Recent events in Ukraine, notably Russia’s annexation of Crimea, have reopened questions about the future of Transnistria.
The tiny pro-Russian region, which is home to about half a million people, broke away from Moldova in 1992 after a short but bloody civil war.
euronews journalist Hans von der Brelie spoke to Transnistria’s president Yevgeny Shevchuk in Tiraspol about where he believes the region’s future lies.
euronews: ‘‘Mr Shevchuk, on the wall over there is a photo of President Putin and behind me there’s a painting of the Kremlin: Are we on Russian or Moldovan soil?’‘
president Yevgeny Shevchuk:
‘‘We are on Transnistrian territory… and there is also the photograph of the Russian patriarch.’‘
euronews: ‘‘Are you worried that the turmoil in neighbouring Ukraine could spill over to Moldova?’‘
president Shevchuk: ‘‘We are very worried about what is going on in Ukraine but we are hopeful this will not have an impact on us.’‘
euronews: ‘‘What is your message for the government in Kyiv?’‘
president Shevchuk: ‘‘Stop using force!’‘
euronews: ‘‘Moldova is in the process of signing a free trade agreement with the European Union. How will this affect Transnistria?
president Shevchuk: ‘‘Generally, the signing of this agreement will have a negative economic impact on us because we did not participate in the negotiations. Of course there are certain positive elements with this free trade deal but there are a lot more negative aspects. That’s why, on the whole, we think that the outcome is unfavourable. Throughout the talks we made it clear to everybody about the bad elements of this agreement and we continue to point them out but it doesn’t seem to be enough.’‘
euronews: ‘‘Why don’t you simply try to work towards reunifying Transnistria and Moldova in order to overcome such problems?’‘
president Shevchuk: ‘‘Well, reunification would be a good idea if there weren’t any conflicts of interest between Transnistria and Moldova. Of course, the people of Transnistria must also want to be reunited with Moldova, but that is not the case, quite the opposite. At the moment the best solution would be what one could term a ‘‘civilised divorce’ with Moldova. After that, Transnistria would have a better chance of external economic growth.’‘
euronews: ‘‘Does this mean that you completely rule out any reunification with Moldova? Yes or No?’‘
president Shevchuk: ‘‘The definitive answer to this question should come from the people of this country rather than the president, and they clearly expressed this in a recent referendum. It is clear the people do not want reunification with Moldova.’‘
euronews: ‘‘You want to join Russia. By doing that, don’t you risk destabilising the region, turning a cold conflict into a hot one. Don’t you risk war and bloodshed?’‘
president Shevchuk: ‘‘Our first goal, our top-priority is independence and international recognition. That is the first thing. We want the will of the Transnistrian people to be fully taken into account. Of course, there are different countries in the world which have different views. Some of these countries might think that using force is the answer to this issue. In the 21st century I don’t think that is a solution. Nowadays we should solve problems at the negotiating table and we should also respect the will of the people of this country.’‘
euronews: ‘‘It is claimed armed men from Transnistria crossed into Ukraine, taking part in riots in Odessa. Can you confirm this? Do you know anything about these agent provocateurs.’‘
president Shevchuk: ‘‘This information is false. It was spread by the mass media in Ukraine and by some Ukrainian authorities. I had a meeting with the Ukranian ambassador to Moldova and with Ukraine’s special representative who is involved in the talks between Moldova and Transnistria- and both officially denied militants from Transnistria had taken part in unrest in Odessa.’‘
euronews: ‘‘The European Parliament has described Transnistria as a hub for organised crime, smuggling and human trafficking. This report was published during the term of office of Mr Smirnov, your predecessor. Has anything changed? Or is Transnistria still struggling to deal with the same problems?’‘
president Shevchuk: ‘‘Regarding people smuggling, this kind of phenomena exists in many countries in the world including those with well managed borders. Transnistria has been accused of weapons smuggling and human trafficking. We’ve heard those insinuations before and we still hear them today. But I must officially declare the Transnistrian state is not involved in these kinds of smuggling activities. Such rumours are spread with the aim of generating fear inside EU countries to push them to intervene in Transnistria to solve this smuggling problem.’‘
euronews: ‘‘Do you know how many passports Russia has handed out in the region in the last few years and can you tell me where your passport comes from?’‘
president Shevchuk:’‘There are about 200,000 Russian ci