Under these two assumptions, there appears to be no way forward for Moldova except to cut its losses and jettison Transnistria.
It's a thought that is horrifying to many Moldovans and a solution which would be terribly unjust. It would dishonour the sacrifice of those who fought and died in 1991 trying to keep the country together. It would abandon hundreds of thousands of citizens to a highly uncertain fate.
Maybe, however, there's a way forward which takes into account the interests of the various parties:
- The EU wants to see an end to the unrecognised Transnistrian political entity. (They would also like to see the 14th Army go home, but that would contravene one of our assumptions)
- Russia wants to maintain is forward military presence in South-Eastern Europe. She also wants to have secure routes for gas delivery to points further west.
- Ukraine is always interested in grabbing a bit of territory, but would probably prefer that it didn't come complete with thousands of Moldovan villagers.
- Moldova needs to consolidate itself as a majority Romanian state and minimise its territorial losses.
If you study an ethnic map of Transnistria, you will notice that the northern third (around Ribnita) is overwhelmingly Ukrainian. The middle third (around Dubasari) is Moldovan while the southern third (around Tiraspol) and the right-bank Tighina enclave are a mix of Russians, Ukrainians and Moldovans. Were Moldova to reintegrate the northern and southern portions of Transnistria, it would create more problems than it would solve, unsettling an already delicate ethnic balance.
So here's what Moldova could propose:
- Ceding the northern and southern portions of Transnistria to Ukraine
- Recovering Dubasari and Tighina, both ancient Romanian cities with significant Moldovan populations.
- As partial compensation for the cession in (1), accepting two Moldovan-majority raions from Ukraine - Novoseltsiy in the north and the river-port of Reni in the south.
- Ukraine would formally offer basing rights to Russia in and around Tiraspol
- Moldova would renounce its neutrality and invite in NATO forces to balance the Russians on the other side of the Nistru
- The Tiraspol regime would be bought off and given villas in Soci.
The Nistru (except for one little bump around Dubasari) would become the recognised border between EU and Russian spheres of influence. I'm not a fan of 'spheres' and it's obviously not a perfect solution, but it would meet the major objectives of all players, and bring resolution.
I'd be interested in your comments.