“Transnistrian scenario” in Donbas

Chronologically, Russia’s 1992 aggression against Moldova in Transnistria became the “mother of frozen conflicts,” initiated and then frozen (or heated up again as needed) by post-Soviet Russia. In many ways, the Transnistria conflict presaged the methodology of Russia’s conflict undertakings in South Ossetia and Abkhazia against Georgia, and later in Crimea against Ukraine. It was also the Transnistria conflict that set the pattern of Western tolerance of Russia’s conduct in its claimed sphere of special interests.

Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine Kostyantyn Yeliseiev believes Russia is now implementing the so-called “Transnistrian scenario” in the occupied Donbas, at the same time not being interested in ending the hostilities, Segodnia reports.

Western diplomacy seems about to revert to pressuring Ukraine into a disadvantageous armistice and negotiations with Russia’s protégés in the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics.” This could become the basis for creating a Transnistria-type Russian protectorate, frozen in place and time on Ukraine’s territory

Any Western diplomatic pressure on Ukraine to stop the advance of its forces, and negotiate instead, would bring about a Transnistria-type situation in Donbas. It would enable the “DPR” and “LPR” to survive under Russia’s protection, awarding Moscow a permanent lever of pressure upon the Western-oriented government of Ukraine. This scenario would also consolidate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule at home.

The Transnistrian conflict was organized by leaders of the former Soviet Union who had approximately the same goal as did  Russia in organizing the conflict in the Donbas. In Moldova the supporters of independence held strong positions. Moldova was another Soviet republic, together with the Baltic countries and Georgia, that did not see its future in the Soviet Union long before the August 1991 coup. And then the Kremlin decided to look for “weak spots” in these republics. For Moldova, this was Transnistria, the several regions with predominately Russian and Ukrainian populations. These regions were patched together to form a new “republic” that advocated the preservation of the USSR. On August 19, 1991, the leaders of this insane creation supported the Moscow putsch, while the Moldovan leadership supported the Russian President Boris Yeltsin. It seemed that after the defeat of the putsch conspirators the issue of the restoration of the territorial integrity of Moldova would be decided on its own. The leaders of the separatists were arrested in Kyiv. The only thing lacking was the presence of the special operations of the Moldovan security forces to destroy the separatist abscess and restore the territorial integrity of the country.

The territory’s common border with Russia would pre-determine its de facto integration into Russia. Such integration would eventuate in two possible forms: Moscow could either turn the Donbas into an unrecognized buffer-state entity, or alternatively acknowledge the Donbas conditionally as a part of Ukraine, provided that Moscow-designated Donbas leaders are empowered to participate in Ukraine’s central governance and block its Western course. Annexing the Donbas outright, on the model of Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia, would constitute Moscow’s third-best (i.e., worst possible) option, politically and economically.

Big difference. On the implementation by the Kremlin of Transnistrian scenario in the Donbas in the past year, said the adviser of the President of Ukraine, Director of the National Institute for strategic studies of NAS of Ukraine Vladimir Gorbulin. Only, unlike Transnistria, the Kremlin is not interested in a full cessation of hostilities in the Donbass. According to the Deputy head of AP Konstantin Yeliseyev, using a constant escalation of hostilities, Russia is trying to destabilize the political and economic situation, to create a so-called “controlled instability” not to give Ukraine to create a positive background for the active and successful reform.

The conflict in Moldova with the collapse of the Soviet Union broke out after the calls to unite with Romania, but also on the basis of the language issue. People who did not know Moldovan (essentially Romanian) in favour of bilingualism: an introduction at the state level for two languages – Moldovan and Russian. It finally split the society, which resulted in the conflict. The role of Russia is more than obvious: during active combat operations, the Kremlin has supported pridnestrovskuyu side arms, and now in the “TMR” is still stationed Russian military base.

To solve the conflict in Transnistria and the Donbas, also tried using peace plans. As already I wrote “Today” in the article “a Report from Transnistria, Donbass and how to prepare for “presidential election”, in 2005 Moldova, Transnistria, Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, the United States (and the EU as observers) launched the format “5+2”.

Immediately after this, the Parliament of Moldova adopts the law on basic provisions of special legal status of Transnistria. The document is one to one similar to the law on the special status of Donbass, which the Verkhovna Rada adopted in the fall of 2014. As Donbass Transnistria is guaranteed the free use of Russian, Moldovan and Ukrainian languages, the right to establish external contacts with Russia in economic, scientific-technical and humanitarian spheres. The law on the special status of Transnistria was a “Plan of Yushchenko” peace plan for the settlement of the conflict which encouraged the Ukrainian side. But it was never implemented and in September 2006 on the referendum in “MRT” over 97% of residents voted for independence and joining Russia. But the Kremlin, much to the dismay of residents “PMR”, has been unrecognized Republic with open arms.

In the Donbas, especially on the eve of the presidential election in March 2018 (both times in March, three years have passed since the annexation of Crimea), according to Konstantin Eliseev is also possible to carry out “any referendums or local elections, even fake, from which Russia dissociate themselves, but in fact de facto will do its utmost to support and promote”. But, according to Deputy head of the AP, open the annexation ORDO the Kremlin unlikely, implementing “creeping transformation of the situation in the Transnistrian scenario.”

This is evidenced by at least five factors:

1. The establishment in the Donbass ruble zone
2. The creation of a single tax system, “DNR”/”LC”
3. Appearance in “DNR”/”LNR” their offer for the car
4. The recognition by Russia of passports “DNR”/”LC”
5. Expropriation of Ukrainian enterprises

All this was carried out in ARDLA year and a half, not to fall under even greater sanctions and not to be accused of disrupting the peace agreements. So, immediately after the capture of Ukrainian enterprises in the Russian press appeared information that the Russian holding company “Metalinvest” and “Severstal” is ready to supply iron ore. And the leaders of the militants “DNR”/”LNR” of Zakharchenko and Carpenter said about the direction in Russia, the first 95 cars of coal and two-year contract with the Crimea for the supply of 3.5 million tons of coal.

“According to our information ahead of the presidential elections Russia has cut funding for “DNR”/”LNR”. So they went on seizing Ukrainian companies to force them to pay taxes to their so-called local budgets”, – told the “Today” source in the Ukrainian dipkrugah.

“Moscow is not willing to assume the economic burden to rebuild the region (Crimea proved more expensive than expected Russian), said, “Today,” former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer. – Strategy of Russia for almost three years, is to use “boiling” the conflict in the Donbas to exert pressure, to distract and destabilize the Ukrainian government. This makes it difficult for Kiev, the necessary reforms and the implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU. Apparently, maintaining the “boiling” of the conflict is consistent with the purposes of the Kremlin; we have not seen serious Russian efforts to implement the second Minsk agreement”.

Unlike Moldova (from 1992 to date) and Georgia (1992–2008)—and unlike Ukraine itself in Crimea (February–March 2014—Ukraine does not face Russian conventional military forces stationed on the national territory. Moldova and Georgia accepted those Russian forces as “peacekeepers” under extreme duress, amid Western complacency. In Ukraine’s Donbas, however, Russia has yet to attempt introducing military “peacekeepers” in support of its paramilitaries. Russian diplomacy now seeks international acceptance of a “humanitarian operation,” which could develop into a military “peacekeeping” operation in Donbas

Russian forces currently massed on Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders seem to raise this prospect. Apparently, the Kremlin expects some Western governments to blink and press Ukraine into a negotiation process that would conserve the “DPR’s” and “LPR’s” existence, so as to avoid exacerbating Western-Russian relations. Such a course would amount to a unilateral Western “de-escalation,” instead of a Russian de-escalation that the West has been supplicating Putin to deliver. Western “de-escalation” could then turn into “normalization,” both on Russia’s terms; while the unresolved conflict is relegated to a diplomatic back burner.

Novorossiya. The Kremlin’s project to carve out a quasi-state under Russia’s protection in Ukraine’s east and south (“Novorossiya”) is a uniquely distinguishing feature of Russia’s new-type aggression against Ukraine. Targeting eight provinces of Ukraine, this project has failed to catch on in six of them thus far. Meanwhile, the “DPR” and “LPR” have merged politically into a would-be “Novorossiya,” aiming to become the center of gravity for Moscow’s original project. Odessa was a close call until May, Kharkiv remains a close call to date, Russia’s agents operate in other target areas, and Moscow’s television channels propagandize for Novorossiya intensely. In the earlier conflicts, Russia had not attempted to capture further Moldovan or Georgian territories beyond Transnistria or Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The project to expand from outlying footholds into the target country’s interior is one of the innovations of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Nationalist opinion in Russia views Transnistria as an integral part of “Novorossiya;” but Russia’s government has not as yet espoused this view.

In this regard, there is a need first to analyse the opportunities and risks due to freezing of the conflict.

Of course, the main advantage of “freezing” of the conflict is the ability to avoid the worst consequences associated with the continuation of hostilities: the losses among soldiers, civilians, internally displaced persons, property damage and destruction.

In addition, the frozen conflict enables States on whose territory the conflict occurs, in the short term to reduce the resources spent on the maintenance of unmanaged areas. In the end, this situation will enable you to concentrate on solving domestic problems, building competitive economy, creation of an efficient army, preparing their own peace plan and the like. The actual loss of control over the secessionist regions has not prevented Georgia (more successfully) and Moldova (less successfully) to make the necessary reforms towards European integration.

At the same time “freezing” of the conflict does not relieve a number of objective challenges facing this state.

First, the “frozen conflicts” are an effective tool to pressure from outside players. For example, the conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria remain the most effective lever of Russian influence in Georgia and Moldova, which periodically manifests itself in the form of military provocations and political blackmail.

Second, the unresolved conflict alienates the uncontrolled territories and hinders their reintegration. Over the last 25 years in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, a whole generation, the identity of which is not usually associated with Georgia, Moldova or Azerbaijan.

Third, the “frozen” conflicts as a favorable center for the smuggling of goods, weapons, drugs and for the emergence of other threats. These phenomena become a profitable business for both sides if the front line remains unchanged for a long time. So, smuggling in the Donbass does not require additional explanation after the beginning of the blockade by the activists.

Fourth, unresolved conflicts can provoke acute social and political contradictions around a solution — from a military scenario for the secession of the separatist entities. This situation is painfully familiar to every citizen of Ukraine, who is not indifferent to the world and the future of our state.

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