Conflict in Transnistria and Gagauzia

Conflict in Transnistria and Gagauzia

As the summer of 1990 advanced, the country's initially inchoate political divisions transformed themselves into competing governmental authorities. Delegates to city and raion councils in Transnistria and in the Gagauz region met independently with their Supreme Soviet delegates and called for regional autonomy. Republic-level officials denounced these efforts as separatist and treasonable.

As efforts to reach some form of accord foundered, more decisive measures were taken. On August 21, 1990, the Gagauz announced the formation of the "Gagauz Republic" in the five southern raioane where their population was concentrated, separate from the Moldavian SSR and part of the Soviet Union. The Transnistrians followed suit on September 2, proclaiming the formation of the "Dnestr Moldavian Republic," with its capital at Tiraspol, as a part of the Soviet Union.

It was under these circumstances that violence broke out in the fall of 1990. A decision by Gagauz leaders to hold a referendum on the question of local sovereignty was intensely opposed by the republic's government and by the Popular Front. Rival political forces mobilized volunteer detachments to defend their competing interests by force. Adding to the volatility of the conflict between the Gagauz and the ethnic Romanians, militia forces from Transnistria entered the Gagauz region to support the sovereignty movement there.

In the Transnistrian city of Dubasari, the militia seized the city council building as part of its preparations for a referendum on autonomy in the region. When the republic's police sought to retake the building, new forces were mobilized from ethnic Romanian regions as well as from Russian-speaking regions. In the ensuing conflict, three persons were killed and dozens more wounded.

Relations between the separatists and the republic's government were characterized by mutual denunciations and sporadic violence from late 1990 until early 1992, when conditions took a sharp turn for the worse. As efforts among Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania to mediate the conflict floundered and as the Transnistrian separatists consolidated their position with the support of Russia's 14th Army, pressure built on President Snegur to take decisive action to resolve the conflict.

In late March 1992, Snegur declared a state of emergency across the republic, and soon afterward the government made an effort to disarm the separatists' militia. These efforts were met by armed resistance, which, by May 1992, had escalated into a full-scale civil war as weapons released to the Transnistrians by the 14th Army were used against Moldovan military units.

By the close of the summer, more than 300 people had been killed in the conflict, and more than 1,000 had been wounded. A large part of the city of Bender, which had become a focal point of the conflict, had been devastated; thousands of refugees flooded out of the region.

Easing of Tensions

While combat in the civil war remained at a bloody stalemate into mid-1992, the political situation in Moldova changed dramatically, at least partly as a consequence of popular dissatisfaction with the conflict. In the first stage of the realignment, former CPM First Secretary Lucinschi was named ambassador to Russia. Lucinschi, the highest-ranking "Moldavian" outside of the country during the communist era, was able to use his connections with the Moscow political elite to promote accommodation.

Soon afterward, in July 1992, Prime Minister Valeriu Muravschi (who had replaced Mircea Druc) was replaced by Andrei Sangheli of the Democratic Agrarian Party of Moldova. Sangheli was a former CPM raion committee first secretary and member of the Council of Ministers. Sangheli's new government included significantly improved minority representation and promised a more efficient economic reform program, as well as a more moderate approach to the ethnic conflict.

By taking this more flexible approach, Moldova was able to reduce the level of violence involved in the separatist dispute, if not to bring the conflict to an end. But the shift in policy direction precipitated a strong backlash from the more extreme elements of the Popular Front, which felt that it was slipping from power. This and popular dissatisfaction with the failing economy forced a fundamental political reorientation.

In December 1992, President Snegur, who clearly supported the more conciliatory course, touched off a crisis by delivering a speech to Parliament in which he laid out a course of foreign policy based on the pursuit of national independence. Snegur warned against the extremes of either unification with Romania or reintegration into some form of alliance with Russia. His public position against efforts to promote unification further soured relations between himself and the Popular Front and at the same time sharpened divisions between moderates and more extreme nationalists within the Popular Front itself.

Fallout from Snegur's speech was almost immediate. In early January 1993, Alexandru Mosanu, chair of the Moldovan Parliament, offered his resignation, citing the differences between himself and the president of the republic and complaining about tendencies within the government favoring the previous political system.

If, as some suggest, Mosanu's resignation was intended to rally support in an effort to undermine President Snegur, it failed miserably. Not only was the resignation accepted, but Parliament voted overwhelmingly to replace Mosanu with Petru Lucinschi, a leader of those very forces about which Mosanu had warned.

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