Transdniestria and Ukraine: What to Expect?

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Since November 28, martial law has been in effect in some regions of Ukraine. By his decree, Petro Poroshenko extended it to the regions that border Russia, the sea and the unrecognized Transdniestria. In social networks many citizens of Russia have already reported that could not get to Ukraine. The head of the administration of Vinnytsia Oblast, meanwhile, said that Vinnytsia is ready to repel aggression from Transdniestria.

The editors of RTA asked the opinion of experts about the development scenarios around Transdniestria.

The Russian threat of Schrödinger

Regular RTA author, Sergei Isaenko, recalls that the Ukrainian authorities invented “the Russian threat from Transdniestria” in 2014, and for some time the situation on the border of the unrecognized republic was incendiary. “Then in Kyiv they announced that the Russian military in Transdniestria could open a “second battle front”, and began to force troops to the region. The press even reported cases of shooting at the border, but there was no serious bloodshed. Ukraine broke out major ‘hostilities’ with the pro-Russian enclave in the media. At that time, pro-government experts constantly invented fantastic scenarios of provocations and the offensive by the Russian troops and told about the training of saboteurs in Transdniestria,” Isaenko said. The expert is confident that at a certain stage it became difficult for Ukraine to support the myth of the “Transdniestrian threat”, since it too much looked like a pure conjecture. “Those who are more or less familiar with the history of the Transdniestrian problem are well aware that the peacekeeping operation in Transdniestria is a trilateral one. It involves Moldova, Transdniestria and Russia, as well as military observers from Ukraine. Everyone, including Kyiv, knows which troops are stationed in the region, what functions they perform and where they are moving. In addition, hundreds of people travel daily from Transdniestria to neighboring Odesa, so nobody believed the narratives about Russian tanks at the borders. Kyiv found itself in a ridiculous situation and from 2016 didn’t remind about Transdniestria in the military context,” the analyst notes. According to Sergei Isaenko, Transdniestria is “the threat of Schrödinger” for Ukraine which exists and does not exist at the same time. “In fact, no one in Kyiv has refuted the fears about the second battle front from Transdniestria, but in fact, everyone knows that there is no threat from there. While they have forgotten about Transdniestria, it was not there; when they introduced martial law – it is there again. Kyiv is unlikely to make provocations against the unrecognized republic, because very few people will believe in them,” he believes.

Military operations at the borders of NATO – the worst option for Kyiv

RTA expert Sergei Ceban is convinced that the president of Ukraine is not in the situation when he gets away with a military aggravation in the region. The analyst notes that Europe has many claims against Petro Poroshenko, as the figure of the “president of the war” frankly interferes with the reset of relations between Brussels and Moscow. According to Ceban, the provocation in Transdniestria will not be appreciated in the European Union, and military actions near the borders of NATO are the worst option for Kyiv. “The most diverse interests intersect in Moldova – the EU, Romania, Russia and more. Moldova will hold elections soon, and any aggravation in the region can seriously destabilize the situation in the country. European officials are trying to keep Moldova in their orbit, and such surprises are unlikely to please them,” he believes. The expert is confident that in the long run any adventures on the Moldovan track may unexpectedly harm Ukraine itself. “Kyiv has no real allies in the region capable of anything more than political declarations. The Moldovan authorities understand that the EU diligently acts as Poroshenko is washed up and will not support provocations against Transdniestria. Moldova itself has elections ahead and Brussels with Washington is unlikely to allow political regimes in Chisinau and Kyiv, such ‘companions in misfortune’, to delay the transit of power under the pretext of an obvious thinly veiled armed adventure. “The United States, which has been playing a well-planned regional game for a long time, is unlikely to like it if one sharp movement ruins their plans. Obviously, a military provocation, for example, an attack on Russian warehouses in Kolbasna at one and a half kilometers from the border with Ukraine will lead to the inevitable appearance of Russian Federation Air Force aircraft in the sky and on the Tiraspol airfield with all the obvious consequences, including an emergency reinforcement of the Russian military group. I am sure that such a scenario will make some forget for a long time about the withdrawal of Russian troops, and about many other things, perhaps, about some of the current Ukrainian politicians. Will Washington, which has the most favorable and stable regional position, allow such an absurd destruction of its solitaire with the threat of a military clash with Russia without guaranteed chances of success? Certainly not,” concludes Sergei Ceban.

The church side of the issue

Another RTA author, Dmitry Astakhov, notes that the geography of martial law in Ukraine surprisingly coincides with the areas where most of all do not support Kyiv’s aspiration for the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church. “Many are confident that Poroshenko has confronted with the local clergy, who do not want to go into autocephaly and, moreover, give parishes to the schismatics. Such a situation has developed in Vinnytsia – the metropolitan is in favor of a ‘split’; the clergy are against. Some experts believe that Kyiv deliberately imposed martial law to suppress public discontent with the coming expropriation of church property and parishes in favor of the autocephalous church,” Astakhov said. According to the author, in fact, this story is the biggest failure of Poroshenko, who failed to catch the negative consequences of the “church side of the issue” in time. “Rada approved the election date. If now supporters of autocephaly begin an offensive against the positions of those who disagree with the Tomos of the clergy in areas where martial law is imposed, these areas will never vote for Poroshenko. And others will follow them, if they realize that the incident in Kerch is only a pretext for church redistribution,” he believes. “In the same Vinnytsia and Odesa Oblast public discontent can be attributed to the proximity of rebellious Transdniestria. Just, such a redistribution is harmful for Poroshenko, unless the president has decided to extend martial law for a long time – and this is unlikely with his current resources. Most likely, we are seeing Poroshenko rapidly losing leverage over the situation and no longer control the process of separation of the Ukrainian church. But still he will bear responsibility for all future conflicts,” Astakhov said.