by John Henzell
November 23, 2014
Those living in the self-declared Federal State of
Novorossiya in eastern Ukraine
might find it rewarding to visit
Both are Russian-speaking enclaves that aligned themselves with
Moscow when their central governments began looking west. In both
cases, the Russian military played a part when the secessionist
movement turned violent. And both countries do not officially exist.
The main distinction is that Transnistria, a sliver of territory in
eastern Moldova bordering Ukraine, went through this process 22
years ago, which is why many analysts are looking to it to predict
the future of Novarossiya.
Any newly-minted Novorossiyan who opts to visit Transnistria, as I
did recently, will soon discover that its status as a frozen
conflict means it exists in a strange schism between the de jure and
the de facto.
The schism is on immediate display at the ceasefire line in the
rolling farmland on the road between the Moldovan capital, Chisinau
and Tiraspol, its Transnistrian equivalent.
As befits Moldova's assertion that Transnistria does not exist, it
has no border control. The checkpoint is staffed by armed
Transnistrian officials. The language abruptly changes from Moldovan
All this reflects the way Transnistria has many of the hallmarks of
its own elected government,
military, police force, currency and passport.
But therein lies a lesson for the
because Transnistria remains
unrecognized by any other UN member state, the only countries
that recognize the Transnistrian passport are fellow members of
the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations.
The grand title of this alliance belies
the reality that the only other members are similarly unrecognized
frozen conflicts in the former Soviet statelets of South Ossetia and
Abkharzia in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan.
This crossing into Transnistria serves not just as the old ceasefire
line or the place where Moldovan (a dialect of Romanian) is
superseded and Cyrillic replaces the Latin script found throughout
the rest of Moldova.
It also serves as a litmus test for the
new government led by Yevgeny Shevchuk. He won 75 per cent of
the vote after campaigning on an anti-corruption platform, trouncing
the Kremlin-approved candidates who have ruled since the 1992
Officials at the checkpoint are notorious for inventing infractions
by foreign visitors, the fines for which usually bear a striking
correlation to the amount of cash they are carrying.
I had the number for a hotline set up to report extortion attempts
but it proved entirely unnecessary. Within 10 minutes, I had a visa
and was headed into Transnistria. On the corruption issue, at least,
Mr Shevchuk appears to have made some progress.
Driving into disputed territory, nothing seemed to change and the
farms seemed just as prosperous as the ones before the checkpoint.
The big change came when I crossed the broad Dniestrer River and
Chisinau, which I'd left that morning, looks like most other
capitals of former Soviet states: shiny new towers amid rotting
Soviet-era infrastructure seemingly untroubled by maintenance since
In Tiraspol, public buildings like the train station, museum and
parliament were freshly painted and well maintained, the flower beds
were lovingly tended and patriotic posters bearing the Transnistrian
emblem were bright and clean.
Despite being capitalist, the parliament is called the Supreme
Soviet, the flag, emblem and currency all bear the hammer and
sickle, and statues of Lenin are resplendent in public places as if
glasnost, perestroika and raspad (collapse) never happened.
With an average GDP of Dh5,500, it is extraordinarily cheap for
visitors. The fare for the two-hour train journey back to Chisinau,
for example, was Dh3. The flip side was wondering how any
Transnistrian could afford to travel outside its disputed borders.
So to the comparison between Novorossiya and Transnistria.
Tiraspol's repeated entreaties for
incorporation into the Russian federation - the most recent being
immediately after the events in Crimea this year - have gone
unheeded in Moscow.
Instead, the Kremlin seems happy for
Transnistria to be a sphere of influence rather than a landlocked
enclave it is compelled to support.