Moldova Table of Contents
Window display on Russian hostilities in Transnistria, Chisinau
Courtesy Paul E. Michelson
People waiting in line for bread, Chisinau
Courtesy Matt Webb
In the case of Russia, interethnic conflict in Moldova produced results similar to those that followed outbreaks of violence in other former republics of the Soviet Union soon after they had proclaimed their independence. Intrinsically, Moldova was probably of little interest to Moscow, but the presence of an ethnic Russian minority in Moldova altered Moscow's perspective. Moldova's ethnic Russians found the prospect of Moldova's reunification with Romania alarming, because it would alter their status from that of a large and politically powerful force to that of a small and politically powerless minority. Moldova was geographically important to both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union because it formed part of the border of both. In this way, it formed a barrier between Russia itself (in both cases, the ruling entity) and the outside world.
Although officially neutral, the Russian 14th Army (stationed in Transnistria) played a vital role in the conflict between the government of Moldova and the "Dnestr Republic." Its commanders permitted the transfer of weapons from their stockpiles in Moldova to the Transnistrian militia and volunteered the services of "Cossack" (see Glossary) forces that entered the region once fighting broke out (there were approximately 1,000 "Cossacks" in Transnistria in 1994). Furthermore, strong indications suggested that elements of the 14th Army actively intervened on the side of the separatists during the fighting, using their heavy weapons to turn the tide in the fighting when necessary.
Eventually, however, it became evident that the Transnistria conflict was not about ethnic issues (especially once implementation of the language law of 1989 was delayed, and the Popular Front extremists lost much of their power), but about political systems. The Transnistrian leadership wanted to return to the days of the Soviet Union and was wary of the Yeltsin government (it never repudiated its support of the August 1991 coup d'état) and the reformists.
In July 1992, an agreement negotiated by presidents Snegur and Yeltsin established a cease-fire in Transnistria, which brought an end to the worst of the fighting in Moldova. Transnistria was given special status within Moldova and was granted the right to determine its future should Moldova reunite with Romania. Russian, Transnistrian, and Moldovan peacekeeping troops subsequently were introduced into Transnistria.
Maintaining the agreement was, however, complicated by the instability of Russia's central government and by the implications of the 14th Army's involvement for Russia's domestic politics. The 14th Army's commander, Lieutenant General Aleksandr V. Lebed', was politically extremely conservative and, despite repeated warnings from his superiors to restrain himself, had stated publicly that he would not "abandon" Transnistria's ethnic Russians. Like Lebed', Russia's conservatives generally considered abandonment of the ethnic Russian minority to be an anathema. In 1995 nationalists in Russia (whose strength was growing) were ready to protect the "rights" of Russians in the "near abroad" and would, no doubt, politically attack moderates who might be willing to end the conflict through compromise.
By 1994, however, relations between the Transnistrian leadership and the 14th Army had deteriorated to the point that both sides were accusing each other of corruption (including arms trafficking, drug running, and money laundering) and political provocation. General Lebed' also saw many in the Transnistrian leadership as not cooperating with Russian efforts to mediate the conflict and as actively hampering the peace process.
After the 1994 change in Moldova's government, compromises were made by both the Moldovan and the Russian governments to improve relations over the issue of Transnistria. The status of the 14th Army was scheduled to be reduced to that of an "operational group," General Lebed' was to be released from his position, and the number of officers was to be reduced. The two countries signed an agreement in October on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria within three years. Moldova accepted a linkage between withdrawing Russian troops and achieving a political solution to the conflict in Transnistria. Transnistrian observers, who had feared that the Yeltsin government would strike a deal without their consent, saw the agreement as a blow to their existence as a Russian entity (and also to their illegal money-making activities) and walked out of the negotiations.
However, peace was not to come so easily to Transnistria. The October 1994 agreement was a "gentlemen's agreement" that was signed by the two prime ministers and was to be approved by the two governments, but would not be submitted to the countries' parliaments. The Moldovan government approved the agreement immediately, but the Russian government did not, citing the need to submit it to the Duma (the lower house of the Russian parliament), although it still had not submitted the agreement in mid-1995.
According to General Lebed', three years was not enough time to withdraw the 14th Army and its matériel (although an American company working in Belarus offered to buy the 14th Army's ordnance and destroy it). Some members of Russia's Duma flatly refused to consider withdrawing the 14th Army. Under these circumstances, there was little hope for the agreement to be implemented.
In mid-1995 General Lebed' resigned in protest over the still-scheduled downgrading of the 14th Army. He was believed to be a likely candidate in the 1996 Russian presidential elections.
Data as of June 1995
Moldova Table of Contents