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New Dniester leader beats Moscow-backed rival, but vows to be pro-Russian

December 27, 2011, 15:30 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

In the self-proclaimed Trans-Dniestrian Moldovan Republic power has changed hands after 20 years of Igor Smirnov’s rule. The former speaker of the local parliament, Yevgeny Shevchuk, last Sunday emerged the winner in the presidential election run-off, to get ahead of the current speaker, Anatoly Kaminsky, who was regarded as the Kremlin’s favorite. Moscow, however, says it is most important to have Smirnov out of office. Experts believe that Shevchuk’s victory does not spell a change in Trans-Dniester’s foreign policy – the new leadership of the republic will remain Russia-leaning and committed to the independence of its tiny state.

The leader of the Revival party, Yevgeny Shevchuk, collected 73.88 percent of the votes in the second round. His rival, leader of the Renewal party, Anatoly Kaminsky, got about 20 percent of the votes. Igor Smirnov was third and urged his supporters to vote against all in the run-off. The number of ballots cast against both candidates numbered 4.45 percent.

Kaminsky at once declared he was ready to reconcile with what he described as his “not very successful” performance in the run-off. Incidentally, there was nothing else left. His shortfall behind Shevchuk was too great. Kaminsky lost even in Tiraspol, where his campaign was the most active.

Trans-Dniester’s president-elect Yevgeny Shevchuk is 43. He is an economist. Shevchuk began his career at the Trans-Dniester Interior Ministry to focus on struggle against economic crime. Later he held different jobs at private businesses. In the mid-2000s Shevchuk joined politics. The Renewal party he created represents the interests of Trans-Dniester’s businesses. In 2005-2009 Shevchuk led the Trans-Dniester legislature.

In the spring of 2009 the parliament of the self-proclaimed republic voted for a bill abolishing the post of the vice-president. That initiative triggered a large-scale political crisis and a six-month standoff between the parliament and the president. The crisis was resolved with the dismissal of Shevchuk from the post of the Renewal party’s leader and parliamentary speaker. In the autumn of 2009 Anatoly Kaminsky took over the Renewal party’s leadership. The Kremlin openly threw its weight behind Kaminsky. He visited Moscow several times for consultations and was received by some senior officials, including the then chief of the presidential staff, Sergei Naryshkin, who described him as a representative of a new political force in the republic.

Those who voted for Shevchuk did so mostly to express their protest – and not so much against Kaminsky, who enjoyed their support, but against Moscow’s policies, says political scientist, assistant professor at the political theory department of the Moscow foreign affairs university MGIMO, Kirill Koktysh. The on-line periodical quotes him as saying the Kremlin tends to take into account the opinion of the elites, and not of the other groups of society, which has resulted in this and many other failures, the analyst believes. Moscow has not had any policy strategy for Trans-Dniester. Its sole concern was preserving the status quo,” Koktysh said.

“When policy-making is left at the mercy of the elites, society wishes to call attention to its existence with protest voting and street demonstrations. The Kremlin backed Kaminsky as a candidate who was most suitable for the Russian elites, in defiance of the fact that Trans-Dniester’s society feels an ever greater need for change. His loss was a logical result, and a very unpleasant for Russia,” the political scientist said.

In the meantime, Moscow, too, seems to believe that the main goal has been achieved. Igor Smirnov is out. “The main task has been accomplished. Smirnov is not the president anymore,” a senior official at the Russian Foreign Ministry has told the daily Kommersant. “In a situation like this we do not care who is going to be the next leader of the republic – Shevchuk or Kaminsky.”

Since the beginning of this year the Kremlin has made repeated attempts to persuade Smirnov not to contest a fifth presidential term. The daily says that Smirnov lost the Russian authorities’ support for several reasons, including the lack of transparency in distributing Russian humanitarian assistance and his reluctance to negotiate a model of a common state with Chisinau.

The defiant Trans-Dniester leader ignored Moscow’s recommendations not to seek the presidency again. Then a media was launched against him and several criminal cases initiated against his son Oleg, who was charged with a theft of 160 million rubles of Russian aid. This tactic worked. Igor Smirnov lost the election in the first round.

In the meantime, Shevchuk has hurried to shatter the fears that he may do away with the policy of building an independent Trans-Dniester Republic and agree to a rapprochement with Chisianu. “We and Moldova are two different states,” he told a news briefing following his election. The concessions that Shevchuk may agree to make to neighboring Moldova concern simpler rules of crossing the border, which have long been a matter of the strongest criticism by Moldovan citizens. Moscow is the first foreign capital that Shevchuk plans to visit in the capacity of Trans-Dniester’s president.

He was quick to proclaim the pro-Russian vector of his policy. “Russia is the guarantor state and a peace-keeper state. Strengthening relations with Russia will be a priority of my foreign policy. We hope to achieve a higher level of cooperation,” Shevchuk said.

MOSCOW, December 27