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'Frozen' Transnistria Conflict Begins to Thaw

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Twenty years ago this spring, newly independent Moldova, a former Soviet republic lodged between Romania and Ukraine, was consumed by fighting between neighbors on opposite banks of the Dniester River. The conflict broke out because citizens on the eastern or “left” bank of the river, in the largely Russian-speaking region known as Transnistria, feared that Romanian-speaking right-bank Moldovans would form a federal union with neighboring Romania. With tacit support from Moscow and in the protective shadow of the Russian 14th Army, Transnistria declared itself an independent republic in its own right and fought to establish its sovereignty. The conflict lasted through midsummer and cost more than a thousand lives.

After that bloody season in 1992, the Transnistrian war settled into a kind of suspended animation, becoming one of the handful of so-called frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space. For years, the two sides convened and disbanded various negotiation formats, while rhetoric flared over disputed language, transit and property rights. The conflict mostly avoided international headlines and was bloodless for nearly two decades -- until New Year’s Day, when a Russian peacekeeper shot and killed a young Moldovan man at a checkpoint on the Vadul Lui Voda Bridge near Moldova’s capitol, Chisinau. ...

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