Moldova's breakaway region of Trans-Dniester another Georgia?
As we watch the continued developments in Georgia and hear the accusations about who did what to whom and in what order, you can guarantee that another ex-Soviet state is paying close attention. The US and the EU are sending more delegations to Georgia this week to show their support after the recent conflict with Russia and Moldova will be curious to see the lasting arrangements that are created now that the armed conflict has ended.
Moldova, sandwiched between Nato and EU member Romania and Ukraine, which also wants to join the Western clubs, has a long-running conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in Trans-Dniester, a sliver of land on its eastern border. Like Georgia's rebel regions, Trans-Dniester broke away from Moldova as the Soviet Union collapsed and one-third of its people hold Russian passports.
Moscow stepped in to halt a civil war in 1992, leaving behind more than 1,000 troops to keep the peace and one of the biggest arms stockpiles in Europe. "The peacekeepers have proved that they won't allow such military action but at the same time we can't exclude that the conflict could once again reach a military phase."
The country, where most people speak Romanian, has also offered Russian-speakers in Trans-Dniester broad autonomy. But the separatists have taken heart from Moscow's recognition of Georgia's rebel regions. Russia may be 700km away, but its powerful presence is strongly felt in Trans-Dniester.
The Kremlin may use Trans-Dniester to improve its tarnished reputation. Having waged war on Georgia, Mr Medvedev appears willing to broker peace in Moldova. In recent weeks, the Russian president has held separate meetings with the leaders of Moldova and Trans-Dniester and may soon host a face-to-face meeting between them. But Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan insists his country will not sign any separate deal with Moscow.
"We won't sign a single document that would exclude the US, the EU and our neighbour Ukraine." As the poorest country in Europe, Moldova would like a clear path to EU membership. But that is nowhere in sight, leaving the country vulnerable to Russian pressure. "And from this point of view, I don't see Russia giving up its old-standing policy of controlling Moldova through Trans-Dniester."
Moldova has been an independent country since 1990 when the country held its first elections. At the same time, the region east of the Dniester River, Transnistria, which includes a large proportion of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, declared independence mostly in response to a rise of nationalism in Moldova and the country's expected reunification with Romania upon secession from the USSR.
In 1992 there was a brief military conflict between Moldovan and Transnistrian forces and Russia intervened on the Transnistrian side. Russian troops have remained in Transnistria since, despite signing agreements to withdraw. There are many parallels with the Georgian situation.
In November 2003, the relationship with Russia deteriorated even further over a Russian proposal for the solution of the Transnistrian conflict, which Moldovan authorities refused to accept. In the following election, held in 2005, the Communist party made a formal 180 degree turn and was re-elected on a pro-Western platform. Since 1999, Moldova has constantly affirmed its desire to join the EU.