CHISINAU, MOLDOVA. The question of Transnistria echoes again (also called Trans-Dniester) after the events in Ukraine. Russian and Tiraspol authorities and politicians interpret the revolutionary changes in Kiev quite clearly as a coming to power of nationalist-minded groups, which have announced intentions to curtail the practice of bilingualism in the eastern regions of Ukraine. This act is perceived as perilous by the Transnistrian and Russian authorities as a deprivation of fundamental rights of national minorities. These developments, along with the Crimea annexation, could simmer up the flame of separatism in one of the “frozen conflicts” of the former Soviet territories.

The strong separatism existing in Transnistria may “compel” Russia to act again. NATO and independent observers already warned for the presence of Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border which could easily be relocated to annex Transnistria using the same kind of “tactic, ruse and excuse” in Crimea.

Transnistria, which is an autonomous region of Moldova, is located on the eastern side of the river Dniester stretching up to the border with Ukraine. The separatism in this area dates back to the 1990-1992 military conflict between Moldova’s government and the Russian-speaking population (mainly Russians and Ukrainians). After the ceasefire, Moldova stopped controlling Transnistria as it fell within the zone of Russian influence, which stationed between 1000 to 2000 troops ostensibly to act as a peacekeeping mission.

The results of the Crimean referendum on self-administration and their prompt recognition by Russia as well as its admission as a part of the federation were met with enthusiasm in Transnistria. Subsequently, after Crimea’s accession, the Transnistrian local parliament appealed to Moscow counterparts for an opportunity to join Russia as well. Moldovan authorities, in turn, have promptly stated that a separation of Transnistria would not bring good to either Moldova or Russia.

This is not the first time. Back in 2006, Transnistria held a referendum on such a scenario that resulted in majority of the voter being in favor of Russian accession.

The parallel between the Moldovan and Ukrainian cases is that the majority of Moldovans is inclined to a future within the EU. Moldova, the poorest state in Europe, is in the process of negotiating an association agreement with the EU. Furthermore, due to their ethnic and linguistic background, Moldovans are culturally close to Romania. In contrast, the 500.000 numbering population of Transnistria is eager to join Russia or obtain independence. A large number of these inhabitants already have Russian citizenship. These conditions would exemplify a “pretext” for the further Russian military incursion.

Though Moscow has never brought the issue of Transnistrian incorporation to the table and recognized Transnistria as a part of Moldova, Transnistria’s unresolved status does complicate Moldova’s membership of the EU or NATO as the tension regarding these unresolved territorial issues impedes Chisinau’s negotiating position.

Pro-Kremlin Russian press underscores that Transnistria, like the Crimea, has an equal right to become part of Russia and tries to stir up the debate. The case of Crimea may therefore have created a precedent. Acquiescence or ongoing protests by other states regarding the occurred is crucial in determining the “legality” of the new situation under international customary law and treaties.

Likewise, in Russian high ranks, there are voices claiming that it is a perfect moment to annex Transnistria. These opinions may be influenced by the weak effect of international sanctions on the Russian economy, resulting only in political image loss. Furthermore, any action taken by the Russian is unlikely to meet with military force from either the European or Americans.

Nonetheless, Russia seems not due to undertake such an operation. First, the Kremlin leaders are not “political kamikazes”; they grasp the international condemnation produced after Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. Rather, rebuilding a new “peaceful” image of Russia tops their list. Second, Transnistria has its own peculiarities. Unlike the Crimea, this autonomous region has land borders only with Moldova and Ukraine, and these circumstances, significantly impede Russian action, particularly when the new authorities in Kiev can block rail and road links with the territory and limit the air corridor.

Therefore, for the time being, the annexation of Transnistria seems not in the Russian agenda.