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Trans-Dniestrian leader’s reluctance to quit makes Moscow angry

October 31, 2011, 16:52 UTC+3

Relations between Moscow and the self-proclaimed Trans-Dniestrian Moldovan Republic which Moldova continues to regard as its territory, have deteriorated sharpl

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MOSCOW, October 31 (Itar-Tass) —— Relations between Moscow and the self-proclaimed Trans-Dniestrian Moldovan Republic (Trans-Distrait), which Moldova continues to regard as its territory, have deteriorated sharply. Experts attribute this to the intention of the head of the unrecognized republic, Igor Smirnov, to run for president again, for a fifth time in a row. Moscow has made it clear that Smirnov’s further presence at the helm in Trans-Dniestria will prevent resolution of the Trans-Dniestrian conflict, and that it would like to see another person in his place. This is not the first time that Russia is trying to influence the situation in Trans-Dniestria. Experts warn that the effect can be the opposite, as it happened many a time in the past.

The Investigative Committee of Russia has announced the initiation of criminal proceedings against Smirnov’s son. Trans-Dniestria retaliated by opening a criminal case against a certain group of Russian political technologists.

Igor Smirnov’s son, Oleg, is suspected of embezzling 160 million rubles Russia had extended to Trans-Dniestria to fund pension surpluses for retirees and support agriculture. According to some sources, Oleg Smirnov, who has Russian citizenship, has spent the stolen humanitarian aid funds to purchase a pair of flats in Moscow and country homes in the Moscow Region.

The Trans-Dniestrian side was quick to respond. The very next day after the Investigative Committee’s announcement Trans-Dniestria’s prosecutors declared the arrest of ten Russian specialists in what was described as "black PR technologies." Those arrested were allegedly making preparations for discrediting Smirnov as a presidential candidate before the election.

Meanwhile, Russia's chief sanitary doctor Gennady Onishchenko has warned that Russia may soon ban the import of the famous brandy Quint from Trans-Dniestria. "This infamous brandy Quint - we have some questions to ask about it. Maybe, we shall introduce a restriction on its importation into the territory of the Russian Federation," Onishchenko said on Friday.

In both Trans-Dniestria and Russia experts have interpreted the incident quite unambiguously: the Russian authorities are trying to put pressures on Smirnov to make him resign. Moscow has openly supported another candidate and it recommended Smirnov to retire. But he ignored the advice. Instead, he began to prepare for the decisive battle for power.

Two weeks ago 70-year-old Igor Smirnov announced his intention to run in the upcoming December 11 election the as head of the Trans-Dniestrian Moldovan republic (TMR), which he has led for the past 20 years. Meanwhile, Moscow clearly indicated that it wishes to see quite a different man take the office of the TMR’s president. He is the candidate from the party Renewal, speaker of the local legislature Anatoly Kaminsky. On October 13 the chief of the Russian presidential staff Sergei Naryshkin stated this in pretty clear terms. He said that the program of the Renewal party was "realistic and concrete", and Smirnov’s decision to run for presidency was "a wrong step."

"Smirnov was asked to agree to quit amicably back last April, Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes a source who was previously a member of Smirnov’s inner circle as saying. “But he ignored the advice and put forward his candidacy. Then there followed questioning of Smirnov’s daughter-in-law at a Russian prosecutor’s office, then a criminal case against his son. For now Smirnov has not been registered as a candidate – he is collecting the necessary signatures to be presented to the CEC, but as soon as he has the credentials of a candidate, one should expect the next step by Moscow." The source is certain that the current situation is just the beginning: "Moscow is not kidding, and, perhaps, Smirnov will withdraw his candidacy."

However, Smirnov’s opponent, former speaker of the Supreme Council, presidential candidate Yevgeny Shevchuk, has said that this will not happen. "Backtracking is against Smirnov’s nature, he will fight to the bitter end," said the Trans-Dniestrian politician.

Active support for Anatoly Kaminsky by United Russia (both Vladimir Putin and Sergei Naryshkin addressed the candidate with kind words) has caused a split among the previously unified Trans-Dniestrians. Some of them are angry "Moscow decides for them," and this group is going to vote for Smirnov, says, Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The younger generation - those who are under 40 – represent the electorate of the candidate from the “younger generation" - Shevchuk. These voters are asking why it is only now that Moscow has begun to look for the money that was allegedly lost back in 2007?

According to the director of the Institute for Public Politics in Chisinau, Arcadie Barbarosie, Moscow is trying to weaken the main contenders of Anatoly Kaminsky. Yevgeny Shevchuk, who has the highest rating in the region, is accused of "pro-Western orientation." But no one knows, according to the analyst, how the Trans-Dniestrian electorate will vote, and that electorate can have a surprise for Moscow up its sleeve.

The current confrontation between Moscow and Tiraspol is reminiscent of 2001, when the Kremlin also tried to influence the outcome of presidential elections in Trans-Dniestria, says Kommersant. Then there emerged the party Unity of Trans-Dniestria, whose emblems and symbols were identical to the Russian party Unity, Tom Zenovich was promoted as a pro-Russian candidate, and the image of the then Russian President Vladimir Putin was widely used in electioneering adds. However, that did not work: Smirnov was elected the head of state and the party Unity of Trans-Dniestria turned into a pro-presidential one and then completely ceased to exist.

Experts attribute Moscow’s desire to achieve Smirnov’s retirement primarily to the fact that he has been, in its opinion, an obstacle to resolving the conflict. Russia favors a political solution to the conflict by restoring the integrity of Moldova, while maintaining the special status of Trans-Dniestria within Moldova. According to Kommersant’s source in the Foreign Ministry, Igor Smirnov has been unable to find a common language with any of the Moldovan leaders throughout the conflict. "He seriously complicates the process," and without him “it will be easier to resolve the problem," says the Foreign Ministry.

The TMR has existed since 1991. Formally, the territory of TMR is an autonomy with a special status within Moldova, although in fact Trans-Dniestria is beyond Moldova’s control. The conflict between Moldova and Trans-Dniestria after Moldova gained independence led to armed confrontation and many casualties on both sides in 1992. The hostilities ceased after Russian troops intervened in the conflict to protect civilians and stop the bloodshed.

Currently, security in the conflict zone is maintained by a joint peacekeeping force of Russia, Moldova and Trans-Dniestria and military observers from Ukraine. The Moldovan side has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the region. Repeated rounds of talks mediated by Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE have failed to produce an agreement on the status of Trans-Dniestria. Negotiations are resumed from time to time.


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