29 years ago Russia forced Moldova to freeze the war in Transnistria. Since then Chisinau lived with the occupied territory, maintaining economic and social ties with it. And all started because of language and Russian army

Oleksiy Yarmolenko
Yevhen Spirin
29 years ago Russia forced Moldova to freeze the war in Transnistria. Since then Chisinau lived with the occupied territory, maintaining economic and social ties with it. And all started because of language and Russian army

Transnistrian military with the flag of its own "republic" in June 1992. It was then that the fiercest fighting of the war in Moldova continued.

On August 1, 1992, the hot phase of the Transnistrian war ended in Moldova. It lasted during the spring and summer of 1992, and the main battles took place in the cities of Dubossary and Bendery. The decisive role in the war was played by the 14th Army of Russia, commanded by Major General Aleksandr Lebed. In fact, he officially dragged Russia into the conflict, and Moldova even appealed to the UN because of "Russiaʼs open aggression". After the intervention of Russian troops, the Moldovan authorities were forced to make a truce. It has been going on for almost 30 years. At the same time, Chisinau has not severed economic and social ties with Transnistria and is in direct talks with its leaders. No changes for almost 30 years — Moldova still lives with "Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic" (PMR). Babel columnist Oleksiy Yarmolenko talks about how Russia froze the conflict and what it led to.


The conflict between Moldova and Transnistria began in 1989, and the main reason was the language issue. During the perestroika, nationalist movements spread throughout the Soviet republics. The Popular Front of Moldova was formed in Moldova. Representatives of this movement held thousands of anti-Soviet and anti-Russian slogans in Chisinau. One of the main requirements was the introduction of a single state language — Moldovan. Nationalists demanded a return to historical writing — Latin, while in Soviet times they used Cyrillic. There were also calls to secede from the USSR and join Romania.

History of Moldova during the Soviet era

  1. After the collapse of the Russian Empire in the Bessarabian province proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Moldova.

  2. Romanian troops entered the territory of the MDR and annexed it. Transnistria became part of the USSR. The border between the USSR and Romania was drawn along the Dniester River.

  3. The Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MARSR) was formed on the territory of Transnistria and parts of Vinnytsia and Odesa oblasts.

  4. The Soviet Union issued an ultimatum to Romania and seized the lands of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Southern Bessarabia became part of the Odessa region, Northern Bukovina became part of Chernivtsi, and Transnistria and the rest of Bessarabia formed the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (MRS).

  5. Mass anti-Soviet protests and national independence movements began in the MRS. In Transnistria, they were not supported and sought to remain part of the USSR.

  6. Moldova has declared its independence. Transnistria, too. The UN recognized only Moldova as a state — within the borders within which it was part of the USSR.

In March and September 1989, the parliament of the MSSR passed laws on languages. They guaranteed the use of all other languages, including Ukrainian, for national and cultural purposes. The Russian language has received a special status — the language of interethnic communication. Moldovan became the only state language.

In Transnistria, both laws were perceived as discriminatory. Deputies from the region called for the introduction of two official languages in Moldova, Russian and Moldovan, and opposed the transition from Moldovan to Latin.

Transnistria at that time was difficult to determine as Moldovan territory. There were equal numbers of Russians, Moldovans, and Ukrainians — about 30 percent of each nation. That is, none of them was the majority, so the nationalist movements here were almost undeveloped. In other parts of Moldova, on the other hand, the population was homogeneous — the majority were Moldovans. The local elite and party leaders in the region did not consider themselves Moldovans but were loyal to Soviet principles and ideas.

In response to the language laws, in Tiraspol, the Joint Council of Labor Collectives (JCLC) was formed. In the future, JCLC representatives will hold many administrative positions in the self-proclaimed "republic". In mid-1989, they began organizing labor strikes, and at the end of the year initiated referendums on the establishment of Transnistrian autonomy.

Moldovan troops in armored personnel carriers headed for their headquarters in Bendery in June 1992. After the war, the city came under the control of Transnistria.


In February 1990, a new composition of the Supreme Soviet of the MSSR was elected, in which a significant number of seats were won by representatives of the Popular Front of Moldova. After some time, all deputies from Transnistria left this parliament, and in the summer held a congress of deputies of Transnistria at all levels. There, they declared the formation of the MSSR illegal, and hence the accession of Transnistria to Moldova. Referendums in Transnistria enshrined their own language legislation, gave Ukrainian, Russian, and Moldavian the official language status based on Cyrillic, and on September 2, 1990, proclaimed a separate Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (PMSSR). Already in 1990, the first armed clashes took place between law enforcement officers from Moldova and Transnistria.

During the coup in Moscow in August 1991, the conflict between Moldova and Transnistria intensified again. Transnistrian elites supported the putschists, while Moldova spoke of secession from the USSR. On August 25, Transnistria declared independence, maintaining the laws and the Constitution of the USSR. Moldova declared independence two days later, on August 27.

In September, Transnistria approved the symbols of independence — the Constitution, flag, coat of arms and anthem, and began to create their own armed forces and law enforcement agencies. At the end of the year, the countryʼs name was officially changed to the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic and a referendum was held — 97 percent of citizens voted for independence.

All this time, Moldovan law enforcement officers have been trying to take control of one of the largest cities in Transnistria — Dubossary and Bendery. Armed clashes also broke out, killing police officers on both sides.

Pro-Russian Transnistrian militants cleaned up their weapons in April 1992 during the fighting for the city of Dubossary. It also came under the control of Transnistria after the war.


In the spring of 1992, the conflict turned into a full-fledged military confrontation. The fiercest fighting took place in Dubossary and Bendery. The most important role in the war was played by the 14th Army of the Soviet Union, which was located in Transnistria. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the army officially expressed a desire to join the Russian Armed Forces, but in fact found itself cut off from Russia, between Ukraine and Moldova. Conscription into the 14th Army in Russia was not conducted in 1991 and 1992, so conscripts from Transnistria were recruited.

On June 23, 1992, Major General Aleksandr Lebed secretly arrived in Tiraspol and effectively led the 14th Army. It was Lebed who officially dragged the Russian army into conflict with the Moldovan military. In response, the Moldovan parliament called on the UN to convene the Security Council immediately because of "Russiaʼs open aggression against Moldova".

Russiaʼs 14th Army began mass shelling of Moldovan military and law enforcement positions. The Moldovan army suffered heavy losses, and the first peace talks began in early July. On July 21, Moldovan President Mircea Snigur and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a peace agreement with Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov. Under this agreement, Russian peacekeepers entered Transnistria. By August 1, hostilities had ceased completely, the parties had recognized the peace agreement, and the conflict had become "frozen."

They have not been able to resolve the Transnistrian issue for almost 30 years, although they have been close to it several times. After the hot phase, a "5 + 2" negotiating format was set up with the participation of the OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Transnistria, as well as the United States and the European Union, which were to agree on a peaceful settlement. But it proved to be completely ineffective. The date of the last meeting in this format on the website of the so-called Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Transnistria is June 3, 2021. On behalf of Ukraine, the special representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Viktor Kryzhanovsky is taking part in it.

Perhaps the most famous and closest to implementation was the "Kozakʼs plan". It was developed in 2003 by Deputy Chief of Staff Dmitry Kozak, who is currently in charge of the occupied Donbas in the Kremlin. The plan called for the federalization of Moldova, i.e. granting special status to Transnistria. The region could block Moldovan laws that its representatives consider undesirable. At the same time, Moldova has pledged to maintain neutrality, demobilize the army and give Russian troops the right to stay in Transnistria for 20 years as a guarantor of the conflict. Only at the last moment did the President of Moldova, Volodymyr Voronin, refuse to sign the plan. Kozak believes that he did it due to direct pressure from the US ambassador.

In 2005, Ukraine also proposed its settlement plan. It was voiced by President Viktor Yushchenko at the GUUAM summit. It provided for the gradual democratization of Transnistria and the holding of democratic elections there, as well as the deployment of Ukrainian peacekeepers and OSCE special forces in the conflict zone. Yushchenko has proposed approving a special law on the status of Transnistria, which would give him the right to secede from Moldova if it joins Romania.

In July 2005, a law on the special status of Transnistria was passed by the Moldovan parliament. He gave the region autonomy and also recognized the existence of the Supreme Council of Transnistria. The borders of autonomy were to be established in a referendum in all settlements of Transnistria. But Transnistrian leaders did not pass the law, and Yushchenkoʼs plan was not fully implemented because Russia did not want to withdraw its troops and the then Transnistrian elite did not want to hold democratic elections.

Residents of Bendery pass by destroyed military equipment during the fighting in the city, June 1992.


Moldovaʼs policy towards the occupied territories differs significantly from that of Ukraine and Georgia. First, immediately after the end of the conflict, Chisinau actually agreed to direct talks with Tiraspol — so Russia became not a participant in the war, but a mediator. Because of this, many Moldovans do not see Russia as an aggressor and a direct culprit in the Transnistrian conflict. Recent presidential and parliamentary elections have shown that approximately 30 to 40 percent of citizens vote for openly pro-Russian candidates.

In addition, Moldova has not severed economic relations with Transnistria, mainly due to its industrialization. Sports clubs from Transnistria perform at Moldovan championships and international competitions without any problems, and Moldovan-Ukrainian crossing points operate at the border between Ukraine and Transnistria.

After President Maya Sandu comes to power in 2020, the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict may break the deadlock. In one of her first speeches, she called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Transnistria and replace them with OSCE representatives. Sandu also aimed to restore normal good-neighborly relations with Ukraine, which were destroyed under former pro-Russian President Igor Dodon. He actually recognized Crimea as Russian territory.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already responded to Sanduʼs calls. He noted that Russia is ready to withdraw troops, but for this "it is necessary to establish a normal dialogue" between Chisinau and Tiraspol and not to interfere with the European Union. "Sooner or later this problem must be solved", Putin said.

Transnistrians protest against the so-called economic blockade of Transnistria in 2006. At the request of Moldova, Ukraine has banned the transit and border crossing of Transnistrian goods that have not been certified by Moldovan authorities.

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