Transnistria Was Ground Zero for Russia’s Neo-Imperial Ambitions

Transnistria Was Ground Zero for Russia’s Neo-Imperial Ambitions
A Russian soldier is seen at a checkpoint in Tiraspol, Transnistrian region, Moldova (Sputnik photo by Artem Kulekin via AP Images).

When examining the past to find the roots of a present-day crisis, developments that were once dismissed as peripheral can often gain a new sense of significance.  For this reason, efforts to explain why relations between Russia and the European Union collapsed over the past decade have taken a closer look at previously neglected factors, such as debates between Russian nationalists in the 1970s or power battles in early 1990s St. Petersburg. But in these reassessments of recent history, one development that perhaps represented the first step toward the current crisis between Moscow and the rest of Europe is often overlooked: the tragic events that unfolded in Moldova over 30 years ago.

Looking back at the cascade of transformative moments leading up to and following the breakup of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it is not surprising that efforts by Russian-speakers in Transnistria to break away from the former Soviet republic of Moldova were largely ignored in the West. Despite clear signs of support for the separatist region from Russian nationalists and Russia’s security services, U.S. and EU leaders dismissed appeals for help from Moldovan leaders and their allies in Romania, with both Washington and Brussels more concerned about Russia’s stability and other mounting problems. With the EU already struggling to manage the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, the speed with which Russian troops ended the conflict in Moldova in Transnistria’s favor was almost a relief for Western policymakers, despite the devastating effect the region’s de facto autonomy had on Moldovan society.   

By March 1992, claims by Russian security services and army units on the ground that force needed to be used against Moldova to save supposedly oppressed ethnic Russians should have set alarm bells ringing in Washington and Brussels. But the extent to which the precedents set in Moldova—and in Georgia—entrenched neo-imperial meddling as a core element of post-communist Russian strategy was not adequately understood by Western policymakers until long after Moscow had established facts on the ground.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review