Should Transnistria be given NATO membership?

September 24, 2008

Off the Strange Maps blog is this map and background on the improbable state of Transnistria, which lies precariously between Moldova and Ukraine.

I went to a Eastern European food store in Charlotte, and I actually purchased a box of cookies that was a product of Moldova.

Transnistria occupies the sliver of Moldovan territory hemmed in between the river Dniester (2) in the west and the Ukrainian border in the east. It is about 400 km long, from north to south, and typically no more than 20 km wide, sharing its snake-like look on the map with a few other nations, notably Chile, Norway and the Gambia. Except that Transnistria doesn’t appear on most maps.  No other country recognises the independence of this freak accident of world politics, not even Mother Russia – at least not yet (3).

The birth of Transnistria is an indirect result of the death of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union broke up in the early 1990s, Moldova was one of the 15 constituent republics that gained its independence. Moldova, which shares language, culture and history with neighbouring Romania had the distinction of being the only Romance-language Soviet republic. Its ‘western’ orientation hasn’t helped it integrate into Europe, as the Baltic states have done: Moldova remains one of the poorest countries on the continent, notorious for corruption, smuggling and prostitution.

It may be argued that Moldova’s near-failed-stateness is the cause – or the effect – of its conflict with Transnistria. That strip of Moldovan territory was heavily industrialised in Soviet times, and populated with migrants from other parts of the Soviet Union: Russians, Ukrainians and others. That typically ‘Soviet’ mix of nationalities felt no desire, post-USSR, to be integrated into a state dominated by Moldovans, and looked east for protection.

Cossacks and Russian regular troops helped Transnistria fight its brief war of independence from Moldova in 1992. Since then, the rogue republic has remained virtually unchanged, frozen in time like a Soviet fly in geopolitical amber. Lenin statues still adorn the Transnistrian town centres, and the main ideology seems to be nostalgia.

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