Jan 16, 2014 | 16:55 GMT

4 mins read

Transdniestria Challenges Moldova Over Its EU Aspirations

Transdniestria Challenges Moldova Over its EU Aspirations

Recent inflammatory statements between the breakaway territory of Transdniestria and Moldova reflect the growing tensions between the two as the latter continues with its push for European integration. The State Security Committee of Transdniestria released a statement Jan. 15 that said Moldova planned to provide NATO with access to its military bases. Moldovan officials rebutted these claims, calling them "unfounded" and accusing Transdniestria of "escalating tension in the security zone" of the Transdniestria conflict. These tensions are bound to intensify in the coming months, though the hurdles to meaningful integration between Moldova and the West are likely to keep the dispute between Transdniestria and Moldova rhetorical and diplomatic.

Moldova and Transdniestria have been at odds since the latter unilaterally broke away from Moldova after the fall of the Soviet Union. With the military support of Russia, Transdniestria quickly defeated Moldova in a war in 1992. Since then, Russia has kept troops in the breakaway territory and has financially supported Transdniestria to Moldova's chagrin.

For years Moldova has tried but failed to reintegrate Transdniestria. Several European countries, most notably Romania and Germany, have lobbied on Moldova's behalf to achieve a settlement with Transdniestria, but Russia has refused to remove its military presence from the territory, given the strategic nature of Transdniestria to Moscow's interests in the region.

The result has been a stalemate that has seen virtually no significant movement for several years. However, in recent years a significant political evolution has transpired in Moldova with the emergence of the EU-oriented Alliance for European Integration. This coalition, which boasts a majority in the Moldovan Parliament and is supported by both the prime minister and the president, has steadily built up relations with the European Union. Most notably, this has involved negotiating an association and free trade agreement, which Moldova initialed in November 2013 and hopes to sign in the first half of this year.

Moldova with Transdniestria

Moldova with Transdniestria

Moldova's process of EU integration has been met with opposition from two primary forces. One is the Communist Party, which leans toward Russia and led the government until 2009. Though the Communist Party holds fewer seats than the Alliance for European Integration (48 to 53), it is still the largest party in Parliament and retains considerable support throughout the country, particularly among the rural and poor.

The second opposing force is Transdniestria, which, with Russian backing, has spoken against and has tried to undermine any pro-EU moves by Moldova. This has involved prioritizing Transdniestria's integration with Russia's rival Customs Union, which included the adoption of a law Dec. 26 to prioritize Russian legislation over local laws — something meant to deliberately complicate Moldova's pursuit of the EU agreements. Transdniestrian and Russian officials have also threatened military buildups and security disruptions if Moldova continues with its Western integration.

Claims that Moldova will provide air-basing rights to NATO can be seen in this context, and there are many reasons to doubt the veracity of said claims. According to its constitution, Moldova is a neutral state and is therefore unable to formally join any military alliances or provide its territory for military bases of external powers. To amend the constitution would require the support of 86 members of Parliament, which would be impossible for the Alliance for European Integration to achieve without the support of the Communists. Furthermore, as a tiny country in the periphery of Russia and in proximity to Russian troops in Transdniestria, it is unlikely that the Moldovan government would follow through with such a bold move and risk military conflict — even if it had the necessary votes.

Instead, such claims fit within the parameters of an increasing escalation of diplomatic tensions as Moldova continues to orient toward the European Union. The same constraints that prevent the Moldovan government from seriously considering hosting NATO air bases apply to its EU integration drive as well. Russia previously showed that it was able to inflict economic pain significant enough to derail Ukraine's EU integration efforts just before the signature of the agreements took place. Russia has similar economic levers to use against Moldova, as well as the added leverage of Transdniestria. This makes the likelihood of Moldova actually following through with the EU agreements quite low, though both sides will be increasingly critical of one another until a final decision is made.

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