Thursday, June 5, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Could Gagauzia Replace Transdniestria as Moscow’s Lever of Choice in Moldova?

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 5 – Disappointed that Moscow has said that Transdniestria should be part of a federated Moldova, many Tiraspol politicians are turning to the European Union in hopes that Brussels, given its commitment to regional autonomy and minority rights, will help them achieve the international recognition the Russian government is not ready to extend.
And while Transdniestria’s moves in this direction are strictly limited and while the EU is unlikely to go as far as many in Tiraspol would like, this new “multi-vector” policy by that breakaway republic has led some in the Russian capital to consider stepping up its support for the Gagauz, a Turkic-speaking minority in southeastern Moldova.
Whether these reflections will cause a change in Russian policy remains to be seen, but the very fact that some Russian officials are considering using them either in place or, more likely, as a supplement to Transdniestria as a lever in Moldova means that Chisinau almost certainly will face a more complicated set of challenges in the future than many now expect.
Indications that Transdniestria’s leaders as a result of their disappointment with Moscow’s decision are looking toward the EU have been provided by articles in Nezavisimaya gazeta and a series of interviews with Tiraspol leaders. These have now been summarized at
Tiraspol has been conducting “intensive negotiations” with the European Union, and the EU in turn has been “actively working in the Transdniestrian region,” Nezavisimaya gazeta reported. The reason for that, Grigoriy Marakuts, the former head of the Transdniestria Supreme Soviet, said, should be obvious.
“What was left for us to do if Russia in fact left us one on one with Moldova? And what is bad about Transdniestria taking up a course toward integration with the European Union, which has been actively offering us assistance in recent times?” Marakuts, who currently works for the grouping of unrecognized states, asked rhetorically.
He said that he “would not say that for [Transdniestria] joint work with the EU offers more than that with Russia at present,” but he pointedly underlined that “all states ought to have a multi-vector form of development, “ adding that “Transdniestria is no exception” to that rule of statecraft.
Other officials there were less expansive about contacts with Europe, saying that “the basic vector of development” for Tiraspol will remain Russia for economic, ethnic and cultural reasons, but they said that there was every reason for Transdniestria to exploit the EU’s desire to see “stability and peace on its borders.”
But one Tiraspol political activist, Viktor Orzul of the Military Brotherhood movement suggested that at least some in Transdniestria are so disappointed in Russia now that they will seek tighter cooperation with the European Union, even if that leads them away from Russia’s orbit.
“If the neighbor on your right does not extend the hand of assistance, then one can always find a neighbor on the left who might. That is,” Orzul continued, “Transdniestria must not orient itself only in one direction,” especially if there is a chance that assistance will come from the other direction.
It is unlikely that the EU would ever offer Tiraspol what it wants – admission to its ranks as an independent country – but the very fact that Transdniestrian leaders are expanding their cooperation with Brussels makes them less subject to Moscow’s diktat – and that in turn makes Tiraspol a potentially less useful lever for Russia in its dealings with Chisinau.
If Tiraspol is looking for new allies beyond the CIS for its purposes, so too is Moscow, but within Moldova and in support of its goals there. During his recent visit to Moldova, Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov also went to Gagauzia, a former “hot spot” about which little has been heard in recent years (
The meeting between Mironov and Mikhail Formuzal, the head of the Gagauz autonomy, was so warm that the local newspaper “Edinaya Gagauziya” enthuised that “for Russia, Gagauzia is [now] the second Transdniestria,” something that for that 200,000-strong Turkic speaking but Orthodox Christian community represents a major step forward.
In the early 1990s, the Gagauz clashed with Chisinau, but in 1994, they voted to accept autonomy within Moldova, a status that has allowed them to retain the equality of the Russian, Gagauz, and Moldovan languages. And most recently, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin’s promise to give them the same status as Transdniestria has emboldened many Gagauz residents.
And Moscow may see the new activism of the Gagauz as playing into its hands, especially given the increasingly independent course of Tiraspol. Indeed, the local Gagauz paper suggests, Russian might become the intermediary in “future negotiations” between Chisinau and the Gagauz, something that could give Moscow another and more reliable lever in Moldova.

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