|Ethnicity and Power in the Contemporary World (UNU, 1996, 298 pages)|
|5. Dynamics of the Moldova Trans-Dniester ethnic conflict (late 1990s to early 1990s)|
A new socio-political transition began in winter 1992 after Moldova had gained international recognition. In early March, the new republic became a member of the United Nations. Between March and June 1992, domestic conflict between Moldova and Trans-Dniester escalated into large-scale organized violence with international implications. By late July 1992, only a fragile inter-ethnic peace seemed to have been reached.
On 9 January 1992, the Trans-Dniestrian authorities decreed that the ex-USSR armed forces located on the territory of left-bank Moldova be placed under the command of the PMSSR government. The CIS armed forces ignored this demand and declared the neutrality of the former Union army in internal conflicts in the ex-USSR republics. In January-March 1992 came reports of armed assaults made by Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen and Cossacks at military depots of the 14th Army and ex-USSR internal troops.
New signs of polarization of the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflicts were reported in February 1992. In late February hundreds of Cossacks from the Don region of Russia began to arrive in left-bank Moldova in response to appeals made by the Trans-Dniestrians to their Russian ethnic brethren. Their arrival served to heighten ethnic tensions. Soon afterwards, groups of Romanian volunteers were reported arriving in right-bank Moldova expressing their solidarity with the Moldovans in the struggles against separatists (KU, 2 March 1992; IZ, 5 March 1992).
At its third Congress, held in Kishinev on 23 February 1992, the MPF renamed itself the Christian Democratic Popular Front (CDPF), underlining its political linkage with right-wing Romanian parties, which also sought further reunion of Moldova with Romania and the restoration of Greater Romania (NG, 26 February 1992).
On 1-2 March, Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen attacked the Dubossary City police office and arrested Moldovan policemen, demanding the closure of Moldova loyalist organizations in Dubossary. Moldovan OPON detachments sent to restore order were blocked at the Dubossary Bridge control post. After an exchange of fire with the guardsmen and Cossacks, one person was killed and one was wounded. On 3 March, the Moldovan police office in Dubossary was closed down and transferred to Kochiery, a Moldovan-populated village nearby. The same day, during a violent clash in Kochiery, six Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen were reported killed and 11 wounded. On March 3, Trans-Dniestrian leader I. Smirnov declared a state of emergency in left-bank Moldova and called for resistance to the Moldovan police. New Cossack detachments were reported arriving in
Trans-Dniester through the territory of Ukraine. Hostilities assumed the character of daily exchanges of fire and minor combat in the suburbs of Dubossary and in neighbouring villages with ethnically mixed populations (IZ, 2, 5 March 1992; NG, 4 March 1992).
On 6 March, the city police office in Bendery was besieged by Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen who demanded that it be closed and all city police disbanded. Violent attacks and exchanges of fire were reported on highways in Bendery and Grigoriopol districts. During the armed raid on a military depot on 15 March, the Cossacks, reportedly numbering 600, took possession of firearms, guns, machine and submachine guns, mortars, grenades, and ammunition (KU, 7 March 1992; IZ, 16 March 1992). In mid-March, hostilities spread to the rural areas of Dubossary, with hundreds of people participating in violent combat. On 16-17 March, over 600 Moldovan policemen and Trans-Dniestrian guards with a dozen armoured carriers were reported engaged in fighting near Kochiery village. In the combat near Koshnitsy village, the Moldovan side alone was said to number 3,000 policemen (IZ, 17 March 1992; KU, 18 March 1992).
Flows of refugees leaving en masse, both Moldovans and Russians, were the product of the escalating hostilities. On 20 March, 6,000 refugees had to flee to the Odessa region of the Ukraine after having been threatened or attacked. By 26 March, the total count of both Russian and Moldovan refugees was estimated at over 10,000 (KU, 21, 25 March 1992; IZ, 26 March 1992). The flow of people in opposite directions aroused anger and hatred on both banks of Moldova.
On 17 March, an armistice agreement was reached. Trying to promote a compromise, the Moldovan Parliament agreed to grant economic and taxation autonomy to left-bank Moldova and to introduce new amendments into the law on languages. The Trans-Dniestrian leaders did not find these concessions satisfactory, however, and insisted that Trans-Dniester be granted, if not political independence, then at least politico-territorial autonomy within Moldova and the right to free secession if Moldova should reunite with Romania.
By mid-March the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict had acquired international implications. On 17 March, the Romanian government demanded that the Russian Federation undertake urgent measures towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Moldova (IZ, 18, 20 March 1992). Moscow was hesitant and gave ambiguous signals. On the one hand, the Russian government had recognized the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of the CIS countries. On the other hand, protection of the rights of Russophone minorities had also been declared an important objective of Russia's foreign policy toward ex-USSR republics. Political opponents of the Yeltsin government accused it of ignoring the alleged violation of human rights of Moldova's Russophone inhabitants and of betraying their ethnic brothers. Ukrainian president L. Kravchuk, reacting to a note from Snegur, issued a decree for the creation of a 50-km special zone on the frontier between Moldova and the Ukraine, aimed at preventing any further influx of Don Cossacks from Russia through Ukrainian territory (IZ, 18 March 1992).
On 18 March, the command of the 14th ex-Soviet Army (composed mainly of Russophones) issued a declaration expressing the intention to provide military support to Trans-Dniestrians, even without orders from Moscow, should armed hostilities again begin to escalate. On 19 March, Moldova's President Snegur declared he did not exclude the possibility that his country might turn to Romania for military help: Don Cossacks from Russia had already intervened in the conflict on the side of the Russophones and there were good reasons for not trusting the promises of the CIS United Armed Forces Command that the 14th Army would stay neutral (IZ, 19, 20 March 1992).
On 19 March, during his emergency visit to Moscow, the Romanian foreign minister repeated Romania's appeal to Moscow to initiate four-way, peace making talks. On 20 March, the Russian Federation Supreme Soviet appealed to the Moldovan Parliament to seek a peaceful solution to the inter-ethnic disputes. At the same time it expressed the opinion that the economic autonomy granted to Trans-Dniester by the Moldovan central authorities should be supplemented with recognition of political status, guaranteeing the right of left-bank Moldova to self-determination if Moldova should lose its independence through reunion with Romania (RG, 21 March 1992).
On 24 March, four-way negotiations between Moldova, Romania, Russia, and the Ukraine started in Kishinev at foreign minister level. Russia and the Ukraine agreed to the Moldovan demand that Trans-Dniester should not be present at the talks as an independent party.
A new outburst of violence in Dubossary region broke the armistice and complicated the negotiation process. On 30 March, an attack by Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen on Koshnitsy village resulted in one Moldovan policeman being killed and five wounded. A counter-response attack by policemen on the Dubossary highway resulted in one guardsman being killed and three wounded (KU, 31 March 1992).
On 31 March, the Moldovan Parliament enacted President Snegur's decree introducing a state of emergency throughout Moldova. A resolution passed by the Moldovan Parliament repeated the demand that illegal armed formations of Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen be disbanded, that the Cossacks return to Russia, and that Moldovan power structures be restored in left-bank Moldova as preconditions for further negotiations on the future political status of the region (IZ, 2 April 1992).
In April, hostilities spread to Bendery district as well. Another armed attack on the Bendery city police office on 1 April resulted in four days of combat between Moldovan OPON forces and Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen, which led to the division of the city into two sectors, each controlled by an opposing group. As a result of this violence, 19 were killed and 18 wounded (KU, 10 April, 1992). Officers of the 14th Army unit located near Bendery threatened to break the neutrality and to intervene in the conflict unless the hostilities stopped. From 2 April, Trans-Dniester mounted a new railway blockade of right-bank Moldova. Starting on 8 April, new violent clashes in Dubossary district escalated into rocket fire exchange, armed raids and assaults, fighting, and terrorist acts along the whole frontier in Trans-Dniester.
This lasted till 17 April, when a new cease-fire agreement was reached. The official figures issued by Moldovan and Trans-Dniestrian sources as of 17 April stated that since the beginning of violence in December 1991, 42 people had been killed (including 19 policemen and 23 civilians) and 130 wounded (including 72 policemen and 58 civilians) on the Moldovan side; and 60 killed, 100 wounded, and 60 missing on the Trans-Dniestrian side (IZ, 17 April 1992).
Between 12 and 28 May 1992, there was yet another new eruption of interethnic hostilities, when Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen attempted to drive out Moldovan OPON and military detachments from the positions they had occupied on left-bank Moldova in April. Numerous attacks, raids, and acts of hostage-taking and pillage were reported in Dubossary and Grigoriopol districts. Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen and Cossacks were reported to be using tanks and armoured carriers stolen from units of the 14th Army. During the combat in Grigoriopol district, 27 tanks and 12 armoured carriers were reported to have been used by the Trans-Dniestrians. At least 54 persons were reported killed and 113 wounded in May. Officially registered refugees from left-bank Moldova numbered 20,000 in right-bank Moldova and 11,000 in the Odessa region of the Ukraine (KU, 22 May, 4 June 1992; IZ, 5 June 1992). By the end of May a new agreement on a 30-day-long armistice was reached, and new attempts were made to resolve the conflict through negotiations.
In early June, at the negotiations held in Moscow between the foreign ministers of Russia and Moldova, it was agreed to establish three working groups. Their tasks were to monitor the cease-fire agreement and to have consultations on the modalities of withdrawal of the 14th Army from Moldova and on the political and legal aspects of resolving the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict. (IZ, 12, 19 June 1992).
On 3 June, the Supreme Soviet of Trans-Dniester forwarded to the Moldovan Parliament a proposal to separate the armed formations in the zone of conflict and to stipulate a treaty of federation between Moldova and Trans-DnIester. The latter was to constitute a new status for Trans-Dniester as a politically autonomous republic within Moldova with the right to free secession.
Following debates held in the Moldovan Parliament on 9-11 June, the Parliament rejected the federation demands of Trans-Dniester but agreed to a special resolution promising reconsideration of the political and juridical status of left-bank Moldova (IZ, 15, 19 June 1992). After consultations with military leaders it was agreed to start the withdrawal of troops from left-bank Moldova on 16 June. However, dramatic events in Bendery were to check the peace seeking process once again.