistria.

Written by Nicoleta Mirza

 

Bibliography

[1] Tudoroiu, T. (2018). Brexit, President Trump, and the Changing Geopolitics of Eastern Europe. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 221.

[2] Ozhiganov, E. The Republic of Moldova: Transdniester and the 14th Army. in Arbatov, A., Chayes A., Chayes H. A., & Olson L. (1997). Managing Conflict in the Former Soviet Union: Russian and American Perspectives (CSIA studies in international security). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, p. 147.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Idem, p. 179.

[5] Gagauz region or Gagauzia is an autonomous region in Moldova with predominately ethnic composition of Gagauz people.

[6] Special Committee on European Affairs (2006). Thawing a Frozen Conflict: Legal Aspects of the Separatist Crisis in Moldova: A Report from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. 61(2) REC. ASS’N BAR CITY N.Y. p. 15.

[7] Ibid.

[8] King, C. (2000). The Moldovans: Romania, Russian and the Politics of Culture. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, p. 193.

[9] Kolsto, P., Edemsky, A., & Kalashnikova, N. (1993). The Dniester Conflict: Between Irredentism and Separatism. Europe-Asia Studies, 45(6), 973-1000. p. 984.

[10] Idem, para. 53.

[11] Tudoroiu, T. (2018). Brexit, President Trump, and the Changing Geopolitics of Eastern Europe. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 222.

[12] Special Committee on European Affairs (2006). Thawing a Frozen Conflict: Legal Aspects of the Separatist Crisis in Moldova: A Report from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. 61(2) REC. ASS’N BAR CITY N.Y. p. 16.

[13] King, C. (2000). The Moldovans: Romania, Russian and the Politics of Culture. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, p. 178.

[14] Herd, G., & Conflict Studies Research Centre (Great Britain). (2005). Moldova & the Dniestr Region Contested Past, Frozen Present, Speculative Futures? (Central & Eastern Europe series, 05/07). Camberley, Surrey: Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, Conflict Studies Research Centre. p. 3.

[15] Kolsto, P., Edemsky, A., & Kalashnikova, N. (1993). The Dniester Conflict: Between Irredentism and Separatism. Europe-Asia Studies, 45(6), 973-1000. p. 994

[16]  Președintele Igor Dodon exclude orice proces de federalizare în R. Moldova. (2019, June 13). Radio Europa Libera Moldova. Retrieved from https://moldova.europalibera.org/a/29996826.html.

[17] Biroul Național de Statistici al Republicii Moldova (2017), Populația Republicii Moldova la momentul Recensământului este de 2 998 235, Retrieved from https://statistica.gov.md/newsview.php?l=ro&idc=30&id=5582. Accessed on [04.03.2020].

[18] Popescu N. (2005), The EU in Moldova-Settling Conflicts in the Neighborhood n. 60, The European Union Institute for Security Studies, p. 3.

[19] Special Committee on European Affairs (2006), Thawing a Frozen Conflict: Legal Aspects of the Separatist Crisis in Moldova: A Report from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 61(2) REC. ASS’N BAR CITY N.Y., p. 89.

[20] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Moldova: The Moldovan President’s Decree Regarding

the Procedure Initiated for the Population Located in Transnistria to Get Moldovan Citizenship

and a Moldovan Passport Free of Charge, 1 February 2006, Doc. No. MDA100828.E, available at: https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/eoir/legacy/2013/11/07/MDA100828.E.pdf.

[21] Locuitorii din regiunea transnistreană fac cozi pentru obţinerea cetăţeniei Republicii Moldova. (2014, April 10). Publica TV. Retrieved from: https://www.publika.md/locuitorii-din-regiunea-transnistreana-fac-cozi-pentru-obtinerea-cetateniei-republicii-moldova-_1880361.html.

[22] Secrieru S. (2015, July 16). The Two Big Factors That Could Shift the Status Quo on Transnistria. Russia Direct. Retrieved from: http://www.russia-direct.org/opinion/twobig-actors-could-shift-status-quo-transnistria.

[23] Popescu N. (2005), The EU in Moldova-Settling Conflicts in the Neighborhood n. 60, The European Union Institute for Security Studies, p. 3.

[24] Maksymiuk J. (2004, September 17). Analysis: Transdniester Wants Talks On ‘Federal System’ With Moldova. RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty. Retrieved from: https://www.rferl.org/a/1054905.html.

[25] See Lachert J. (2020, February 18). Russia Hands Out Passports to Its Diaspora. Warsaw Institute. Retrieved from: https://warsawinstitute.org/russia-hands-passports-diaspora/.

[26] Maksymiuk J. (2004, September 17). Analysis: Transdniester Wants Talks On ‘Federal System’ With Moldova. RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty. Retrieved from: https://www.rferl.org/a/1054905.html.

[27] See Berg, E. (2012). Parent states versus secessionist entities: Measuring political legitimacy in Cyprus, Moldova and Bosnia & Hercegovina. Europe – Asia Studies, 64(7), 1271-1271. doi:10.1080/09668136.2012.698048, p. 1282.

[28] Cлoбoдян E. (2014, April 21). Ктo Moжeт Пoлyчить Poccийcкoe Гpaждaнcтвo в Упpoщённoм Пopядкe? Аргументы и факты AIF.RU. Retrieved from: https://aif.ru/dontknows/actual/kto_mozhet_poluchit_rossiyskoe_grazhdanstvo_v_uproshchyonnom_poryadke.

[29] Cлoбoдян E. (2014, April 21). Ктo Moжeт Пoлyчить Poccийcкoe Гpaждaнcтвo в Упpoщённoм Пopядкe? Аргументы и факты AIF.RU. Retrieved from: https://aif.ru/dontknows/actual/kto_mozhet_poluchit_rossiyskoe_grazhdanstvo_v_uproshchyonnom_poryadke

[30] See Lachert J. (2020, February 18). Russia Hands Out Passports to Its Diaspora. Warsaw Institute. Retrieved from: https://warsawinstitute.org/russia-hands-passports-diaspora/.

[31] Special Committee on European Affairs (2006), Thawing a Frozen Conflict: Legal Aspects of the Separatist Crisis in Moldova: A Report from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 61(2) REC. ASS’N BAR CITY N.Y., p. 89.

[32] Ciobanu, C. (2009). Frozen and forgotten conflicts in the post-soviet states: Genesis, political economy and prospects for solution (East european monographs, no. 756). Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, p.81.

[33] Lachert J. (2020, February 18). Russia Hands Out Passports to Its Diaspora. Warsaw Institute. Retrieved from: https://warsawinstitute.org/russia-hands-passports-diaspora/

Picture Source: Stefanescu, C. (2019). “Transnistria: Russia´s satellite state an open wound in Eastern Europe”. Retrieved from: https://www.dw.com/en/transnistria-russias-satellite-state-an-open-wound-in-eastern-europe/a-48942598

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