Transnistria: The Last Soviet Republic

Over the past few weeks Wikipedia’s list of “Mafia States” has been circulating the local social media, as Malta has been included as one of the listed states. However, for those who have a basic understanding of countries around the world, one of the listed countries looked a bit off.

What comes up after searching “Mafia States” on Google

A country whose flag looks like the old Soviet banner defaced with a green band in the middle, with a weird name and one which probably most of us have never heard about before.

So,

What is Transnistria?

Transnistria, or as its authorities call it the “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic”, is a thin stretch of land wedged between Moldova and Ukraine. It is home to around 469,000 people, has a standing army, prints its own currency, has an official flag and a coat of arms, a parliament (called the Supreme Soviet) with its own constitution and laws.

Despite all this, for anyone outside its borders, Transnistria is, at most, a break-away state in Moldova.

Why did they leave Moldova?

Inhabited by a Russian majority, its citizens felt political and cultural isolation from the newly (1991) established Republic of Moldova and as such refused their rule, sparking a two-month war which ended in a ceasefire with no significant changes to borders or status.

The current borders of Transnistria, including disputed areas

Why is this unrecognised state any special?

The collapse of the Soviet Union saw numerous states pop up and quite a number, like Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh, ended up enjoying little to no international recognition. From all of these, however, only Transnistria remained true to the Soviet principles. It’s flag and coat of arms contain the hammer and sickle, Lenin statues are still present everywhere, streets are named after Soviet heroes and one look at its Brutalist cityscape would make any ex-Soviet citizen question what year they’re in. It even has a form of KGB!

Conductor of military parade during the celebration of 20 years of self-styled independence in Tiraspol (capital city) 

Why is Transnistria considered as a Mafia State?

Transnistria is regarded as the region’s haven for smuggling. The European Parliament’s delegation to Moldova named Transnistria “a black hole in which illegal trade in arms, the trafficking in human beings and the laundering of criminal finance was carried on.”

Part of this illegal trafficking and an alleged considerable section of the Transnistrian economy is made up of gunrunning (arms trafficking).

However Transnistrian and Russian officials continue to maintain that these allegations are simply defamation attempts by Moldova to continue increasing pressure on the country.

How does Russia help out the last remnant of their former Union?

Russia does not shy away from aiding this pro-Russia state, with every citizen given pension from the Russian government, free gas, payrolling new infrastructure including hospitals and public buildings and maintains more than 2000 ‘peacekeeping’ troops (to the detriment of Ukraine and Moldova).

Border control between Transnistria and Moldova

What’s it like to be a Transnistrian?

The country’s entire GDP is $1 billion (1/15th of Malta’s GDP). The previously mentioned pension is approximately $70 per month and $300 is considered a very handsome salary.

The lack of recognition makes the Transnistrian passport virtually useless, forcing most of its citizens to get a dual or triple citizenship, mainly from Russia, Ukraine or Moldova, or risk being stuck in the 4,163 km2 country for their entire life.

The Russian aid has done little to stop the constant emigration from the state, with the total population decreasing by around a third due to a lack of opportunities or work within its borders. This mass emigration is clearly visible in Transnistrian cities, littered with carcasses of former small shops and apartment blocks.

Derelict building in Tiraspol

What does the future hold for this state?

After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, many Transnistrian citizens were hopeful that their government will pull off a similar move and finally reunite them with what they perceive as their homeland. However, Russia will most probably not attempt anything of the sort with Transnistria due to the risk on re-antagonising the world for very little benefits in return.

For now, the ‘Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic’ will remain as is, an unrecognised Russian dependent break-away satellite ‘mafia’ state, with a dwindling population, stuck in a time long past.

Transnistrian Flag without the hammer and sickle flying alongside the Russian Federation flag

Written by: Nathan Portelli

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