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LEGAL ASPECTS OF THE SEPARATIST CRISIS IN MOLDOVA (NY BAR)

LEGAL ASPECTS OF THE SEPARATIST CRISIS IN MOLDOVA (NY BAR)
THE ASSOCIATION OF THE BAR OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
THAWING A FROZEN CONFLICT:
LEGAL ASPECTS OF THE SEPARATIST CRISIS IN MOLDOVA
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON EUROPEAN AFFAIRS
Mission to Moldova
INTRODUCTION:
Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and it is enmeshed in a
seemingly intractable separatist conflict involving ethnic tensions, Russian troops,
Soviet-era arms stockpiles, smuggling, money-laundering, and corruption.
Bordering Romania and Ukraine, with a majority of ethnic Romanians, it is a
country that has been largely overlooked by the West.1 This report examines the
key legal issues of this “frozen” conflict and assesses the legal or quasi-legal
arguments made by the Government of Moldova and the separatists.
At issue is who should control a strip of land nestled between the Dniestr
River and the border of Ukraine. Variously called Transnistria, Trans-Dniester
and, by Russian speakers, Pridnestrov’ia, this region is less than 30 kilometers
wide, with 4,118 square kilometers in total area, making it roughly the size of
Rhode Island. Transnistria has a population of approximately 580,000, while the
rest of Moldova has 3.36 million inhabitants. Nonetheless, Transnistria contains
Moldova’s key industrial infrastructure, power plants, and, importantly, a
significant stockpile of Soviet-era arms. Since 1994, it has been under the
effective control of a separatist regime that calls itself the Transnistrian Moldovan
Republic (“TMR”).
In late May 2005 the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (the
“NY City Bar”), through its Special Committee on European Affairs (the
“Committee”) sent a legal assessment team (the “Mission”) to the Republic of
Moldova, including Transnistria. The Mission consisted of Barrington D. Parker,
Jr., a United States Circuit Court Judge in the Second Circuit; Robert Abrams, a
partner at Strrock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and former Attorney General of the
State of New York; Elizabeth Defeis, Professor of Law and former Dean of Seton
Hall University Law School; and Christopher J. Borgen, Assistant Professor of
Law at St. John’s University School of Law. It was led by Mark A. Meyer, a
member of Herzfeld & Rubin, P.C., and the Chair of the Committee. Professor
Borgen is the principal author of the report.
1 The Soviets, however, labeled this population as ethnically “Moldovan,” and asserted that they
were not ethnically Romanian. The USSR also called the Romanian language “Moldovan,” and
underscored this by outlawing the use of the Latin alphabet and requiring the use of Cyrillic
letters. Although the reason for this nomenclature was political, rather than ethno-linguistic, it was
carried over by the current Moldovan government after independence.
2
The Mission met with the key policy leaders in Moldova and in the
breakaway region, including the President of Moldova and the leader of the
Transnistrian separatists, and has completed the first independent analysis of the
legal issues involved in the Transnistrian crisis. Beholden to none of the
stakeholders, the NY City Bar is able to consider these issues from an objective
standpoint. One should note that the NY City Bar’s work historically has not been
confined to New York. In fact, the Transnistria mission is not the first foreign
mission by a committee of the Association. Over the past twenty-five years, the
Association has conducted a number of missions to places as diverse as Cuba,
Singapore, Malaysia, Turkey, Hong Kong, Argentina, Uganda, Northern Ireland,
and, most recently, India. In addition, the Association has worked with bar
organizations in the Czech Republic and Kyrgyzstan to bolster the independence
of the bar and judiciary. Perhaps due to this historical involvement in
international law, the various interested parties, including the governments of
Moldova, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, and the United States, as well as the
leadership of Transnistria, assisted the Mission by making government
representatives, policymakers and experts available for interview.2
Report Summary
This report considers three main legal issues: (a) whether the TMR has a
right under international law to autonomy or possibly sovereignty; (b) what the
legal concerns are regarding the transfer of property located in Transnistria by the
TMR leadership; and, (c) what role “third-party” States have in the ongoing
conflict and, in particular, the international legal implications of Russian
economic pressure and military presence in the TMR.
The Status of the TMR under International Law
The central question to this report concerns the status of the TMR under
international law and, in particular, the evaluation of claims by Transnistrian
leaders that the TMR has a legal right either to autonomy within Moldova or to
secede. We found neither claim persuasive and conclude that the TMR is best
characterized as a “de facto regime.”
No Right to Autonomy.
First, under international law there is no “right” to fiscal or governmental
autonomy within a state. While the TMR leadership may make political
arguments that one may or may not find persuasive, we did not find a legal basis
for a claim of autonomy. The two strongest quasi-legal arguments in favor of
autonomy are: (a) that due to the denunciation by the USSR of the Molotov-
Ribbentrop Pact, which had established the modern boundaries of Moldova,
2 See the Annex to this Executive Summary for a partial list of interviews.
3
Transnistria should revert to an autonomous state; and, (b) self-determination as a
basis for autonomy.
The denunciation argument is a chimera. Simply denouncing a treaty does
not revert the political system to the status quo ante; it merely means that the
treaty will not be in force going forward. This is especially true in treaties that
include boundary delimitation provisions.
The second argument made by the Transnistrians, linking autonomy with
the right of self-determination, opens up numerous complex issues in public
international law. One thing is clear: rather than a right to autonomy—or even a
specific set of characteristics that define this term—international law in the last
century has focused on the elucidation of the norm of self-determination. Selfdetermination,
and its relation to autonomy and secession, is discussed at greater
length below.
In sum, we found that international law has little to say as to any supposed
“right” to autonomy, and that grants of “autonomy” are largely issues of domestic
law. In the Transnistrian case, the Government of Moldova has proposed various
plans that are effectively grants of varying levels of policymaking and regulatory
autonomy; all have been rejected by the TMR. We conclude that, based on their
words and deeds, the TMR’s leaders seem less interested in autonomy than in full
sovereignty.
Self-Determination, Sovereignty, and Secession.
The norm of self-determination is not a general right of secession. It is the
right of a people to decide on their culture, language, and government. It has
evolved into the concepts of “internal self-determination,” the protection of
minority rights within a state, and “external self-determination,” secession from a
state. While self-determination is an internationally recognized principle,
secession is considered a domestic issue that each state must assess itself.
Influential decisions and reports concerning self-determination, such as
the report concerning the status of the Aaland Islands in 1921 and the Badinter
Commission opinions concerning the former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, and other
examples of state practice have been consistent in the view that a successful claim
for self-determination must at least show that: (a) the secessionists are a “people;”
(b) the state from which they are seceding seriously violates their human rights;
and (c) there are no other effective remedies under either domestic law or
international law. None of these prongs are satisfied in the case of Transnistria,
with the possible exception of (a).
The term “people” has been generally used in recent state practice to refer
to an ethnic group, or a “nation” in the classic, ethnographic, sense of the word.
However there are some, such as the TMR’s leadership, who suggest the term
should mean something else, perhaps a group with common goals and norms.
While the norm of self-determination may evolve such that a people may be more
readily identified as merely a like-minded group, we do not find that current state
practice supports such a proposition. Regardless, deciding on a single definition
of the term “people” is not dispositive in this case, as none of the other
requirements for external self-determination are met.
4
Concerning the second prong, the existence of serious violations of human
rights, the argument of the Transnistrians can be organized into three main
groupings: (a) violations of linguistic, cultural, and political rights; (b) the
brutality of the 1992 War; and (c) the denial of economic rights. Taking into
account the significant changes in Moldova since 1992, none of these claims is
convincing today.
The actual history of Moldova since the end of the 1992 War shows that
the country has improved its respect of minority rights. In contrast, the TMR has
had a poor human rights record including a lack of due process, persecution of
religious minorities, and retaliation against political dissenters. The 1992 War
itself caused 1,000 deaths, but we found that. in light of state practice, the events
of the 1992 War in and of themselves do not make a persuasive claim of secession
as a legal right. If they did, the world would be rife with secessionist conflicts.
Similarly, the economic rights claim, which is essentially about allocation of tax
revenues, does not lead to a legal right to dismember a state. This argument is
really about policy, not the form of a polity.
Finally, we note that there is a general sense among commentators,
opinions, and decisions, that the human rights violations that are cited in support
of a claim of secession must be ongoing violations. Although Moldova still has
many possible pitfalls on its road to becoming a fully modern democratic state, it
is clear that it is nonetheless traveling the road in the right direction, albeit with
some fits and starts. Thus, the second prong—ongoing serious violations of
human rights—is not met.
The third prong asks whether there are any other options available besides
secession. This conflict has been frozen not so much because there are no other
options under domestic and international law besides secession, but because the
separatists have chosen to make the conflict seem intractable by repeatedly
refusing any options short of effective sovereignty for the TMR. For example,
while Moldova has sought to decrease ethnic tensions, the TMR has attempted to
exacerbate them and subsequently claim that separation is necessary in order to
avoid ethnic conflict and possibly genocide. Such “gaming the system” is not
persuasive.
We thus conclude that there is no solid basis for a claim of secession under
external self-determination. The most basic requirements for a legal claim are not
met.
The TMR as a De Facto Regime.
If Transnistria is not a state, then what is it? We considered two issues: (a)
the role of recognition in the process of state formation; and (b) whether the TMR
is a de facto regime.
There is no obligation to recognize the TMR, even if it does have effective
control of territory. Rather, it is likely that the forcible acquisition of territory, the
ongoing objections by the pre-existing state, Moldova, and the evident reliance of
the TMR on military, economic, and political support from Russia for its survival
argue against recognition and for nonrecognition in this case. In similar cases the
5
Security Council and/or the General Assembly call on UN member states not to
recognize such seceding entities.
Inasmuch as the TMR has effective control over Transnistria but is not
recognized, the TMR can best be understood by using the doctrine of de facto
regimes. Such de facto regimes are treated as partial subjects of international law.
Their unique status does give rise to certain rights and responsibilities, primarily
related to acts required for the support and well-being of the population. It may
conclude agreements that are held at a status below treaties. Besides the right to
act in order to support its population, a de facto regime may also be held
responsible for breaches of international law.
While the de facto regime thus has certain rights and responsibilities, the
acts of de facto regimes have uncertain legal effect. Acts of such a regime may
become invalid with the disappearance of the regime, for instance, if the territory
is reabsorbed into the parent state. However, the reintegrated state after a failed de
facto regime may be held liable for the acts of the de facto regime that were part
of the normal administration of the territory based on the assumption that such
acts were neutral and that the state would probably have undertaken similar such
acts. If, on the other hand, the de facto regime becomes a state, then its acts will
be binding on the new state.
The TMR and the Conversion of Property in Transnistria
At the heart of the dispute between the Government of Moldova and the
TMR’s leadership is the issue of the control of the economic assets of
Transnistria. Does the TMR have the right to convert the property in its area of
effective control? If the two parts of Moldova are reintegrated, must these
decisions of the TMR be respected?
We used two theoretical frameworks to answer these questions. The first,
the concept of de facto regime, was discussed above. The second is an analogy to
the international law of the administration of occupied territories, the most
complete statement of which is found in the Fourth Geneva Convention. We use
these rules only by analogy as one might argue that the TMR actually is not
bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Nonetheless, we find the rules
concerning the administration of occupied territories and those concerning de
facto regimes to be useful, especially as they are also remarkably consistent as
they both draw from the same root concepts of property rights that tap all the way
down to the Roman law of usufruct, use of property by one who does not own that
asset.
Applying the international law of de facto regimes, the TMR does not
have the right to sell-off Moldovan state assets or any private property. Any such
sales face possible challenge and repudiation should Transnistria become
reintegrated into Moldova.
By not only applying the conception of the TMR as a de facto regime, but
also by analogizing to the international law of the administration of occupied
territories, we find that an occupying power or its analog: (a) may confiscate state
6
property, other than real property, if it is usable for military purposes or in the
administration of the territory; (b) may only administer non-military state real
property without destroying or otherwise converting the economic value of the
property; and (c) may not confiscate private property unless it is war materiel.
Based on the foregoing, the TMR’s privatization program is thus
exceedingly difficult to justify. Any private party taking part in this program as a
purchaser consequently does so at its own risk.
Third-Party States and Secessionist Movements
The third and final main legal issue we consider is the role of “third-party”
states. States have a basic duty not to intervene or otherwise interfere with the
resolution of an internal conflict within another state. Under circumstances where
self-determination or, more clearly, external self-determination is implicated, or
where the Security Council finds that a conflict has become a threat to
international peace, then third-party states may have more freedom of action
concerning the conflict. This fundamental norm of non-intervention is linked with
concepts of sovereignty, self-determination, and peaceful coexistence.
The role of third-party states is especially important in this case as Russia
and Ukraine have taken on the role of “guarantor” states, states that have a special
interest in ensuring an end to the conflict and formally commit to devoting
resources to conflict resolution. Being a guarantor puts a state into a position in
which it becomes involved in an ongoing crisis in another country, but that state
must nonetheless respect international law in its actions. The report considers the
actions of Russia and Ukraine in light of these rules of conduct.
Russia
Russia, not least because it maintains troops in Transnistria, is not only a
guarantor, but a key player in the conflict. We consider four main issues: (a) the
activities of the Russian Army and other organs of the Russian Federation in
Transnistria; (b) economic pressure by the Russian Federation on Moldova; (c)
ties between the TMR leadership and Russian leadership; and (d) the general
diplomatic stance of the Russian Federation.
The role of the Russian Army can be split into two phases: assistance
during the 1992 War and ongoing activities, including maintenance of arms
stockpiles in Transnistria. The Russian 14th Army played a decisive role in the
1992 War by intervening in the fighting on behalf of the separatists. Despite
treaty promises to demobilize and repeated Moldovan requests that Russia remove
its troops from Transnistria, the troops remain. Consequently, they prop up the
viability of the TMR and make reintegration more difficult. They also provide
materiel, expertise, and other support to the TMR on an ongoing basis.
Similarly, the Soviet-era arms stockpile under control of the 14th Army has
been used to support the TMR both directly and as a source of revenue through
joint Russian-TMR sales of army materiel on the world market. Moldova thus
wants the immediate removal of the weapons stockpiles. Russia has so far refused
7
to remove the stockpiles (or the troops) until there is a comprehensive political
settlement and has also argued that the Transnistrians will not let them remove the
arms.
Besides the use of the army to either hamper the Moldovans or assist the
TMR, the second main issue is that Russia has also used economic pressure and
economic assistance as a carrot and stick. Economic pressure is generally not
barred by international law. However, such pressure on a state or assistance to
separatists may make the third-party state liable under the law of state
responsibility if its pressure would either frustrate Moldova’s sovereign privileges
or would breach one of the third-party state’s pre-existing commitments to
Moldova.
In considering the present situation, there are four areas of particular
interest: (a) the use of energy prices as a carrot or a stick; (b) the increased use of
tariff barriers against Moldovan goods; (c) economic assistance to the TMR; and
(d) the shared economic interests of Russian and Transnistrian elites. Taken as a
whole, there is a significant intervention on behalf of the TMR.
On the third issue, the ties between TMR and Russian leadership, there is
ample circumstantial evidence. Smirnov, Minister of Justice Balala, and Chief of
Internal Security Vladimir Antufeyev all arrived in Moldova at the start or since
the start of the separatist crisis. The TMR’s ruling elite is largely Russian and, to
a lesser extent, Ukrainian, and have Russian citizenship. They have been granted
Russian nationality. Certain members came to the TMR from senior positions in
the Russian government, particularly the Russian parliament (the “Duma”) and
the Russian Army.
Finally, the various activities described above—the economic pressure, the
military assistance to the TMR, the energy politics—need to be understood in
light of the constant Russian rhetoric in favor of the TMR and critical of
Moldova. While we do not contend that any single activity described could lead to
state responsibility (although the troop situation may rise to that level) we believe
that these acts seen as a whole, combined with constant Russian statements
supporting the TMR and criticizing Moldovan efforts at reintegration, form a
compelling picture of inappropriate intervention by Russia into the domestic
affairs of Moldova.
Ukraine
Due to its common border with Moldova—and particularly with
Transnistria—as well as the significant ethnic Ukrainian population in
Transnistria and throughout Moldova, Ukraine is a key stakeholder in the
Transnistrian conflict. Ukraine has been critical of Transnistrian separatism and
has advocated the complete withdrawal of Russian troops, but has also been
perceived (rightly or wrongly) as allowing smuggling through its territory and
possibly being open to relations with the TMR. Although Ukraine has acted in
many ways as a counterbalance to Russian influence in Transnistria, its attentions
have often been viewed by the Moldovans with a mixture of hope and suspicion.
Ukraine has made what may be a good faith effort at plotting a path
towards a solution of the crisis; however an actual final plan needs to be seen
8
before its legal implications can be assessed. The stricter border controls that are
currently being implemented are a necessary, though not conclusive, step in
resolving the Transnistrian crisis. Now that Ukraine has become a more active
participant in the Transnistrian crisis, its actions will need to be monitored, as
have those of Russia and Moldova, by the various stakeholders.
Conclusions
The report thus concludes:
Concerning the Status of the TMR. Attempted secessions are largely
viewed as domestic affairs that need to be resolved by the state itself. There is no
right to secede as a general matter. At most, secessions may be accepted in cases
where a people have been oppressed and there is no other option for the protection
of their human rights. In light of these rules, the TMR has not made a legally
sufficient case that it has a right to external self-determination or secession.
Consequently, the effective control of the TMR of the Transnistrian part of
Moldova is that of a de facto regime and may be viewed as analogous to control
by an occupying power. The TMR is thus limited as to what it may legally do
with the territory it administers.
Concerning the Conversion of Property by the TMR. The law of
occupation recognizes that the occupying power may, as a matter of fact, control
the economic resources within a territory but, as a matter of law, the rightful
owners are the previous owners. The final disposition of the property is not
decided by the current effective control by the occupier and as such, the occupier
has the legal duty not to destroy the economic value of the property. Any
economic activities undertaken jointly with the separatists or insurgents by
another party are at the peril of that party. There is no comfort that such activities
will be sanctioned after the final resolution of the separatist conflict and they may,
in fact, be “unwound.”
In light of the rules governing de facto regimes and also the law of
occupation, the TMR’s privatization program can leave investors with no
confidence that these transactions would be enforced if the TMR is reintegrated
into Moldova.
Concerning the Responsibilities of Third-Party States. Interventions by
third parties are not favored and are assessed in relation to the norms of nonintervention
set out in numerous global and regional treaties and legal documents.
Sovereignty requires that a state’s wishes concerning affairs within its own
territory be respected up to the point that some other core interest of the
international system is implicated. Thus, for example, the garrisoning of troops
on foreign soil is not allowed if the host state requests that the troops leave.
Russia’s activities concerning the Transnistrian situation, particularly the
intervention of the 14th Army on behalf of the separatists, the ongoing military
9
assistance to the TMR, the economic support of the TMR, and effectively
bargaining on behalf of the TMR using energy process and other levers of power
against Moldova, leads to credible claims of state responsibility on the part of
Russia for the continuing separatist crisis and its proximate results.
Similarly, in light of the experience with Russia, Ukraine’s increased
participation in the conflict should be monitored.
THE ENTIRE STUDY:
1
THE ASSOCIATION OF THE BAR OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
THAWING A FROZEN CONFLICT:
LEGAL ASPECTS OF THE SEPARATIST CRISIS IN MOLDOVA
THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON EUROPEAN AFFAIRS
Mission to Moldova∗
Introduction 2
Executive Summary 6
I. Historical Background 13
A. Pre-Soviet and Soviet Era History 13
B. 1989 through 1992: Moldovan Sovereignty
and Transnistrian Secession 14
C. Events from 1993 to 2003 17
D. The Current Situation in Brief 20
II. The Work of the Mission 24
III. The Status of the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic
in International Law 25
A. Sovereignty and Autonomy 25
B. The Concept of Autonomy in International Law
and Moldovan Law 26
∗ The Mission was led by Mark A. Meyer, a member of Herzfeld & Rubin, P.C., and the Chair of
the Committee on European Affairs. The members of the Mission were Barrington D. Parker, Jr.,
a United States Circuit Court Judge in the Second Circuit; Robert Abrams, a partner at Stroock &
Stroock & Lavan LLP and former Attorney General of the State of New York; Elizabeth Defeis,
Professor of Law and former Dean of Seton Hall University Law School; and Christopher J.
Borgen, Assistant Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law. Professor Borgen is
the principal author of this report.
We would like to thank all of those listed in this report for taking the time to meet with
us. We would also like to thank the numerous colleagues who provided helpful comments and
suggestions as the mission was being organized and the report was being written.
2
C. Self-Determination and Secession 33
D. Defining the Legal Status of the TMR 52
E. Conclusions Concerning the Status of the TMR 64
IV. The Transnistrian Moldovan Republic
and the Conversion of Property 66
A. Claims by Moldova and by the TMR 66
B. Property, State Transitions and International Law 68
C. Are the TMR’s Acts Tantamount to Expropriation? 71
V. Third Parties and Secessionist Movements 72
A. Duties of Third Party States Under International Law 72
B. Third Parties and the Moldovan Situation 74
Conclusion: Peril and Promise 95
Introduction
Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and it is enmeshed in a
seemingly intractable separatist conflict involving ethnic tensions, Russian troops,
Soviet-era arms stockpiles, smuggling, money-laundering, and corruption.
Bordering Romania and Ukraine, with a majority of ethnic Romanians, it is a
country that has been largely overlooked by the West.1 This report examines the
key legal issues of this “frozen” conflict and assesses the legal or quasi-legal
arguments made by the Government of Moldova and the separatists.
At issue is who should control a strip of land nestled between the Dniestr
River and the border of Ukraine. Variously called Transnistria, Trans-Dniester
and, by Russian speakers, Pridnestrov’ia,2 this region is less than 30 kilometers
wide, with 4,118 square kilometers in total area, making it roughly the size of
1 The Soviets, however, labeled this population as ethnically “Moldovan,” and asserted that they
were not ethnically Romanian. The USSR also called the Romanian language “Moldovan,” and
underscored this by outlawing the use of the Latin alphabet and requiring the use of Cyrillic
letters. Although the reason for this nomenclature was political, rather than ethno-linguistic, it was
carried over by the current Moldovan government after independence.
2 CHARLES KING, THE MOLDOVANS: ROMANIA, RUSSIA, AND THE POLITICS OF CULTURE 178
(2000).
3
Rhode Island.3 Transnistria has a population of approximately 580,000, while the
rest of Moldova has 3.36 million inhabitants.4 Nonetheless, Transnistria contains
Moldova’s key industrial infrastructure, power plants, and, importantly, a
significant stockpile of Soviet-era arms. Since 1994, it has been under the
effective control of a separatist regime that calls itself the Transnistrian Moldovan
Republic (“TMR”).5
In late May 2005 the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (the
“NY City Bar”), through its Special Committee on European Affairs (the
“Committee”) sent a legal assessment team (the “Mission”) to the Republic of
Moldova, including Transnistria. The Mission consisted of Barrington D. Parker,
Jr., a United States Circuit Court Judge in the Second Circuit; Robert Abrams, a
partner at Strrock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and former Attorney General of the
State of New York; Elizabeth Defeis, Professor of Law and former Dean of Seton
Hall University Law School; and Christopher J. Borgen, Assistant Professor of
Law at St. John’s University School of Law. It was led by Mark A. Meyer, a
member of Herzfeld & Rubin, P.C., and the Chair of the Committee.
As will be described below, the Mission met with the key policy leaders in
Moldova and in the breakaway region, including the President of Moldova and
the leader of the Transnistrian separatists, and has completed the first independent
analysis of the legal issues involved in the Transnistrian crisis. Beholden to none
of the stakeholders, the NY City Bar is able to consider these issues from an
objective standpoint. One should note that the NY City Bar’s work historically
has not been confined to New York. In fact, the Transnistria mission is not the
first foreign mission by a committee of the Association. Over the past twenty-five
years, the Association has conducted a number of missions to places as diverse as
Cuba, Singapore, Malaysia, Turkey, Hong Kong, Argentina, Uganda, Northern
Ireland, and, most recently, India. In addition, the Association has worked with
bar organizations in the Czech Republic and Kyrgyzstan to bolster the
independence of the bar and judiciary. Perhaps due to this historical involvement
in international law, the various interested parties, including the governments of
Moldova, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, and the United States, as well as the
3 ID., at 178.
4 U.S. Department of State 2004 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for the Republic of
Moldova (hereafter “Moldova 2004 Country Report”) available at
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/41697.htm; a Transnistrian census from November 2004
set Transnistria’s population at approximately 555,500, which could indicate the ongoing flight of
people from the region. Preliminary Results of the Census in Transnistria, Olvia-press (Tiraspol)
Sept. 7, 2005. By contrast, a 1989 census found the region’s population to be 679,000. Id.
5 This report will use the “Transnistria” nomenclature although when we quote another author’s
work we will preserve that author’s nomenclature within the quotation. For example, the TMR
may variously be referred to as the Dniestr Republic, the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic
(PMR), Transdniestria, or other such name based on the nomenclature adopted by the author being
quoted. Similarly, this report’s spelling of other proper names normally spelled in the Cyrillic
alphabet may differ from the spellings within the quotations of other authors.
4
leadership of Transnistria, assisted the Mission by making government
representatives, policymakers and experts available for interview.
In preparation of this Report, the Mission met with the following
individuals, as well as many others not listed here:
In Moldova
President Vladimir Voronin
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev
Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan
Minister of Reintegration Vasilii Sova
Chairperson of the Supreme Court Valeria Sterbert
Chairperson of the Constitutional Court Victor Puscas
Justice Minister Victoria Iftodi
General Ion Ursu, Chief of the Information and Security Services
Leaders of all of the Parliamentary factions
Deputy Attorney General Valeriu Gurbulea
Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Maria Postoico
US Ambassador Heather Hodges
Russian Ambassador Nicolay Ryabov
Ukrainian Ambassador Petro Cealyi
Romanian Ambassador Filip Teodorescu
OSCE Ambassador William Hill
ABA/CEELI Country Director Samantha Healy
Farmers and local municipal and county leaders from the Dubasari area
In Transnistria
President Igor Nikolaevich Smirnov
Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Grigoriy Stepanovich Marakutsa6
Foreign Minister Valeriy Anatolevich Litskai
Minister of Justice Viktor Balala
Chairperson of the Constitutional Court Vladimir Grigoriev
In Romania
Foreign Minister Mihai Ungureanu
Experts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and
the Ministry of Trade and Economy,
US Deputy Chief of Mission Tom Delare
6 Marakutsa, who had been in office since the original separatist conflict, was replaced in
December 2005 with the election of Yevgeny Shevchuck as the new Chairman of the Supreme
Soviet.
5
In New York
Ambassador Andrey Denisov, Permanent Representative of Russia to the
United Nations
Ambassador Seva Grigore, Permanent Representative of the Republic of
Moldova to the United Nations
Ambassador Mihnea Motoc, Permanent Representative of Romania to the
United Nations
Senior representatives of the Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations
In Washington, D.C.
Ambassador Stephen Mann, Special Negotiator for Eurasian Conflicts
Elizabeth Rood, Deputy Director, Office of the Special Negotiator for
Eurasian Conflicts
The National Security Council’s Director for Europe, Damon Wilson
Various Department of State experts on Moldova and regional conflicts
Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, Romania’s Ambassador to the United States
and his staff
Ambassador Mihai Manoli, Moldova’s Ambassador to the United States
and his staff
The resulting report has five parts. In Part I we review the history of the
conflict over Transnistria. Part II is an overview of the work of the Mission of the
European Affairs Committee of the New York City Bar regarding the situation in
Transnistria. Part III turns to the substantive question of determining the status of
the so-called “Transnistrian Moldovan Republic” (TMR) under international law.
This will include discussions of self-determination, secession, and the status of de
facto regimes. Part IV considers what the TMR may or may not do regarding the
conversion of property. Part V assess the legal duties of third parties that become
involved in secessionist conflicts. Finally, the Conclusion summarizes the main
points of this report.
6
Executive Summary
This report considers three main legal issues: (a) whether the TMR has a
right under international law to autonomy or possibly sovereignty; (b) what the
legal concerns are regarding the transfer of property located in Transnistria by the
TMR leadership; and, (c) what role “third-party” States have in the ongoing
conflict and, in particular, the international legal implications of Russian
economic pressure and military presence in the TMR.
The Status of the TMR under International Law
The central question to this report concerns the status of the TMR under
international law and, in particular, the evaluation of claims by Transnistrian
leaders that the TMR has a legal right either to autonomy within Moldova or to
secede. We found neither claim persuasive and conclude that the TMR is best
characterized as a “de facto regime.”
No Right to Autonomy.
First, under international law there is no “right” to fiscal or governmental
autonomy within a state. While the TMR leadership may make political
arguments that one may or may not find persuasive, we did not find a legal basis
for a claim of autonomy. The two strongest quasi-legal arguments in favor of
autonomy are: (a) that due to the denunciation by the USSR of the Molotov-
Ribbentrop Pact, which had established the modern boundaries of Moldova,
Transnistria should revert to an autonomous state; and, (b) self-determination as a
basis for autonomy.
The denunciation argument is a chimera. Simply denouncing a treaty does
not revert the political system to the status quo ante; it merely means that the
treaty will not be in force going forward. This is especially true in treaties that
include boundary delimitation provisions.
The second argument made by the Transnistrians, linking autonomy with
the right of self-determination, opens up numerous complex issues in public
international law. One thing is clear: rather than a right to autonomy—or even a
specific set of characteristics that define this term—international law in the last
century has focused on the elucidation of the norm of self-determination. Selfdetermination,
and its relation to autonomy and secession, is discussed at greater
length below.
In sum, we found that international law has little to say as to any supposed
“right” to autonomy, and that grants of “autonomy” are largely issues of domestic
law. In the Transnistrian case, the Government of Moldova has proposed various
plans that are effectively grants of varying levels of policymaking and regulatory
autonomy; all have been rejected by the TMR. We conclude that, based on their
words and deeds, the TMR’s leaders seem less interested in autonomy than in full
sovereignty.
7
Self-Determination, Sovereignty, and Secession.
The norm of self-determination is not a general right of secession. It is the
right of a people to decide on their culture, language, and government. It has
evolved into the concepts of “internal self-determination,” the protection of
minority rights within a state, and “external self-determination,” secession from a
state. While self-determination is an internationally recognized principle,
secession is considered a domestic issue that each state must assess itself.
Influential decisions and reports concerning self-determination, such as
the report concerning the status of the Aaland Islands in 1921 and the Badinter
Commission opinions concerning the former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, and other
examples of state practice have been consistent in the view that a successful claim
for self-determination must at least show that: (a) the secessionists are a “people;”
(b) the state from which they are seceding seriously violates their human rights;
and (c) there are no other effective remedies under either domestic law or
international law. None of these prongs are satisfied in the case of Transnistria,
with the possible exception of (a).
The term “people” has been generally used in recent state practice to refer
to an ethnic group, or a “nation” in the classic, ethnographic, sense of the word.
However there are some, such as the TMR’s leadership, who suggest the term
should mean something else, perhaps a group with common goals and norms.
While the norm of self-determination may evolve such that a people may be more
readily identified as merely a like-minded group, we do not find that current state
practice supports such a proposition. Regardless, deciding on a single definition
of the term “people” is not dispositive in this case, as none of the other
requirements for external self-determination are met.
Concerning the second prong, the existence of serious violations of human
rights, the argument of the Transnistrians can be organized into three main
groupings: (a) violations of linguistic, cultural, and political rights; (b) the
brutality of the 1992 War; and (c) the denial of economic rights. Taking into
account the significant changes in Moldova since 1992, none of these claims is
convincing today.
The actual history of Moldova since the end of the 1992 War shows that
the country has improved its respect of minority rights. In contrast, the TMR has
had a poor human rights record including a lack of due process, persecution of
religious minorities, and retaliation against political dissenters. The 1992 War
itself caused 1,000 deaths, but we found that. in light of state practice, the events
of the 1992 War in and of themselves do not make a persuasive claim of secession
as a legal right. If they did, the world would be rife with secessionist conflicts.
Similarly, the economic rights claim, which is essentially about allocation of tax
revenues, does not lead to a legal right to dismember a state. This argument is
really about policy, not the form of a polity.
Finally, we note that there is a general sense among commentators,
opinions, and decisions, that the human rights violations that are cited in support
of a claim of secession must be ongoing violations. Although Moldova still has
many possible pitfalls on its road to becoming a fully modern democratic state, it
8
is clear that it is nonetheless traveling the road in the right direction, albeit with
some fits and starts. Thus, the second prong—ongoing serious violations of
human rights—is not met.
The third prong asks whether there are any other options available besides
secession. This conflict has been frozen not so much because there are no other
options under domestic and international law besides secession, but because the
separatists have chosen to make the conflict seem intractable by repeatedly
refusing any options short of effective sovereignty for the TMR. For example,
while Moldova has sought to decrease ethnic tensions, the TMR has attempted to
exacerbate them and subsequently claim that separation is necessary in order to
avoid ethnic conflict and possibly genocide. Such “gaming the system” is not
persuasive.
We thus conclude that there is no solid basis for a claim of secession under
external self-determination. The most basic requirements for a legal claim are not
met.
The TMR as a De Facto Regime.
If Transnistria is not a state, then what is it? We considered two issues: (a)
the role of recognition in the process of state formation; and (b) whether the TMR
is a de facto regime.
There is no obligation to recognize the TMR, even if it does have effective
control of territory. Rather, it is likely that the forcible acquisition of territory, the
ongoing objections by the pre-existing state, Moldova, and the evident reliance of
the TMR on military, economic, and political support from Russia for its survival
argue against recognition and for nonrecognition in this case. In similar cases the
Security Council and/or the General Assembly call on UN member states not to
recognize such seceding entities.
Inasmuch as the TMR has effective control over Transnistria but is not
recognized, the TMR can best be understood by using the doctrine of de facto
regimes. Such de facto regimes are treated as partial subjects of international law.
Their unique status does give rise to certain rights and responsibilities, primarily
related to acts required for the support and well-being of the population. It may
conclude agreements that are held at a status below treaties. Besides the right to
act in order to support its population, a de facto regime may also be held
responsible for breaches of international law.
While the de facto regime thus has certain rights and responsibilities, the
acts of de facto regimes have uncertain legal effect. Acts of such a regime may
become invalid with the disappearance of the regime, for instance, if the territory
is reabsorbed into the parent state. However, the reintegrated state after a failed de
facto regime may be held liable for the acts of the de facto regime that were part
of the normal administration of the territory based on the assumption that such
acts were neutral and that the state would probably have undertaken similar such
acts. If, on the other hand, the de facto regime becomes a state, then its acts will
be binding on the new state.
9
The TMR and the Conversion of Property in Transnistria
At the heart of the dispute between the Government of Moldova and the
TMR’s leadership is the issue of the control of the economic assets of
Transnistria. Does the TMR have the right to convert the property in its area of
effective control? If the two parts of Moldova are reintegrated, must these
decisions of the TMR be respected?
We used two theoretical frameworks to answer these questions. The first,
the concept of de facto regime, was discussed above. The second is an analogy to
the international law of the administration of occupied territories, the most
complete statement of which is found in the Fourth Geneva Convention. We use
these rules only by analogy as one might argue that the TMR actually is not
bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Nonetheless, we find the rules
concerning the administration of occupied territories and those concerning de
facto regimes to be useful, especially as they are also remarkably consistent as
they both draw from the same root concepts of property rights that tap all the way
down to the Roman law of usufruct, use of property by one who does not own that
asset.
Applying the international law of de facto regimes, the TMR does not
have the right to sell-off Moldovan state assets or any private property. Any such
sales face possible challenge and repudiation should Transnistria become
reintegrated into Moldova.
By not only applying the conception of the TMR as a de facto regime, but
also by analogizing to the international law of the administration of occupied
territories, we find that an occupying power or its analog: (a) may confiscate state
property, other than real property, if it is usable for military purposes or in the
administration of the territory; (b) may only administer non-military state real
property without destroying or otherwise converting the economic value of the
property; and (c) may not confiscate private property unless it is war materiel.
Based on the foregoing, the TMR’s privatization program is thus
exceedingly difficult to justify. Any private party taking part in this program as a
purchaser consequently does so at its own risk.
Third-Party States and Secessionist Movements
The third and final main legal issue we consider is the role of “third-party”
states. States have a basic duty not to intervene or otherwise interfere with the
resolution of an internal conflict within another state. Under circumstances where
self-determination or, more clearly, external self-determination is implicated, or
where the Security Council finds that a conflict has become a threat to
international peace, then third-party states may have more freedom of action
concerning the conflict. This fundamental norm of non-intervention is linked with
concepts of sovereignty, self-determination, and peaceful coexistence.
The role of third-party states is especially important in this case as Russia
and Ukraine have taken on the role of “guarantor” states, states that have a special
10
interest in ensuring an end to the conflict and formally commit to devoting
resources to conflict resolution. Being a guarantor puts a state into a position in
which it becomes involved in an ongoing crisis in another country, but that state
must nonetheless respect international law in its actions. The report considers the
actions of Russia and Ukraine in light of these rules of conduct.
Russia
Russia, not least because it maintains troops in Transnistria, is not only a
guarantor, but a key player in the conflict. We consider four main issues: (a) the
activities of the Russian Army and other organs of the Russian Federation in
Transnistria; (b) economic pressure by the Russian Federation on Moldova; (c)
ties between the TMR leadership and Russian leadership; and (d) the general
diplomatic stance of the Russian Federation.
The role of the Russian Army can be split into two phases: assistance
during the 1992 War and ongoing activities, including maintenance of arms
stockpiles in Transnistria. The Russian 14th Army played a decisive role in the
1992 War by intervening in the fighting on behalf of the separatists. Despite
treaty promises to demobilize and repeated Moldovan requests that Russia remove
its troops from Transnistria, the troops remain. Consequently, they prop up the
viability of the TMR and make reintegration more difficult. They also provide
materiel, expertise, and other support to the TMR on an ongoing basis.
Similarly, the Soviet-era arms stockpile under control of the 14th Army has
been used to support the TMR both directly and as a source of revenue through
joint Russian-TMR sales of army materiel on the world market. Moldova thus
wants the immediate removal of the weapons stockpiles. Russia has so far refused
to remove the stockpiles (or the troops) until there is a comprehensive political
settlement and has also argued that the Transnistrians will not let them remove the
arms.
Besides the use of the army to either hamper the Moldovans or assist the
TMR, the second main issue is that Russia has also used economic pressure and
economic assistance as a carrot and stick. Economic pressure is generally not
barred by international law. However, such pressure on a state or assistance to
separatists may make the third-party state liable under the law of state
responsibility if its pressure would either frustrate Moldova’s sovereign privileges
or would breach one of the third-party state’s pre-existing commitments to
Moldova.
In considering the present situation, there are four areas of particular
interest: (a) the use of energy prices as a carrot or a stick; (b) the increased use of
tariff barriers against Moldovan goods; (c) economic assistance to the TMR; and
(d) the shared economic interests of Russian and Transnistrian elites. Taken as a
whole, there is a significant intervention on behalf of the TMR.
On the third issue, the ties between TMR and Russian leadership, there is
ample circumstantial evidence. Smirnov, Minister of Justice Balala, and Chief of
Internal Security Vladimir Antufeyev all arrived in Moldova at the start or since
the start of the separatist crisis. The TMR’s ruling elite is largely Russian and, to
a lesser extent, Ukrainian, and have Russian citizenship. They have been granted
11
Russian nationality. Certain members came to the TMR from senior positions in
the Russian government, particularly the Russian parliament (the “Duma”) and
the Russian Army.
Finally, the various activities described above—the economic pressure, the
military assistance to the TMR, the energy politics—need to be understood in
light of the constant Russian rhetoric in favor of the TMR and critical of
Moldova. While we do not contend that any single activity described could lead to
state responsibility (although the troop situation may rise to that level) we believe
that these acts seen as a whole, combined with constant Russian statements
supporting the TMR and criticizing Moldovan efforts at reintegration, form a
compelling picture of inappropriate intervention by Russia into the domestic
affairs of Moldova.
Ukraine
Due to its common border with Moldova—and particularly with
Transnistria—as well as the significant ethnic Ukrainian population in
Transnistria and throughout Moldova, Ukraine is a key stakeholder in the
Transnistrian conflict. Ukraine has been critical of Transnistrian separatism and
has advocated the complete withdrawal of Russian troops, but has also been
perceived (rightly or wrongly) as allowing smuggling through its territory and
possibly being open to relations with the TMR. Although Ukraine has acted in
many ways as a counterbalance to Russian influence in Transnistria, its attentions
have often been viewed by the Moldovans with a mixture of hope and suspicion.
Ukraine has made what may be a good faith effort at plotting a path
towards a solution of the crisis; however an actual final plan needs to be seen
before its legal implications can be assessed. The stricter border controls that are
currently being implemented are a necessary, though not conclusive, step in
resolving the Transnistrian crisis. Now that Ukraine has become a more active
participant in the Transnistrian crisis, its actions will need to be monitored, as
have those of Russia and Moldova, by the various stakeholders.
Conclusions
The report thus concludes:
Concerning the Status of the TMR. Attempted secessions are largely
viewed as domestic affairs that need to be resolved by the state itself. There is no
right to secede as a general matter. At most, secessions may be accepted in cases
where a people have been oppressed and there is no other option for the protection
of their human rights. In light of these rules, the TMR has not made a legally
sufficient case that it has a right to external self-determination or secession.
Consequently, the effective control of the TMR of the Transnistrian part of
Moldova is that of a de facto regime and may be viewed as analogous to control
by an occupying power. The TMR is thus limited as to what it may legally do
with the territory it administers.
12
Concerning the Conversion of Property by the TMR. The law of
occupation recognizes that the occupying power may, as a matter of fact, control
the economic resources within a territory but, as a matter of law, the rightful
owners are the previous owners. The final disposition of the property is not
decided by the current effective control by the occupier and as such, the occupier
has the legal duty not to destroy the economic value of the property. Any
economic activities undertaken jointly with the separatists or insurgents by
another party are at the peril of that party. There is no comfort that such activities
will be sanctioned after the final resolution of the separatist conflict and they may,
in fact, be “unwound.”
In light of the rules governing de facto regimes and also the law of
occupation, the TMR’s privatization program can leave investors with no
confidence that these transactions would be enforced if the TMR is reintegrated
into Moldova.
Concerning the Responsibilities of Third-Party States. Interventions by
third parties are not favored and are assessed in relation to the norms of nonintervention
set out in numerous global and regional treaties and legal documents.
Sovereignty requires that a state’s wishes concerning affairs within its own
territory be respected up to the point that some other core interest of the
international system is implicated. Thus, for example, the garrisoning of troops
on foreign soil is not allowed if the host state requests that the troops leave.
Russia’s activities concerning the Transnistrian situation, particularly the
intervention of the 14th Army on behalf of the separatists, the ongoing military
assistance to the TMR, the economic support of the TMR, and effectively
bargaining on behalf of the TMR using energy process and other levers of power
against Moldova, leads to credible claims of state responsibility on the part of
Russia for the continuing separatist crisis and its proximate results.
Similarly, in light of the experience with Russia, Ukraine’s increased
participation in the conflict should be monitored.
13
I. Historical Background
A. Pre-Soviet and Soviet Era History
What we now call Moldova is a classic crossroads of cultures. Bessarabia
was historically the west bank of the Nistru (or Dniester) River and Transnistria
was on the east bank. Prior to the Soviet period, Transnistria “was, at an even
deeper level than in Bessarabia, a classic borderland where ethnic identities were
fluid and situational, and where Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Jewish, and
German influences combined to create a mixed culture.”7 Transnistria was not
part of traditional Romanian territory. From the ninth to the fourteenth centuries
Transnistria was part of Kievan Rus’ and Galicia-Volhynia.8 Bessarabia was once
a part of an independent Moldovan state that emerged briefly in the 15th century
under Stefan the Great, but subsequently fell under Ottoman rule in the 16th
century. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-12, Bessarabia was ceded to
Russia, while Romanian Moldova (west of the Prut River) remained in Turkish
hands. Transnistria was also part of Russia, but was in the districts of Podolia and
Kherson.
The upheaval of the Russian Revolution caused many of Russia’s former
provinces to seek and, in some cases, declare independence. Bessarabia, with its
overwhelming ethnic Romanian population, voted in a plebiscite to become part
of Romania.
By the mid-1920’s Josef Stalin had been successful in recapturing for the
Soviet Union most of the provinces that Russia had lost during the revolution.
Bessarabia, however, remained part of Romania. In 1924, Stalin established the
Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (or “MASSR”) as an
autonomous province within the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This was
spurred by Moscow’s desire to reclaim Bessarabia and attempt to have a colorable
claim to this “Moldavian” territory.9 Transnistria became part of the MASSR. In
1940, the USSR and Germany signed the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which,
among other things, provided for the USSR’s annexation of Bessarabia, which
had by then been part of Romania for more than twenty years. Stalin merged
Bessarabia and the MASSR into the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (or
“MSSR”), which became the fifteenth republic within the USSR.
7 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 181.
8 ID., at 179.
9 Pal Kolsto & Andrei Edemsky with Natalya Kalashnkova, The Dniester Conflict: Between
Irredentism and Separatism, 45 EUR.-ASIA STUD. 978 (1993) (hereafter, Kolsto, et al.).
14
Transnistria became the economic and political center of the MSSR.10
Transnistria manufactured 33% of the industrial goods and 56% of the consumer
goods produced in Moldova and it also produced 90% of the energy needed in the
rest of the MSSR.11 As part of the USSR, the MSSR used Russian as its primary
language and adopted the Cyrillic script for written Romanian and called the
language “Moldavian.”12 Stalin also ordered the forced removal of approximately
one third of the ethnic Romanian population of Bessarabia, and sent them to
Siberia where most perished. Transnistria, having been part of the USSR for a
longer period, had already been collectivized in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Thus,
from the beginning of the MSSR there was a greater degree of “sovietization” in
Transnistria than in other parts of the Republic.13 Leaders from the Bessarabian
part of the MSSR were disfavored, such that it was not until 1989 that a first
secretary of the MSSR’s Communist Party came from Bessarabia.14
B. 1989 through 1992: Moldovan Sovereignty and Transnistrian
Secession
While a sense of history is important in any discussion of Moldovan
politics, the current crisis can be traced to more recent events. While some can
show the roots of the conflict in old hurts over the course of centuries, the
proximate causes stem from relatively recent policies in the transition from the
USSR into the post-Soviet era. For example, contemporaneously with the events
leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall, from August to December 1989, the MSSR
parliament passed a series of language laws that made the Moldovan language the
official state language and that also began a transition from Cyrillic to Latin
script.15 On April 27, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of Moldova adopted a new
tricolor flag and a national anthem that was the same as that of Romania.16 Then,
in the summer of 1990, the MSSR declared sovereignty, changing its status within
the USSR.
A group of Russian speakers led by Igor Smirnov, a factory manager who
came to Moldova in November 1987 to become a director of the Elektromash
factory in Tiraspol, expressed concern that the newly sovereign MSSR would
10 Graeme P. Herd, Moldova & the Dniestr Region: Contested Past, Frozen Present, Speculative
Futures? 1, Conflict Studies Research Centre, Central & Eastern Europe Series 05/07 (February
2005) at 2, available at https://da.mod.uk/CSRC/documents/CEE/05%2807%29-GPH.pdf.
11 Kolsto, et al., supra note 9, at 980.
12 Case of Ilascu (Ilascu v. Moldova) 311 Eur. Ct. H.R., at para. 28 (2004).
13 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 183.
14 ID.
15 Kolsto, et al., supra note 9, at 981.
16 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12 at para. 29.
15
soon seek reunification with Romania and take Transnistria along with it. On
August 11, 1989, several Transnitrian workers’ collectives united under the single
banner of the Union of Workers Collectives (OSTK) and pursued a policy of
secession from Moldova.17 Igor Smirnov was the first Chairman of the OSTK.
On September 2, 1990, Transnistria declared its separation from Moldova
and its existence as a republic within the USSR. Soon after this announcement,
separatists began taking over police stations and government institutions in
Transnistria,18 culminating in a protracted fight between Moldovan police and
armed forces and separatists outside the city of Dubosari on November 2 1990.19
These events were in the context of ongoing tensions between the MSSR
and the USSR concerning what their relationship would be in the future. After the
November 1990 engagement between Moldovan and Transnistrian forces,
Moldovan President Mircea Snegur was willing to accept a “Union treaty,” as
Mikhail Gorbachev had sought, if Gorbachev would help put an end to the
secessionist movement. However, Gorbachev did not accept the offer and, in
response, Moldova sought independence from the USSR.20 As a result of these
tensions, the March 17, 1991 all-USSR referendum on the future of the Soviet
Union was boycotted by Moldova’s leadership, although voting did occur in
Transnistria, where the vote was supposedly 93% in favor of a unitary Soviet
state.21
On May 23, 1991, the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic changed its
name to the Republic of Moldova.
On August 27, 1991, the Moldovan parliament, in the aftermath of the
attempted putsch against Gorbachev, declared that Moldova was an independent
republic. Its capital would be the city of Chisinau. By contrast, Igor Smirnov, the
leader of the Transistrian separatists, praised the putschists as saviors of the
Soviet state.22 Smirnov, arguing that independence was necessary to protect the
Russian minority in Transnistria from the possible reunification of Moldova with
Romania, rallied the Transnistrian separatists in the creation of the TMR.
On September 6, 1991, the Supreme Soviet23 of the TMR “issued an order
placing all establishments, enterprises, organizations, militia units, public
prosecutors’ offices, judicial bodies, KGB units and other services in Transnistria,
with the exception of military units belonging to the Soviet armed forces, under
17Complex Power Sharing, Transdniestria Case Review, available at
http://www.ecmi.de/cps/documents_gun_case.html.
18 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 189.
19 Kolsto, et al., supra note 9, at 984.
20 Stuart J. Kaufman, Spiraling to Ethnic War, 21 INT’L SECURITY 108, 130-31 (Fall 1996).
21 Kolsto, et al., supra note 9, at 984.
22 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 191.
23 The Supreme Soviet is the parliament.
16
the jurisdiction of the ‘Republic of Transdniestria.’”24 The Government of
Moldova, for its part, announced in Decree no. 234 on November 14, 1991, that
all property of Soviet military units within the Republic of Moldova were now the
property of Moldova.25
During this period, the Moldovan authorities arrested Igor Smirnov. In
response to the arrest of Smirnov and other Transnistrian leaders, the TMR
“threatened to cut off gas and electricity supplies to the rest of Moldova.”26
Smirnov was released.
In early 1992, as the simmering conflict between the separatists and the
government of Moldova continued, Smirnov began a “campaign of harassment”
to oust pro-Chisinau police officers from Transnistria.27 Transnistrian forces were
augmented in the spring of 1992 with the arrival of Cossacks and other volunteer
fighters from other parts of the Soviet Union.28 “The Cossacks and other
volunteers were put on the state payroll, receiving 3000 rubles a month.”29
On December 3, 1991, the 14th Army occupied Grigoriopol, Dubasari,
Sobozia, Tiraspol, and Ribnita, all of which are in Transnsitria.30 Thus, if the
Government of Moldova wanted to send troops into its cities to prevent any
attempted separation, they could have faced opposition from Russian troops.
Tensions escalated until a large-scale outbreak in the summer of 1992.
Much of the fighting took place in and around Bender. The 14th Army intervened
on the side of the Transnistrians and, in part due to the 14th , Army’s positions,
the Moldovan Army was unable to take control of Bender or Dubosari. The
fighting resulted in approximately 1,000 deaths and 130,000 people either
internally displaced or seeking refuge in other countries.31 On July 21, 1992, the
fighting ended with Moldova signing a cease-fire agreement that was notably
countersigned by Russia, as opposed to the Transnistrians.32 That agreement
contemplated, among other things, the establishment of a peacekeeping force
including Moldovan, Russian, and TMR forces, the gradual withdrawal of the 14th
Army, and the establishment of Bender as a free economic zone.33
24 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 35.
25 Id., at para. 37.
26 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 191.
27 Kaufman, supra note 20, at 129.
28 The Union of Cossacks is an association recognized by the Government of Russia. Case of
Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 66.
29 Kolsto, et al., supra note 9, at 987.
30 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 53.
31 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 178.
32 Herd, supra note 10, at 3.
33 Kolsto, et al, supra note 9, at 994.
17
C. Events from 1993 to 2003
The result of the Russian intervention was that Transnistria became
effectively partitioned from the rest of Moldova. The fighting cooled, and was
replaced by a frozen conflict.34
One ongoing issue was the status of the Russian 14th Army that remained
garrisoned in Transnistria. Although in October 1994, an agreement was signed
between Russia and Moldova guaranteeing that the 14th Army would leave
Transnistria within three years, the agreement was never ratified by the Duma.
However, between 1992 and 1999, the Russians decreased their troops in the
TMR from 9,250 to 2,600 and destroyed a significant amount of munitions. Other
armaments were shipped out of Transnistria by the Russians at the expense of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (the “OSCE”) and over the
objections of Mr. Smirnov, who had previously decreed that no Russian Army
property would be allowed to leave Transnistria. As of this writing, nearly 20,887
metric tons of ammunition plus ten train loads of Russian military equipment
remain in Transnistria.
The pro-Romanian Popular Front was soundly defeated in the February
1994 Moldovan elections and over 90 percent of the population rejected
unification with Romania.35 On November 24, 1994, the new Moldovan
Constitution was ratified. The new Constitution gave autonomy to Transnistria
and to Gagauzia, a region made up primarily of an Orthodox Turkic people. 36
These steps forward were followed by steps back by the Transnistrians.
The 1994 Country Report on Moldova by the U.S. Department of State noted that:
Moldova remained divided, with mostly Slavic separatists still controlling
the Transdniester region. This separatist movement, led by a pro-Soviet
34 Dov Lynch of the European Union Institute argues that the term “frozen conflict” is somewhat
misleading because the situation in Moldova (and in the other conflicts typically described as
frozen conflicts) has actually been quite dynamic. DOV LYNCH, ENGAGING EURASIA’S
SEPARATIST STATES: UNRESOLVED CONFLICTS AND DE FACTO STATES 42 (2004). We use the
term here in recognition that, although the situation has evolved in significant ways, the overall
result is no closer to substantial resolution as of this writing than it was in 1992.
35 Complex Power Sharing, Gagauzia Case Review, available at
http://www.ecmi.de/cps/documents_gum_case.html.
36 CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA, art.111 entitled “Special Autonomy Statutes of
Gagauzia,” states, in part:
Gagauzia is an autonomous territorial-unit having a special statute and representing a
form of self-determination of the Gagauzian people, shall constitute an integrant and
inalienable part of the Republic of Moldova and shall independently solve, within the
limits of its competence, pursuant to the provisions of the Republic of Moldova
Constitution, in the interest of the whole society, the political, economic, and cultural
issues.
18
group, entered negotiations with the Government on the possibility of a
special political status for the region. Progress was blocked, however, by
the separatists’ demands for “statehood” and the creation of a
confederation of two equal states.37
On May 8, 1997, after mediation by the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and
the OSCE, Moldova’s then-President, Petru Lucinschi, and Igor Smirnov, as de
facto leader of the TMR, signed a memorandum regarding the normalization of
the relations between the Republic of Moldova and the TMR.38 In the accord, the
TMR promised to establish a “common state” with Moldova, although that term
was not defined. It has since led to divergent interpretations by the parties. To our
knowledge, this memorandum was never submitted to the Moldovan Parliament
for ratification and its status under Moldovan law is unclear.
As the years since the 1992 War passed, observers became increasingly
concerned that Smirnov and his associates had no intention of allowing formal
reintegration into Moldova as that might thwart increasingly profitable smuggling
activities. For example,
after the Trans-Dniester Republic and Moldova briefly set up a joint
customs operation, 1998 figures uncovered by [Moldovan presidential
advisor Oazu] Nantoi showed that Trans-Dniester, with but one-sixth of
Moldova’s population, imported 6,000 times as many cigarettes as the rest
of the country. Mr. Nantoi said he believed that most of the cigarettes
were illegal knockoffs of Western brands, illicitly made in Ukraine and
exported through the Trans-Dniester Republic as far as Germany. Experts
say the region is also a major transit point for smuggled alcohol and up to
700,000 tons a year of petroleum products from Russia and Ukraine.39
Moreover, the head of customs for the TMR is Vladimir Smirnov, the son of Igor
Smirnov, “who elevated the department to a cabinet ministry… to free it from
constraining oversight.”40
37 U.S. Department of State 1994 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for the Republic of
Moldova (hereafter “Moldova 1994 Country Report”) available at
http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ERC/democracy/1994_hrp_report/94hrp_report_eur/Moldova.html, at
Introduction. (emphasis added.)
38 Memorandum for the Bases of Normalization between the Republic of Moldova and
Transdniestria, 8 May 1997, available at
http://www.osce.org/documents/mm/1997/05/456_en.pdf; see also Herd, supra note 10, at 3,
referring to agreements “granting further autonomy and calling for more talks.”
39 Michael Wines, Trans-Dniester ‘nation’ resents Shady Reputation, New York Times, March 5,
2002. Nantoi became the program director of the Institute for Public Policy in Chisinau.
According to The New York Times, he had quit his job as a presidential adviser “after the
government censored his efforts to expose corruption of the customs agreement with the Trans-
Dniester Republic.” Id.
40 Id.,
19
The end of the 1990’s saw another series of attempts to resolve the
conflict. In July 1999 Chisinau and Tiraspol drafted the Kiev Joint Statement
which agreed that their relations would go forward on the basis of common
borders and common economic, legal, defense and social policies.41
In November 1999, at the OSCE summit in Istanbul, Russian President
Yeltsin agreed that all Russian arms and equipment would be withdrawn or
destroyed by the end of 2001, and all Russian troops would withdraw by the end
of 2002. In June 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin formed a special
commission under the chairmanship of Russian Foreign Minister Evgeny
Primakov, that sought to turn Moldova into a loose confederation that would have
given the TMR extensive influence over Moldovan government policy, and
guaranteed a continuing Russian influence, actually increasing its military
presence in Moldova. This plan also failed.
However, according to various interlocutors, in November 2001, Moldova
and Russia signed a treaty that was never made fully public. Often referred to as
the “Base Treaty,” it is described as having provided guidance on bilateral
relations, detailed that any Gazprom debts, including those incurred in
Transnistria, would be accountable by the government of Moldova, and specified
that Moldova agreed to take responsibility for $1 billion of Gazprom debt owed
by Transnistria. This treaty was allegedly signed by representatives of the parties,
but was never ratified. Russia, by its statements, appears to regard this treaty as in
effect, inasmuch as it has not been repudiated by the parties.
A federal state was first proposed in July 2002 in the so-called “Kiev
Document” presented by the mediators to the two sides. We understand that this
document was actually largely drafted by Moldovan negotiators. In February
2003, as negotiations on the Kiev Document flagged, Moldovan President
Vladimir Voronin established a Joint Constitutional Commission to draft a federal
constitution for Moldova. A five-sided mediation including Moldova, the TMR,
Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE was organized to assist the Commission. However,
it also stalled. Eventually, the Russians secured some measure of agreement from
the TMR and the government of Moldova on a plan dubbed the “Kozak Plan.”
The Kozak Plan envisioned a “common state” of Moldova and Transnistria.
Under the plan, Russia would maintain 2,000 troops in Moldova until 2020. The
memorandum was due to be signed on November 25, 2003 in President Putin’s
presence in Chisinau, the Moldovan capitol, but that morning, President Voronin
telephoned President Putin to cancel the ceremony. It has been reported that this
was due to concerns by the OSCE, the EU and the US that the Kozak Plan would
have formalized the status quo and endangered the possibility of Moldova ever
becoming a viable European state. Subsequent attempts at five-sided negotiations
have fallen apart. Moscow did not meet its December 2003 deadline for the
withdrawal of its troops and munitions.
Valeriy Litskai, the so-called “foreign minister” of the TMR, has said that
Tiraspol and Chisinau had agreed in 2002 to build a “federal state” and that the
41 Transdniestria Case Review, supra note 17.
20
details were set out in the Kozak Memorandum. “‘We do not renounce the Kozak
Memorandum and are ready to sign it even tomorrow,’ Litskai declared.”42
On August 1, 2004, Moldovan customs stopped servicing TMR companies
that did not pay Moldovan taxes and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry
stopped issuing origin certificates for TMR-based companies.43 The Russian
Foreign Ministry and Smirnov called this an economic blockade.44
D. The Current Situation in Brief
The recent history of the Transnitrian crisis has had both signs of promise
and diplomatic downturns.
President Voronin has proposed a Security and Stability Pact for Moldova
to be signed by Russia, Ukraine, Romania, the EU and the US, but Russia seems
to consider the Kozak Plan as the template for any solution. By contrast, the EU
and the US are both suggesting the establishment of an international peacekeeping
operation under OSCE supervision, to which the Russians object. For their part,
NATO member states, including the United States, refuse to ratify a key arms
reduction pact, the Adapted Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (which they
had signed at the November 1999 Istanbul summit), until Russia withdraws its
troops and armaments from Moldova and Georgia.
President Yuschenko of Ukraine has presented a plan for settling the
Transnistrian conflict. His plan contains certain provisions that offer the
Transnistrian region autonomy, with the right to leave Moldova should Moldova
seek any future union with Romania. The plan does not require the withdrawal of
Russian troops and armaments from Transnistria. The US and the EU would be
observers in negotiations. The plan does provide for strict border controls, and the
involvement of the EU in observing their application.
As of August, 2004, approximately 20,887 metric tons of Russian
ammunition and approximately ten trains of military equipment were still in
Transnistria.45 According to the OSCE, at that time the TMR was blocking
removal of the armaments for three reasons: (a) Moldova’s refusal to sign the
Kozak Memorandum; (b) the so-called “economic blockade” by Moldova; and (c)
Moldova’s alleged refusal to cooperate in writing-off Tiraspol’s debt to
Gazprom.46
42 Jan Maksymiuk, Analysis: Transdniester Wants Talks on ‘Federal System’ With Moldova,
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Friday, Sept. 17 2004) available at
http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2004/09/53bc0d6b-d61b-49bb-8f7a-e563715de8b9.html
43 Herd, supra note 10, at 8.
44 Id., at 9.
45 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission to Moldova, Activity Rep. No.
8/2004 (August 2004) at 3 (hereafter “OSCE Mission to Moldova Activity Report”)..
46 Id.
21
Whether the Russians actually sought to remove the ammunition and other
military hardware or whether this situation was simply used as a bargaining chip
is an open question. In any case, at about this time the Smirnov regime seemed to
deliberately exacerbate the conflict.
First, there was the crisis over the forced closing of Romanian language
schools (non-Cyrillic script) in the TMR. The U.S. Department of State
summarized the issue in its 2004 Report on Human Rights Practices in Moldova:
In July, Transnistrian authorities closed four Latin script schools that were
registered with the Moldovan Ministry of Education and attempted to
close two more. Police forcibly closed the Latin-script schools in Ribnita
and Tiraspol, removing all furniture and school materials and sealing the
premises. They also closed two schools in Dubasari and Corjova; students
from these schools were transferred to Latin-script schools in villages
under the control of the Moldovan authorities. Police were impeded from
closing a Latin-script school and orphanage in Bender by parents, teachers
and children who guarded the facilities throughout August and September.
Authorities claimed the institutions violated Transnistrian law, which
requires the schools to register locally and to use the Cyrillic alphabet for
instruction. In September, the OSCE helped negotiate a formula to allow
the Latin-script schools in Bender, Dubasari, and Corjova to register,
although authorities continued to impose logistical and legal hurdles to
prevent the schools from functioning normally. Later, the schools in
Ribnita and Tiraspol were also allowed to register for 1 year under the
OSCE-negotiated formula. The Tiraspol school was scheduled to open in
January 2005 after undergoing substantial repairs for damage in the
summer by Transnistrian police. The Ribnita school was open but
operating out of a different building after the Transnistrian authorities
refused to let the school return to its original building. 47
As this conflict was proceeding, another one started over the ability of
farmers who lived in villages outside of the TMR’s control from accessing their
fields that were within the TMR’s control or allowing them to bring produce from
their fields back to their villages.48 In August 2004, Transnistrian “customs”
officials seized several tractors from Moldovan farmers that were loaded with
harvested corn.49 Then, in mid-August, TMR officials in Dubosari closed all
small roads leading from the Moldovan villages to the farmers’ fields, forcing the
farmers to only use certain roads controlled by TMR “customs” officials.50
Depending on who was describing the situation, the TMR was variously asking
47 Moldova 2004 Country Report, supra note 4 at sec. 5.
48 Id. at sec. 2.d.
49 OSCE Mission to Moldova Activity Report, supra note 45 at 4.
50 Id.
22
the farmers to pay rent for or pay a tax on their fields. As of this writing there has
been no comprehensive resolution of this problem and the 2004 and 2005 harvest
seasons have largely been lost. Since farming is the main economic activity of
the region, the hardship to the villagers has been substantial.
Following these events, relations between the government of Moldova and
the TMR worsened. In September and October 2004 President Voronin stated that
the government would no longer negotiate with the TMR.51 Voronin explained
that “[t]he Dniester region can receive the broadest powers on the condition that
the region remains an integral part of Moldova… we have grown cold to the
federalization idea and there can be no return to it.”52
It is unclear exactly what Voronin meant by “federalization;” the
terminology used by the Moldovan and TMR leadership is often imprecise by
Western legal standards. Moreover, the differing plans of federalization,
confederalization, autonomy, and the like were Byzantine and arcane. For
example, the reference to allowing “broadest possible powers” for the region but
not “federalization” is unclear, to say the least. It may be that this statement,
more than anything, marks the refusal to entertain a confederacy of two sovereign
entities, similar to the May 1997 memorandum. If this interpretation is correct,
then the government of Moldova would be unwilling to grant Transnistria
anything beyond some version of autonomy within the parent state.
The EU, for its part, has become increasingly involved in the situation in
Moldova. In February, 2005, it took an important step in signing an Action Plan
on Moldova that would act as a guide for ongoing relations between Moldova and
the EU and possible future Moldvan accession into the Union.53 The U.S. and the
EU have both joined the Moldova-Transnistria mediation process as official
observers. The new “5+2” talks include Chisinau, Tiraspol, Russia, Ukraine, and
the OSCE as the main five stakeholders and the U.S. and the EU as the official
observers. The first round of the expanded talks were held in October 2005, with
subsequent rounds (as of this writing) in December 2005 and January, Febriary
and March 2006. The February round ended in an impasse.54 The March round
also ended in a stalemate, focused on the as-yet unresolved issue concerning the
farmers of the Dorotcaia area accessing their fields under TMR control.55
51 Herd, supra note 10, at 10.
52 Id., at 11.
53 Id., at 12.
54 Refusal to Compromise Dragging Out Transnistria Talks, U.S. Says, Infotag (Chisinau, Feb. 3
2006); Moldova Demands from Mediators to Clearly Express Their Attitude to Transnistria’s
Actors, Infotag (Chisinau, Feb. 3 2006) (noting that “[d]elegations from Moldova, European
Union, United States, GUAM countries, Canada, and Norway expressed regret that last week’s
5+2 negotiations had not resulted in meaningful progress.”); EU Dislikes Slow Progress of
Transnistria Settlement; Infotag (Chisinau, Feb. 23, 2006)
55 Moldovan Delegation Leaves Negotiations, Proposes to Convene Again in a Week…; Infotag
(Chisinau, March 1, 2006).
23
The Moldovan Parliament had voted unanimously to demand a total
Russian troop and munitions withdrawal from Transnistria by December 2005.
Russia continues to argue that withdrawal must be part of a comprehensive
political settlement of the Transnistrian situation, a policy which is generally
referred to as “synchronization.” In December, 2005, with Russian troops still in
Transnistria, the U.S. stated that it would not ratify a new Conventional Forces in
Europe (CFE) treaty until Russia withdraws all troops and equipment from
Moldova and from Georgia.56 The Moldovan Parliament has now sought Russian
withdrawal by the end of 2006. Russia has balked and also announced that it may
denounce the CFE treaty.57
On December 30, 2005, Ukraine and Moldova signed a joint declaration,
which included provisions to start allowing goods produced by Transnistrian
companies to be legally exported via Ukraine.58 In order to comply with WTO
protocols for documents indicating the point of origin for goods in international
trade, Moldova and Ukraine agreed that Transnistrian companies could register
with the government of Moldova at which point they would receive WTOcompliant
export documents that would be recognized by Ukraine. The TMR
almost immediately denounced the plan, calling it another attempt at economic
blockade, and thus against the provisions of the May 8, 1997 memorandum.
Ukraine subsequently suspended the agreement.59 However, after certain
adjustments, a revised version of the agreement went into force on March 3,
2006.60 The TMR has once again called this an economic blockade and the
Russian Duma has denounced the plan.61 As of mid-March 2006, the TMR has
said it may seek direct financial assistance from Russia and may suspend
participation in the 5+2 negotiations during the period it believes it is being
pressured economically.62
56 U.S. Refuses Arms Treaty While Russian Troops in Moldova, Georgia, RFE/RL (Dec. 6, 2005),
available at http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2005/12/mil-051206-
rferL04.htm.
57 Russian Army Group Commander Denies Rumours About Theft of Munitions in Transnistria,
Infotag (Jan. 25, 2006).
58 Moldova reiterates New Border Regime is for Legalization of Transnistrian External Trade,
Infotag (Chisinau, Feb. 3, 2006).
59 Transnistrian Leader Grateful to Ukraine for Pedaling Back, Infotag (Chisinau, Jan. 26, 2006);
see, also, U.S. Puzzled Over Ukraine’s Suspension of Agreement, Infotag (Chisinau, Jan. 26,
2006).
60 Moldova Proposes to Launch New Rules for Transnistria from March 1, Infotag (Chisinau, Feb. 28,
2006); Ukraine Introduces New Border Regime, Infotag (Kiev, March 6, 2006).
61 Transnistria Quits Negotiation Process, Infotag (Tiraspol, March 7, 2006); Russian State Duma
Condemns Moldova’s and Ukraine’s Actions on the Border, Infotag (Chisinau, March 10, 2006).
62 Transnistria Asks Russia’s Financial Help, Infotag (Tiraspol, March 10, 2006); Transnistria Quits
Negotiation Process, supra note 61.
24
At this point the TMR is playing a waiting game; as the then-Chairman of
its so-called Supreme Soviet, Grigoriy Marakutsa said in 2003: “Every year we
are getting closer to our international recognition.”63 As of November 2005,
Marakutsa seemed to think that, in light of the decision by Kosovo’s parliament to
seek recognition as an independent state, the TMR would soon abandon
negotiations: “Parliament may decide to stop talks with Moldova and start
building a fully independent state” he told reporters.64
II. The Work of the Mission
It is in the context of the general worsening of the situation in 2004-2005
that the New York City Bar became involved in assessing the situation in
Moldova.
Based on the Mission’s meetings and observations, we determined that at
the heart of the Transnistrian crisis are a series of legal claims and concerns which
can be grouped into three overall categories: (a) the claim of the TMR that it has a
right under international law to autonomy or possibly sovereignty; (b) the legal
issues concerning the transfer of property located in Transnistria by the TMR
leadership; and, (c) the role of “third-party” states in the ongoing conflict, in
particular the international legal implications of Russian economic pressure and
military presence in the TMR.
This Report will consider each of these three issues in turn and will
attempt to set out their relevant international legal aspects.
Two caveats are in order, though. First, the more we learned, the more we
realized what we did not know, often because treaties, agreements, and other
aspects of the relationships of the government of Moldova, the TMR, Ukraine and
Russia, have been conducted in secret. Agreements between the parties went
unpublished in any official register and, to the extent we were able to see texts of
such agreements, they were often unsigned drafts which we could not be
confident were the definitive texts. Consequently, our conclusions are based on
the documents which we did see or which we have a reasonable confidence as to
content. By some estimates, there have been approximately 97 separate
agreements and memoranda signed among Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, and the
TMR in the last decade concerning some aspect of this conflict. The parties treat
these agreements as one would cards in a poker hand, discarding those that are not
useful, keeping those that help their strategy. Moreover, many or perhaps even
most of these agreements were never presented to the Moldovan parliament.
While the Moldovans often argue that such agreements are not binding, the other
parties argue that they are.
63 Herd, supra note 10, at 4.
64 Moldova’s Rebel Region May Proclaim Independence, Speaker Says, Interfax-Ukraine (Nov.
24, 2005).
25
A second caveat is that we found little evidence to support some of the
common assumptions in this crisis. We heard countless allegations, for example,
of arms factories in Transnistria being used to churn out high-end weaponry such
as rocket launchers which are, in turn, smuggled to various destinations in Africa
and the Middle East. We were routinely told that there are thirteen factories
operating seven days a week, twenty four hours a day, to produce armaments in
the TMR. At no time was there any proof offered for these allegations. Rather,
each interlocutor would simply say that another person had the proof and, if we
were to ask that person, he could provide it to us. This is not to say that, for
instance, there are no arms plants in Transnistria. To the contrary the
Transnistrians admit they are producing arms. However, they simply say that they
are producing a relatively small amount of machine guns and handguns, along
with component parts for the Russian and Ukrainian military and air forces.
However, it is irrelevant to our analysis whether the TMR is or is not producing
weaponry. The point is that we found that the crisis may, in part, be difficult to
resolve because so few people actually have a reliable picture of the situation.
Rumor runs rampant, but accurate information is what is needed to address a
crisis.65
Keeping this in mind, we turn first to the central question of the
Transnistrian crisis: whether Transnistria has a right to autonomy or sovereignty
under international law.
III. The Status of the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic in
International Law
A. Sovereignty and Autonomy
Sovereignty is the basic requirement for statehood. Territorial sovereignty
can be described, in short, as full and exclusive authority over the territory in
question.66 More broadly speaking, key elements of sovereignty include
independence, autonomy, international “personhood,” territorial authority and
integrity and inviolability.67 In sum, there is no higher decision maker over a
65 The Team had originally intended to examine the legal status of commercial agreements entered
into by the TMS with foreign companies. However, there is little evidence of any large contracts
being signed between the TMR and western companies. While foreign companies do operate in
some capacity in the TMR, we did not see evidence of much beyond sales outlets, such as a
Mercedes-Benz dealership or advertising for Samsung consumer electronics. We did learn of the
substantial involvement of Russian and Ukrainian companies in the purchase of assets through the
TMR’s “privatization” program. The legality of the conversion of this property, that had
previously been titled to Moldova, became an issue of greater importance. Similarly, this implied
the role of “third-party” States, such as Russia and Ukraine, more generally.
66 Santiago Torres Bernadez, Territorial Sovereignty, in 4 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PUBLIC
INTERNATIONAL LAW 823 (R. Bernhardt, ed. 2000).
67 LOUIS HENKIN, INTERNATIONAL LAW: POLITICS AND VALUES 10 (1995).
26
sovereign entity, unless if that sovereign entity willingly cedes decision-making
capacity to another.
The modern conception of sovereignty is traced to the Treaty of
Westphalia, signed in 1648. Westphalia codified the doctrine in the European
state system that no entity—emperor, pope, or other decision-maker—was above
the level of the state. The state became the main actor in the international system.
No state was allowed to interfere in the domestic issues within another state.
Sovereignty meant that each state was the ultimate monarch within its territory
and had no right of action within another’s territory.
Although this concept has been modified somewhat, particularly in the
defense of human rights, the basic idea that there is a “zone of privacy” within a
state’s domestic system still exists.
While sovereignty, with all its complexities, can be readily defined by
description, autonomy is not as easy a concept to pin down. While “autonomy” is
itself used to describe an aspect of sovereignty, it does not have a single specific
meaning under international law. It is generally viewed as allowing decisionmaking
leeway. Within a state, an autonomous region would be able to make its
own decisions in key policy areas without any or with only minimal interference
from the national government. The precise definition of those policy areas and the
extent of national oversight that is or is not allowed are two open issues that make
autonomy such a difficult topic to pin down.
B. The Concept of Autonomy in International Law and in
Moldovan Law
1. The Arguments of the TMR
The TMR leadership has used many terms to describe what they view as
their right under international law: “self-determination,” “sovereignty,” and, most
recently, “autonomy” are words often heard in this context. However, we are
more concerned with the legal rights that are being claimed than with the
vocabulary used at any given juncture.
In the early days of the conflict, Transnistria’s “elites claimed historical
justification [for autonomy]: if the rest of Moldova reverted to its pre-1940 status
outside the Soviet Union, they argued, then the Dniestr region should have the
right to revert to its own pre-1940 status, as an ‘autonomous republic’ in the
Soviet Union.”68 When we met with the TMR’s leadership in May 2005, they
supplemented their historical argument with an economic one: as Grigoriy
Marakutsa, the leader of the Supreme Soviet, explained, prior to separation
Transnistria comprised only 12% of Moldova and 17% of Moldova’s population
but accounted for approximately 40% of Moldova’s GDP. What made this
vexing to him was that “our riches went to Chisinau.” 69 Thus, Transnistrians
68 Kaufman, supra note 20, at 127.
69 Notes from meeting of May 19, 2005 with Grigoriy Marakutsa (hereafter “Marakutsa meeting
notes”).
27
want to be able to control the results of the fruits of their labor. They do not want
the central government in Chisinau to be able to do so.
Igor Smirnov said much the same thing. He summarized the Transnistrian
concept of autonomy as Moldova having control of external policy but the
Transnistrians having “full powers” in the economic sphere.70
Summarized as such, the Transistrian claim for autonomy may be a
relatively simple issue concerning fiscal decision-making. But further discussions
show that this is not the case. Marakutsa went on to explain that the Transnistrians
have grounds to claim an independent state but are ready to consider proposals for
a common state, so long as in any future federation Transnistria would have a
high level of independence. He explained that there could be common energy and
defense policies as well as common policies in certain other areas. He also noted
that the parliaments of Moldova and the Transnistrian entity in this conception
would be equal, each able to block or effectively veto the other. He
acknowledged that Moldova was unwilling to build a common state with such
characteristics.71
The further the Transnistrians explained their understanding of
“autonomy” the more powers were accreted to the TMR. Fiscal autonomy gave
way to a veto power over any act of the Modovan parliament. Marakutsa
concluded by explaining that if Moldova was not ready to agree on a formula—
perhaps referring to this specific formula—then the Transnistrians were ready to
continue building a separate state.
In responding to a query as to why autonomy was the solution in the view
of the TMR, “foreign minister” Valeriy Litskai responded that Transnistrians
want the guarantees of a federal state that are not available in a unitary state.
Moreover, social and ethnic reasons also require such autonomy as Moldova is
comprised of one ethnic group but Transnistria has three ethnic groups.72
According to Litskai, this makes it impossible to have a single state. He points to
the Russian Federation as an example of one federation comprised of different
ethnic republics that follow different laws.73
70 Notes from meeting of May 19, 2005 with Igor Smirnov (hereafter “Smirnov meeting notes”).
71 Marakutsa meeting notes, supra note 69.
72 This description is not supported by data. See Part III.C.4(a), below, concerning ethnographic
issues.
73 Notes from meeting of May 19, 2005 with Valeriy Litskai (hereafter Litskai meeting notes).
28
2. Analysis of the Claim of Right under International
Law to be an Autonomous Region in the Republic of
Moldova
Under international law there is no “right” to fiscal or governmental
autonomy within a state. Rather than a right to autonomy—or even a specific set
of characteristics that define this term—international law has focused instead on
the elucidation of the norm of self-determination. This will be considered at
length in Part III.C, below.
At issue here is whether the TMR’s leadership has any legal basis for its
claim to economic or political autonomy. While, understandably, the TMR
leadership may make political arguments that one may or may not find
persuasive, we have been hard-pressed to find a legal argument that can animate
this claim. We set out what we believe are the two strongest quasi-legal
arguments (a) that due to the denunciation by the USSR of the Molotov-
Ribbentrop Pact, which had established the modern boundaries of Moldova,
Transnistria should revert to an autonomous state; and, (b) self-determination as a
basis for autonomy. We will consider the first here and defer our discussion of
self-determination until Part III.C, as it relates directly to our discussion of
secession.
Transnistrian elites have argued that the supposed revival of the MASSR
is a “natural corollary” to the denunciation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.74
This follows the declaration by the Second Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies
in Moscow in December 1989 that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was illegal.75
The illegality of the pact was alluded to at several points in our discussion with
the TMR’s leadership.
At issue, then, is what the legal result would be of the nullification of the
Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. While the legal effect of the treaty (in this case the
transfer of Bessarabia to the USSR) may be undone, it does not revert the internal
politics of the signatories to the status quo ante. In other words, simply voiding
the treaty only affects what the treaty itself attempted to do; it does not somehow
summon the MASSR back into existence. Even though that does not occur as a
matter of law, Pal Kolsto and other scholars have persuasively argued that as a
matter of politics, this supposed revival of the MASSR is self-contradictory:
“[t]he weak point in this line of argument is the fact that the MASSR was created
precisely in order to facilitate a Soviet conquest of Bessarabia, and thus was an
element in the same expansionist scheme as was the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.”76
If the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is declared illegal because it was an act of
aggressive expansion, then why should the construction of the MASSR, which
74 Kolsto, et al., supra note 9, at 983.
75 Id., at 980
76 Id., at 983.
29
was no more than a pretext for the expansion, be viewed as legitimate? The
historical argument for autonomy is thus not persuasive.
3. Autonomy and the Moldovan Constitution
As international law has little to say as to any supposed “right” to
autonomy, this becomes largely an issue of domestic law. Although not an
identical situation, one can perhaps glean some guidance from the history of the
government of Moldova to the Gagauz, a Turkic Christian minority that lives in
Moldova, in particular in a Southern area called “Gagauzia.” The Gagauz actually
declared independence one month prior to Transnistria, in August 1990.77 The
result, though, is that Gagauzia accepted a level of autonomy within the state of
Moldova. Gagauzian autonomy became part of the Moldovan Constitution of July
1994 in the same section—Article 111—that also provided for Transnistrain
autonomy.78 The Moldovan parliament subsequently passed a more extensive law
giving Gagauzia special autonomous status on December 23, 1994.
Although the Transnistrian authorities balked at the form of power-sharing
offered (and accepted by) the Gagauz, a project on complex power-sharing
agreements chaired by Marc Weller of Cambridge University noted:
[i]t may be argued that the power-sharing arrangement in Gagauzia is the
first case in Central-Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that establishes
territorial autonomy for an ethnic minority. The organic law grants the
Gagauz region a special status, awarding it more autonomous rights79
The grant of autonomy, at least on paper, seems quite extensive. All
economic decision-making, including property regulations, budgetary authority,
and socio-economic policy, would be decided within Gagauzia, although, by
article 18(2), the Gagauz budget must be in conformity with the overall laws of
the Republic of Moldova.80
In what may seem ironic in retrospect (particularly in comparison to the
claims of the TMR), the Gagauz autonomy plan was originally criticized by the
Council of Europe for giving too much power to the autonomous region. By 1996,
though, it was reported that the Council of Europe was “extremely satisfied by
how Moldova solved the Gagauz conflict.”81
77 Herd, supra note 10, at 2.
78 The Law on the Special Legal Status of Gagauzia, art 18(2) (1994) states:
The mutual relationships of the budget of Gagauzia and of the state budget shall be
established in conformity with the laws of the Republic of Moldova on budgetary system
and on the state budget for the corresponding year in the form of fixed payments out of
all forms of taxes and payments.
79 Gagauzia Case Review, supra note 35.
80 Id.
81 Id.
30
Yet, Moldova’s policy towards Gagauzia also highlights some of the
concerns of the Transistrians, particularly regarding whether the Moldovan
government can be trusted to keep its promises. Some of our interlocutors have
noted that, while the autonomy plan was extensive on paper, in reality the Gagauz
did not receive significant powers. In 1995 the Moldovan government replaced
Stepan Topol, the governor (or Bashkan) of Gagauzia. His replacement, Georgiy
Tabunshik, served from 1995 to 1999 and focused on reintegrating Gagauzia to
the rest of Moldova. Tabunshik was considered instrumental in securing a solid
electoral victory for President Voronin among the Gagauz. Dmitry Croitor was
elected Bashkan in 1999 on a reformist platform. He was removed under threat of
arrest by the government of Moldova in 2002. Croitor was re-elected in 2002. The
Council of Europe is involved in ongoing monitoring of the situation.
Despite shortfalls of Moldova’s Gagauzian policy, the Complex Power-
Sharing Study Group has argued that “the ‘success story’ of Gagauzia may serve
as an illustration of a practical power sharing arrangement and could possibly be
paralleled with the experience of Transdniestria.”82 It is important to note the
factors that made this story a relative success. First, there was no serious armed
conflict between Moldova’s governmental authorities and the Gagauz.
Additionally, the resolution of the Gaguz conflict was in part due to the
responsible actions of stakeholder states; in particular the visit of the President of
Turkey to Moldova in 1994 was seen “as being of crucial importance to the
resolution of the Gaguzia issue.”83 Thus, the role of stakeholders or guarantors
must be in the active pursuit of resolution, rather than using delaying tactics or
staying actions.
4. Is the TMR Actually Seeking Sovereignty?
One of the bedeviling aspects of analyzing the TMR’s autonomy claim is
unraveling whether what they are really seeking is simply sovereignty by another
name. By their own words and deeds, this seems to be the case. Smirnov
reiterated earlier rhetoric when, in July 2005—two months after we met with him
and he spoke of autonomy— he stated that Transnistria “won’t become part of
Moldova, and such a variant is excluded.”84 Smirnov has also previously
demanded that the TMR must maintain its own army and its own currency,85 two
of the hallmarks of sovereignty.
82 Id.
83 Id.
84 Tammy Lynch, Yuschenko Undercutting Moldova in Transnistria?, THE NIS OBSERVED: AN
ANALYTICAL REVIEW, (vol. 10, no. 8 July 26, 2005), available at
http://www.bu.edu/iscip/digest/vol10/ed1008.html, citing to Novie Izvestia, Jul, 11, 2005, What
the Papers Say, Part B via Lexis-Nexis (hereafter “Lynch, Yuschenko Undercutting?”)
85 Stephen R. Bowers, Marion T. Doss, Jr., and Valeria Ciobanu, Gagauzia and Transdniestria:
The Moldovan Confederation Conundrum, The William R. Nelson Institute at James Madison
University (February 2001).
31
Although the TMR’s leadership pays lip-service to the idea of a single
Moldovan state, its logic and its rhetoric are increasingly convoluted. Consider
the following excerpt from an essay by the first secretary of the TMR Communist
Party’s central committee, Victor Gavrilcenco published on June 8, 2005 in the
official newspaper of the TMR and note, in particular, the language we highlight:
The [Transnistrian] people has never entrusted to anybody the right to
deprive it of its statehood. This question may only be solved through a
referendum. The Transnistrian people shall never agree to living in a
special-status zone. We have repeatedly voiced our vision of the problem
settlement – through building a new federative state with a prior
amendment of the Moldova Constitution in order to declare Russian as a
second official language in the country, with denial of the unitarian
principle of state structure, with a clear-cut fixing of the Eastern trend in
the external policy, and with preservation of Russian troops in the
region.86
How there can be “a new federative state” without denying the
“statehood” of Transnistria but also denying “the unitarian principle of state
structure” was never resolved. Rather, if we are to take the claims of
Transnistrian statehood seriously, as well as the TMR leadership’s denial of a
single Moldovan state, then the goal of the TMR’s leadership does not seem to be
autonomy (we shall never agree to live in a special-status zone) but complete
sovereignty.
Perhaps Marakutsa was saying the same thing as Smirnov and
Gavrilcenco, though with circumspect language, when he stated that the TMR’s
leadership planned to have one or more referenda under the aegis of the
international community on the subject of Transnistria’s future relationship with
the Republic of Moldova. In his view, if the inhabitants of Transnistria expressed
a desire for sovereignty, the international community should respect that wish
because the will of the people is the primary determinant of international law and,
to support this, he cited the cases of Eritrea, East Timor, Bosnia and the Czech
and Slovak republics.87 Elsewhere, Marakutsa has been more straightforward,
saying “‘Pridnestrovye is a sovereign and independent state.’”88
The TMR’s leadership seems to reject plans that are most similar to grants
of autonomy. In 1992, for example, Chisinau proposed a draft law which would
have given Transnistria administrative autonomy but, in light of the recent
conflict, the TMR’s leadership found that autonomy was insufficient.89
86 Transnistrian Communist Party for Referendum on Accession to Russia, Infotag (Tiraspol, June
8, 2005) (translation by Infotag).
87 Marakutsa meeting notes, supra note 69.
88 As quoted by LYNCH, supra note 34, at 47.
89 Kolsto, et al, supra note 9, at 996.
32
In another example,
In May, 2000, the [TMR] rejected Moldova’s offer, conveyed by President
Petru Lucinshi himself, to give the [TMR] a specified, guaranteed number
of seats in the Moldovan Parliament and to make the [TMR] president a
vice-prime-minister of the Moldovan Republic. Because this offer did not
incorporate the notion of the [TMR] as the equal of the Moldovan
Republic, it was rejected.90
And, more recently, the Transnistrian Supreme Soviet stated that
the adoption by the Moldovan Parliament of the Declaration and Appeals
on [the region’s] democratization and demilitarization means, in practice, a
variant of forcing the Transnistrian population into an unconditional
accession to the constitutional area of the unitarian Republic of Moldova.
These documents lead to provoking a stand-off and run contrary to the
OSCE fundamental principles of tackling regional conflicts.91
Marakutsa stated that he had serious doubts about federalism and argued
that (a) Gagauzia had no real economic powers and that (b) Moldova’s economic
and privatization policies are based on building economic groups with ties to
whomever is then the Moldovan President. This sceptcism is no doubt in part due
to Moldova’s questionable handling of the situation in Gagauzia. Similarly,
Litskai originally showed enthusiasm for American-styled federalism but, as U.S.
federalism was described to him by Team members, he quickly retreated from this
proposition and instead used analogies to Serbia and Montenegro and to Belgium:
one state being in the process of separation and another where federal powers
have all but collapsed.
In order to sort through these claims and counter-claims, one must get past
vocabulary and focus on underlying concepts. It has become apparent that the
parties—even individual representatives of the same party—often mean vastly
different things with the same term. In particular the meanings of “federalism,”
“confederacy,” and “autonomy” have led to much disagreement. For example, in
discussions with the Mission of the New York City Bar, Valeriy Litskai spoke in
favor of “federalism” as it exists in the U.S. Upon a description by members of
the Mission of how U.S. federalism operates, including the relative rights and
obligation of U.S. states and the U.S. federal government, Litskai retracted his
statement, saying that that was not what the TMR leadership wanted. For the sake
of clarity, in this report we will adopt a single nomenclature and define our terms
as follows: a federal system is a “system of associated governments with a vertical
division of governments into national and regional components having different
90 Bowers, et al., supra note 85.
91 Tiraspol Rejects Unconditional Surrender, Infotag (Tiraspol, June 17, 2005).
33
responsibilities…”92 A confederation shall refer to “[a] league or union of states
or nations, each of which retains its sovereignty but also delegates some rights
and powers to a central authority.”93 Autonomy will refer to a grant of decisionmaking
powers from the national government to a region that allows for effective
self-rule in most policy-areas, although formal sovereignty still resides with the
national government.
The TMR’s Supreme Soviet argued that Chisinau “has completely given
up the federalization idea – in contravention to agreements signed earlier between
the Republic of Moldova and Transnistria.”94 Voronin has in fact said that “The
Dniester region can receive the broadest powers on the condition that the region
remains an integral part of Moldova… We have grown cold towards the
federalization idea and there can be no return to it.”95 But whether those earlier
agreements actually envisioned Moldova as a loose confederation between the
central government and the TMR is hotly contested by the parties
The descriptions—if not the outright statements—of the TMR leadership
all point to the TMR actually seeking sovereignty as opposed to autonomy within
the Moldovan state. As Graeme Herd, an analyst for the Conflict Studies
Research Centre, explained: “These proposed actions point to the emergence of a
more concrete [TMR] strategy aimed at moving beyond the status quo of frozen
conflict to outright independence.”96
Consequently we turn to the concept of self-determination and whether it
provides any legal basis for the TMR’s attempted secession.
C. Self-Determination and Secession
1. The Law of Self-Determination
The norm of self-determination gained international prominence in
Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Since then it has had a tumultuous
existence, ranging from post-World War decolonization to post-Cold War ethnic
wars. Writing the concept of “self-determination” into the UN Charter caused the
idea to evolve from a principle to a right without ever fully defining the
92 “Federal” in BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 625 (7th ed. 1999)
93 “Confederation” in BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 293 (7th ed. 1999); a confederation, for
purposes of international law is not one, but several States. JAMES BRIERLY, THE LAW OF NATIONS
128 (6th ed. 1963, SIR HUMPHREY WALDOCK, ED), see also “Confederation” in PARRY AND GRANT
ENCYCLOPAEDIC DICTIONARY OF INTERNATIONAL LAW (2d ed. 2004 JOHN P. GRANT AND J. CRAIG
BARKER, EDS).
94 Tiraspol Rejects Unconditional Surrender, supra note 91.
95 Herd, supra note 10, at 11.
96 Id., at 9.
34
underlying concept.97 According to Hurst Hannum of the Fletcher School of Law
and Diplomacy, self-determination in the 1960’s was simply another term for
decolonization.98 However, even at this point “self-determination did not allow
for secession; instead, the territorial integrity of existing states and most colonial
territories was assumed.”99 Thus, as Hannum explained in a 1996 roundtable held
by the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Policy Planning Staff of the Department of
State, the idea of self-determination during this time was not that all peoples had
a right to self–determination but rather that all colonies had a right to be
independent.100 The rhetoric of self-determination then changed in the period
from the late 1970’s until today, in which the Wilsonian discourse concerning the
ethnic and cultural rights of minorities was mixed with the territorial concerns of
the era of decolonization.101 While there is still controversy as to what this norm
is and is not, there is a basic consensus from which we can draw conclusions in
the present case.
The right to self-determination is “the right of cohesive national groups
(‘peoples’) to choose for themselves a form of political organization and their
relation to other groups.”102 Although self-determination was mentioned in the
U.N. Charter,103 jurists even in the last decade have found that “international law
as it currently stands does not spell out all the implications of the right to selfdetermination.”
104 Nonetheless, ICJ’s Western Sahara Advisory Opinion confirms
“the validity of the principle of self-determination” under international law.105
The basic norm of self-determination is the right of a people of an existing
State “to choose their own political system and to pursue their own economic,
social, and cultural development.”106 The assumption is that such a pursuit of
97 Patricia Carley, Self-Determination: Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity, and the Right to
Secession, Report from a Roundtable Held in Conjunction with the U.S. Department of State’s
Policy Planning Staff, United States Institute of Peace (Peaceworks paper no. 7; March 1996) at 3.
98 Id.
99 Id., at 4.
100 Id.
101 Id.
102 IAN BROWNLIE, PRINCIPLES OF PUBLIC INTERNATIONAL LAW 553 (6th ed. 2003).
103 See UN CHARTER, art. 1, para. 2 and also UN CHARTER, art. 55
104 European Community Conference on Yugoslavia Arbitration Commission (the “Badinter
Commission”), Op. 2.
105 Western Sahara, Advisory Opinion, 1975 ICJ Reports 12, 31-3 (oct. 16). See also Legal
Consequences for States of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia, Advisory Opinion,
1971 I.C.J 16, 31 (June 21) and Case Concerning East Timor (Port. V. Austl.), 1995 I.C.J. 90, 102
(June 30); BROWNLIE, supra note 102, at 554 n. 121.
106 Daniel Thurer, Self-Determination, in 4 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PUBLIC INTERNATIONAL LAW 364,
367 (R. Bernhardt, ed. 2000).
35
economic, social, and cultural, development would occur under the auspices of an
existing State, and would not require the establishment of a new State. This
conception of internal self-determination makes self-determination closely related
to the respect of minority rights. Furthermore, modern views of selfdetermination
also recognize the “federalist” option of allowing a certain level of
cultural or political autonomy as a means to satisfy the norm of selfdetermination.
107
This is what occurred in the famous Aaland Islands case from the interwar
period. In the 17th century the Aaland Islands were administratively part of
Finland, which in turn was part of the Kingdom of Sweden. In the 19th century
Sweden ceded Finland, including the Islands, to Russia. In 1917, Finland
declared independence from Russia during the course of the Russian Revolution.
At this time the Aaland Islanders, who were nearly all Swedish, sought
reunification with Sweden. Finland and Sweden brought the case to the League of
Nations, who in turn referred the case to a Commission of Jurists to assess the
legal issues. The two opinions issued by the Commission, one concerning
applicable law and the other on substantive results, have become very influential
in questions of self-determination and secession.
As summarized by one commentator, the Commission considered
secession as only applicable in the most extreme of cases
As an absolutely exceptional solution, [it may apply] when a state brutally
violates or lacks the will or the power to protect human dignity and the
most basic human rights; however, in such cases the assumption of a legal
claim to self-determination only seems to be justified if a people conscious
of its own identity and settling on a common territory is discriminated
against as such and if no effective remedies exist in municipal and
international law to adjust the situation (LoN Council Doc. B7/21/68/106
VII, pp. 22-23)108
2. Secession
In sum, the norm of self-determination is not a general right of
secession.109 While self-determination is an internationally recognized principle,
107 Daniel Thurer, Self-Determination, 1998 Addendum, in 4 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PUBLIC
INTERNATIONAL LAW 364, 373 (R. Bernhardt, ed. 2000).
108 See, e.g., Thurer, supra note 106, at 367 citing to the Findings of the Committee of
Rapporteurs in the Aaland Islands Case of 1921 (emphasis added).
109 See, e.g., id. (stating “[t]he principle of self-determination does not seem to include a general
right of groups to secede from their States of which they form a part.” ) The US Institute for
Peace/Department of State roundtable stated that the right to self-determination must be separated
from right to secession and the establishment of independent statehood. Carley, supra note 97, at
vi.
36
secession is a domestic issue, “one for states themselves to decide.”110 State
practice in the cases of Tibet, Katanga, Biafra, and Bangladesh support the view
that states have not recognized such a right under customary international law111
Although these are political matters—if anything because these are
contentious political matters—legal principles and right process are all the more
important. The summary of the Roundtable stated that in general “the United
States should be less concerned about outcomes in these struggles than about the
means used; international political stability is more likely to be maintained by
focusing on the process than by trying to manipulate events to arrange a
predetermined outcome.”112
The United States should, however, make absolutely clear that secession
has not been universally recognized as an international right. It may
choose, on the basis of other interests, to support the secessionist claims of
a self-determination movement, but not because the group is exercising its
right to secession, since no such right exists in international law. At the
same time, an absolute rejection of secession in every case is unsound,
because the United States should not be willing to tolerate another state’s
repression or genocide in the name of territorial integrity. Secession can be
a legitimate aim of some self-determination movements, particularly in
response to gross and systematic violations of human rights and when the
entity is potentially politically and economically viable.113
Issues of self-determination and secession are normally within the purview
of domestic law. Classic international law maintains that “[a]lthough a rebellion
will involve a breach of the law of the state concerned, no breach of international
law occurs through the mere fact of a rebel regime attempting to overthrow the
government of the state or to secede from the state.”114 If such attempts to secede
impinge upon the peace and security of the international system, the U.N.
Security Council may declare it illegal, as in the cases of Rhodesia or the
attempted secession of Katanga province from the Congo.115 Illegality thus refers
110 Carley, supra note 97 at 9.
111 Thurer, supra note 106, at 367-68.
112 Carley, supra note 97 at vi.
113 Id., at vii.
114 1 OPPENHEIM’S INTERNATIONAL LAW (9th ed.1992) (Robert Jennings and Arthur Watts, eds).
(hereafter “OPPENHEIM”) , at §49, p. 161-62.
115 Christine Haverland, Secession, in 4 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PUBLIC INTERNATIONAL LAW 354, 356
(R. Bernhardt, ed. 2000).; regarding Katanga see SC Res. 169 (1961) available at
http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions.html.
37
to municipal illegality at the domestic level or, at the international level, to
foreign intervention or a threat to international peace and security.116
State practice has evolved, though, so that self-determination, properly
understood, does not allow the redrawing of boundaries. During the Yugoslav
War, the Conference on Yugoslavia Arbitration Commission, better known as the
“Badinter Commission,” established by the European Community found that the
exercise of self-determination “must not involve changes to existing frontiers at
the time of independence (uti possidetis juris) except where the states concerned
agree otherwise.”117 This is reiterated in Opinion 3, which notes that uti possidetis
has become recognized as a “general principle” of international law.118 The
Helsinki Final Act also provided for inviolability of borders, although it does
allow for border changes if through peaceful means and based on an agreement.119
Other treaties or declarations that include an explicit or implicit
affirmation of uti possidetis include:120 the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic
Relations;121 the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, (1969);122 the Vienna
Convention on the Succession of States in Respect of Treaties (1978);123 the
Constitutive Act of the African Union124 the UN General Assembly Resolution
1514 (XV);125 declaration of the UN World Conference on Human Rights in
1993.126
116 Id., at 356.
117 Conference on Yugoslavia Arbitration Commission Opinion No. 2, 31 I.L.M. 1497 (1992).
(Hereafter, the “Badinter Commission.”) The Badinter Commission was organized by the E.C. to
sort through the legal issues concerning the status of Yugoslavia and its possible successor States.
118 Badinter Commission, Op. 3, 31 I.L.M. 1499 (1992).
119 Kolsto, et al., supra note 9. See also, Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe Final
Act, Helsinki, 1975, Principle 3 (1975) available at
http://www.osce.org/documents/mcs/1975/08/4044_en.pdf.
120 List adapted from C. Lloyd Brown-John, Self Determination and Separation, POLICY OPTIONS
42 (September 1997) .
121 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations ,500 UNTS 95; 23 UST 3227; 55 AJIL 1064
(1961), entry into force April 24, 1964.
122 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, art. 62 UN Doc. A/Conf.39/27; 1155 UNTS 331; 8
ILM 679 (1969); 63 AJIL 875 (1969).
123 Vienna Convention on the Succession of States1946 UNTS 3; 17 ILM 1488 (1978); 72 AJIL
971 (1978).
124 Constitutive Act of the African Union, art. 4(b), OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/23.15 (2001)
125 UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) at para. 6
126 Brown-John, supra note 120 at 43 (affirming that all peoples have a right to self-determination
but limited this to free-exercise of democratic governance; secession is not part of the right)
38
The International Court of Justice had also written in Burkina Faso v. Mali
that uti possidetis
is not a special rule which pertains solely to one specific system of
international law. It is a general principle which is logically connected
with the phenomenon of the obtaining of independence, wherever it
occurs.127
Even more recently, the Supreme Court of Canada grappled with
questions of self-determination and secession in re Secession of Quebec. In
assessing whether Quebec could secede, the Canadian court found that
The recognized sources of international law establish that the right to selfdetermination
of a people is normally fulfilled through internal selfdetermination—
a people’s pursuit of its political, economic, social and
cultural development within the framework of an existing state. A right to
external self-determination (which in this case potentially takes the form
of the assertion of a right to unilateral secession) arises only in the most
extreme cases and, even then, under carefully defined circumstances…128
This result is consistent with the Friendly Relations Resolution of the UN
General Assembly, a special resolution that was passed at the twenty-fifth
anniversary of the founding of the United Nations to restate the basic principles of
the organization. The resolution excludes secession as a means of forming a
sovereign state when the existing state respects equal rights and the selfdetermination
of peoples.129
3. The Legal Requirements for Claims of External Self-
Determination
Although, as the Badinter Commission noted, the norm of selfdetermination
is not completely defined in any one place, we can infer the main
points from Aaland Islands, the Badinter Opinions concerning the Yugolsav War,
Secession of Quebec, and other cases. At the very least, an argument for external
self-determination would need to prove that (a) the secessionists were a “people,”
(b) the state in which they are currently part brutally violates human rights, and
(c) there are no other effective remedies under either domestic law or international
law.
127 Case Concerning the Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso v. Mali), 1986 I.C.J. 554, 565 (Dec. 22).
128 Reference re: Secession of Quebec, 2 S.C.R. 217 at para. 123 (1998) (hereafter “Secession of
Quebec”).
129 Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation
among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, GA Res. 2625
(XXV); see also Haverland, supra note 115, at 355.
39
In the phrase of the Canadian Supreme Court from the Secession of
Quebec opinion, the meaning of “peoples” is “somewhat uncertain.”130 At various
points in international legal history, the term “people” has been used to signify
citizens of a nation-state, the inhabitants in a specific territory that is being
decolonized by a foreign power, or an ethnic group. The Aaland Islands report
also added that, for the purposes of self-determination, one cannot treat a small
fraction of people as one would a nation as a whole.131 Thus, the Swedes on the
Aaland Islands, who were only a small fraction of the totality of the Swedish
“people” did not have a strong claim for secession in comparison to, for example,
Finland, when it broke away from Russian rule since Finland contained the near
totality of the Finnish people.
Today the term “people” is somewhat ambiguous. Most recently it has
been used to mean an ethnic group, or a “nation” in the classic, ethnographic
sense of the word. However there are some, such as the TMR’s leadership, who
suggest the term should mean something else, perhaps a group with common
goals and norms. As will be discussed in the next section, deciding on a single
definition of the term “people” is not dispositive in this case, as none of the other
requirements for external self-determination are met.
The second requirement, after showing that the claim is being made on
behalf of a “people” is that the claimants can show serious violations of their
human rights by the pre-existing state. The Aaland Islands report actually stated
this principle in the negative; the Commission explained that its finding that there
was not a right to secede did not include the case of “a manifest and continued
abuse of sovereign power to the detriment of a section of population.”132 It is an
unfortunate fact that human rights abuses exist in every country and that in many
countries such abuses are serious and pervasive. However, it is exceedingly rare
for the international community to ratify a secession, regardless of the reason
upon which it was based. Consequently, we must give a narrow reading to the
idea of “serious violations of human rights” in the context of secession.
Third, those claiming secession as a legal right must show that there are no
other options under either domestic or international law. The Aaland Islands
Commission, for example, found that if secession and subsequent incorporation
into Sweden was the only means of protecting the rights of the Islanders, then this
would have been a solution, but there were, in fact, other means of protecting
their rights.133 More recently, the Canadian Supreme Court wrote in Re Secession
130 Secession of Quebec, supra note 128, at para 123.
131 The Aaland Islands Question: Report Submitted to the Council of the League of Nations by the
Commission of Rapporteurs, League of Nations Doc. B7/21/68/106 (1921) (hereafter “Aaland
Islands 1921 Report”) .
132 Report of the International Committee of Jurists Entrusted by the Council of the League of
Nations with the Task of Giving an Advisory Opinion upon the Legal Aspects of the Aaland
Islands Question, League of Nations Off. J., Spec. Supp, No. 3, at 5-10 (1920) (hereafter “Aaland
Islands”) .
133 Aaland Islands 1921 Report, supra note 131.
40
of Quebec that there may be a rule evolving in international law that “when a
people is blocked from a meaningful exercise of its right of self-determination
internally, it is entitled, as a last resort, to exercise it by secession.” There are two
points worthy of emphasis: first, that the Canadian Supreme Court did not come
to a conclusion that such a rule actually existed, it simply noted that some have
argued that there is such a rule. Second, even if this rule did exist, secession
would only be allowed as a last resort.
Based on these criteria, the TMR does not have a persuasive claim.
4. Analysis of the TMR’s Claim for External Self
Determination
a. Is there a Transnistrian “People?”
While it is not necessary for the purposes of this Report to define the term
“people” in order to conclude that the claim is not persuasive, we can at least note
that Transnistrians, as represented by the TMR, are not a “people” in the sense of
being an ethnicity. According to Charles King:
There were far more Ukrainians and Russians west of the Dnestr River
than in Transnistria, and in some northern raions134 and in the cities, the
Slavic population were just as concentrated as in the raions east of the
Dnestr. In Transnistria as a whole, Moldovans formed nearly 40 percent
of the total population of just over 600,000. Rather, although the
Transnistrian dispute was generally portrayed as a revolt by Slavs against
the nationalizing policies of Chisinau, the real source of the violence after
1990 lay in fact at the level of elite politics… The reaction to the national
movement was not a revolt by minorities, but a revolt by displaced elite
against those who threatened to unseat them.135
The theory that what is occurring is an ethnic conflict between Romanians
and Slavs is shown to be empty rhetoric by the fact that most of the ethnic
Russians in Moldova live outside Transnistria. Transnistria’s ethnic mix before
the 1992 war was over 40- percent Moldovan, 28 percent Ukrainian, and only 25
percent Russian.136 What is happening in Transnistria is more complex, and
possibly more difficult to solve than ethnic strife. According to Stuart Kaufman,
the Russophones in Transnistria are not so much a single ethnicity as a “coalition
of ethnic interests united in opposition to certain ethnic Moldovan interests.”137
As Pal Kolsto and his co-authors explain, the conflict was less ethnic than
134 Authors’ note: raions is a term for “counties” in Moldova.
135 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 187.
136 Kaufman, supra note 20, at 119.
137 Id.
41
internecine: Orthodox Christians killed Orthodox Christians and ethnic
Moldovans, Ukrainians, and Russians fought on both sides.138 They argue that it
would be a “gross oversimplification” to call the conflict one between ethnic
Moldovans (or Romanians) and Russophones.139 One must remember that “the
history of Moldova is one of constant change and contestation of territory and so
identities and loyalties.”140
If not a “people” in the sense of a single ethnicity, the TMR’s leadership
falls back on the argument that the Transnistrians form a tight cultural community
seeking independence. Litskai argued that Transnistria is a social and cultural
region. Rather than a single ethnicity, though, he argues that it is a community of
three ethnic groups.141 There is some support for saying that Transnistrians have
different political proclivities than “right bank Moldovans.” For example,
Transnistria had already been collectivized in the 1920’s and 1930’s and thus was
always more “Soviet” than the Bessarabian part of Moldova.
Defining the term “people” for the purpose of self-determination is an
exceedingly complex question fraught with issues of political will and state
practice for which there is no clear precedent. In the absence of a clear consensus
of the states in the international system, our response is to be wary of novel
interpretations, especially when argued by an entity that has not been recognized
by a single state. In Secession of Quebec, the Supreme Court of Canada found that
it was unnecessary to precisely define the term “peoples” because, “whatever the
correct application of the definition of people(s) in this context, their right to selfdetermination
cannot in the present circumstances be said to ground a right to
unilateral secession.”142 We have come to a similar conclusion in this case.
Regardless how one chooses to define people, none of the other requirements for
the suggested right to external self-determination are met.
Even assuming Litskai’s formulation, though, that political proclivities
could make a “people,” the facts in this case would not support his claim. The
TMR’s leadership points out that a January 1990 referendum in Transnistria
reportedly had 96% of the voters favoring autonomy within the MSSR and, if
necessary, the future creation of an independent state.143 But, while there is likely
support in Transnistria for independence, the votes that occurred must be
considered with a critical eye. In a visit to Tiraspol in September 1992, Kolsto and
his co-authors were shown lists in which the votes of the residents had been
recorded with their names, “[h]ence the anonymity of the voters had been
138 Kolsto, et al., supra note 9, at 975.
139 Id.
140 Herd, supra note 10,.
141 Litskai meeting notes, supra note 73.
142 Secession of Quebec, supra note 128, at para. 125.
143 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 189.
42
compromised.” Moreover, the 1993 human rights country report issued by the
U.S. Department of State stated that “while there is some question concerning the
extent of local Slavic support for the current Transnistrian leadership, it is clear
that most ethnic Romanians in the region do not support the Transnistrian
authorities.”144
Identity is, of course, socially constructed and the TMR has put effort into
socializing Transnistrians into having a group identity. Transnistrian textbooks,
for example, state the following concerning the 1992 Battle of Bender:
The traitorous, barbaric, and unprovoked invastion of Bender had a single
goal: to frighten and bring to their knees the inhabitants of the Dnestr
republic… However the people’s bravery, steadfastness, and love of
liberty saved the Dnestr republic. The defense of Bender against the
overwhelming forces of the enemy closed a heroic page in the history of
our young republic. The best sons and daughters of the people sacrificied
their lives for peace and liberty in our land.145
Inasmuch as schoolchildren have been educated with such textbooks for
the past fifteen years, it would not be surprising if there was a sense of
“otherness” by some in Transnistria in comparison to the rest of Moldova. But
this alone does not equate to a claim for secession.
It has been consistently held that, as the Commission of Jurists stated in
Aaland Islands, there is no right of national groups to separate by the simple
expression of a wish.146 (Note that even here the assumption is the existence of a
national group—usually meaning an ethnicity, rather than simply a like-minded
group.) Moreover, the Aaland Islands Commission found that the ability to
choose fate by plebiscite must be decided by the State itself (in this case the
Republic of Moldova); otherwise such a formulation would infringe upon the
sovereign right of states.147
While the norm of self-determination may evolve such that a people may
be more readily identified as merely a like-minded group, we do not find that
current State practice supports such a proposition. Rather, as the Canadian
Supreme Court concluded,
144 U.S. Department of State 1993 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for the Republic of
Moldova (hereafter 1993 Country Report) available at
http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ERC/democracy/1993_hrp_report/93hrp_report_eur/Moldova.html as
quoted in Kolsto, et al., supra note 9, at 986.
145 This is Charles King’s translation of a passage from N.V. Babliunga and V.G. Bomeshko,
Pagini din Historia Plaiului Natal (Pages from the History of the Fatherland) 98 (Tiraspol:
Transnistrian Institute of Continuing Education, 1997), see Charles King, The Benefits of Ethnic
War: Undertsanding Eurasia’s Unrecognized States, 53 WORLD POLITICS 524, 544 (2001).
146 Aaland Islands, supra note 132.
147 Id.
43
In summary, the international law right to self-determination only
generates, at best, a right to external self-determination in situations of
former colonies; where a people is oppressed, as for example under
foreign military occupation; or where a definable group is denied
meaningful access to government to pursue their political, economic,
social and cultural development. In all three situations, the people in
question are entitled to a right to external self-determination because they
have been denied their ability to exert internally their right to selfdetermination.
148
Moreover, regardless of the result of whether the Transnistrians are a
“people,” the other prongs of the test are not met by the TMR.
b. Serious Violations of Human Rights
While serious violations of human rights can play a part in supporting a
claim for secession, there is a general sense that such violations must be
ongoing.149 The argument of the Transnistrians concerning human rights
violations can be organized into three main groupings: (a) violations of linguistic
and cultural, and political rights; (b) the brutality of the 1992 War; and (c) the
denial of economic rights. Taking into account the significant changes in Moldova
since 1992, none of these claims is convincing today.
Linguistic, cultural, and political rights. Although there may have been
justifiable concerns due to the proposed language laws, concerns over unification
with Romania, and the nationalistic rhetoric in general at the founding of the
Republic of Moldova, these concerns turned out to be short-lived. By 1993 the
fear of unification with Romania was unfounded, according to the U.S. State
Department:
While some groups within Moldova continue to advocate unification with
Romania, this idea has generally lost popularity over the past several
years. This, in turn, has led to some improvements in the relations
between Romanian speakers and Russian speakers. The latter express
serious concern about the situation of Russian speakers if unification were
to take place. The leadership of the separatist “Transdniester Moldovan
Republic” sought to capitalize on fears of discrimination to gain support
from the majority Russophone population of the region.150
148 Secession of Quebec, supra note 128, at para. 138.
149 Professor C. Lloyd Brown-Jones of the University of Windsor has written that “selfdetermination
and secession to achieve independnce are not mutually compatible concepts in
international law except under circumstances where oppression and persecution or a colonial
relationship persists.” Brown-John, supra note 120 at 40. (emphases added).
150 Moldova 1993 Country Report, supra note 144 at Sec 5.
44
By 1994, the Moldovan government was working to undo the concerns
regarding the use of Moldovan. In its annual review of human rights practices in
Moldova, the State Department found that “Interethnic relations improved as the
new Parliament delayed the implementation of the controversial testing for
competence in the state language Romanian (Moldovan), which many members
of the minorities do not speak.”151 Moreover, the State Department also found
that “[t]o date, no pattern of discrimination has emerged in the judicial system.
”152
While the Moldovan road to democracy has been a bumpy one, with
occasional backsliding (in the areas of the freedom of the press in particular),
there has been a general trend of progress. In the 2004 Human Rights Country
Report for Moldova, the State Department wrote that “[t]he Government [of
Moldova] generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there
were problems in some areas, and the human rights record of the Transnistrian
authorities was poor.”153 Keeping in mind that the argument of the TMR is that it
needs to secede from Moldova in order to have the human rights of Transnistrians
respected, contrast Moldova’s ameliorating human rights record with the TMR’s
poor history. One example is the provision of free and fair elections:
In 2001, citizens voted in multiparty parliamentary elections that the
OSCE considered to be generally free and fair; however, election
observers noted some shortcomings, such as inaccurate and incomplete
voter lists and excessively restrictive media provisions in the Electoral
Code. Transnistrian authorities interfered with residents’ ability to
participate in the country’s elections. International observers were not
present at either the Transnistria Supreme Council elections in 2000 nor
the 2001 “presidential” elections, and the elections were not considered
free and fair. 154
151 Id. at Introduction.
152 Id. at Sec 1.e
153 Moldova 2004 Country Report, supra note 4.
154 Id. at Sec. 3. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted
Resolution 1465 (2005) “Functioning of Democratic Insitutions in Moldova,” on October 4, 2005
which stated, in part, that Moldova
has advanced significantly on the path of democratic reforms but a number of important
commitments have not yet been fulfilled. The pace of reforms has been slowed by the
fact that Moldova, in addition to its democratic institutions, has been simultaneously
building its national identity and dealing with a separatist regime and foreign troops
stationed in the Transnistrian region of Moldova.
Council of Europe res. 1465 (2005) available at
http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=http://assembly.coe.int/Documents/AdoptedText/ta05/ERE
S1465.htm
45
This poor showing of electoral rights not only undermines the argument
that internal self-determination is not possible in Moldova, but it also undercuts
the contention that the Transnistrian referenda are good indicators of the will of
the Transnistrians.
Similarly, while Moldova attempted to decrease discrimination and
tensions after the 1992 War,155 the TMR’s leadership actually increased
discrimination within Transnistria on linguistic grounds. As the State Department
found:
In the separatist region, however, discrimination against
Romanian/Moldovan-speakers increased. The regime continued its
insistence that all Moldovan schools in the region use the Cyrillic
alphabet only. 156
Marakutsa, by contrast, extolled the tolerance of the TMR in his meetings
with the New York City Bar representatives. He explained that the TMR had
three official languages, Moldovan, Ukrainian, and Russian, and that the TMR’s
school regulations allowed for schools in other languages, although they must be
privately funded.157
Consider, in this context, the crisis over the Romanian language schools.
Two schools, one in Tiraspol, and one in Ribnita, were closed by TMR
representatives in July 2004, leaving approximately 1200 students without a
school. Two schools in Bender were guarded by parents and teachers to prevent a
feared closing. One of the schools, a boarding school for orphans called the
Internat, was surrounded by TMR militia who controlled access to the area.
According to the OSCE, there were 70-80 students in one of the schools
throughout the month of July, without access to running water, gas, or electricity.
At one point, the TMR allowed a water tank to be moved onto the grounds, but
then this “privilege” was later withdrawn and the tank was taken away. Students
still had access to water, but had to carry it “several hundred meters” to their
dorms or the kitchen.158 For a time, Moldovan police officials were allowed to
deliver food to the orphans, then the TMR refused deliveries by the Moldovan
police and the OSCE was allowed to deliver food; then the OSCE was no longer
allowed to enter but the Moldovans were allowed back in. Finally on August 20,
the TMR cordon simply withdrew.
The State Department’s summary of the situation in 2004 stated that:
155 Moldova 1994 Country Report, supra note37 at Sec 5.
156 Id.
157 Marakutsa meeting notes, supra note 69.
158 OSCE Mission to Moldova Activity Report, supra note 45 at 5.
46
Transnistrian authorities reportedly continued to use torture and arbitrary
arrest and detention. Prison conditions in Transnistria remained harsh, and
two members of the Ilascu group remained in prison despite a July ruling
in their favor by the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR). Human
rights groups were permitted to visit prisoners in Transnistria, but
obtaining permission from the Transnistrian authorities was difficult.
Transnistrian authorities mistreated and arrested one journalist from the
government-controlled area, harassed independent media and opposition
lawmakers, restricted freedom of association and of religion, and
discriminated against Romanian-speakers.159
Furthermore,“[i]t was common practice for Transnistrian authorities to
detain persons suspected of being critical of the regime for periods of up to
several months.”160 Transnistrian authorities refused to comply with the decision
of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the Ilascu case concerning the
detention of political dissidents. The Department of State noted that “[t]here were
no reports of political prisoners [in Moldova] other than those in Transnistria.”161
In light of the comparative record of Moldova and the TMR regime, it
becomes clear that not only is there no credible claim of extreme deprivation of
social, cultural, and political rights in Moldova but, rather, that such a claim exists
for ethnic and linguistic minorities living in the area under the TMR’s effective
control.
The Brutality of the 1992 War. The heart of the Transnistrians claim
concerning the 1992 War can be summarized as “We Transnistrians did not go
into Moldova to fight, they brought the battle to us.”162 In particular, claims have
centered around the fighting in and around Bender. The fighting was, for a time,
quite fierce, with a total death toll of about 1,000. Litskai explained that the real
issue, though, is that due to the bad feelings that still exist, there is no guarantee
that the war could not flare up again in the future.
The Transnistrian argument is not persuasive. This is not to belittle the
fact that one thousand people died, but rather to recognize that the international
community sets a high bar as to what can justify dismembering a state. Consider
Biafra. The Biafran attempt to separate from the rest of Nigeria from 1967-1970
was in part (if not mostly) due to ongoing violence by the government of Nigeria
against the Igbo people who live in Biafra. Yet, for the nearly one million people
that died in that secessionist conflict, the Republic of Biafra was recognized by
only five states: Tanzania, the Ivory Coast, Gabon, Zambia, and Haiti. Those
159 Moldova 2004 Country Report, supra note 4, at Introduction.
160 Id. at Sec. 1.d.
161 Moldova 2004 Country Report, supra note 4, at Sec. 1.e.
162 Smirnov meeting notes, supra note 70.
47
states that did recognize Biafra as a new state often focused on the brutality of the
conflict.163
Yet, although other countries (notably Portugal, France, and Israel)
assisted the Biafrans, no other state recognized the secession. The Organization of
African Unity, for its part, strongly supported Nigeria and the norm against the
dismemberment of states. The emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia said that “The
national unity and territorial integrity of member states is not negotiable. It must
be fully respected and preserved.”164
This is not to say that there is some benchmark of human suffering before
there can be a claim of secession. Such a contention would be repugnant; it does,
however, point to a reality of international politics: there is a deep aversion to
allowing secession. In light of this, an argument that a single battle fifteen years
ago should be dispositive in a claim for secession today flies in the face of State
practice, particularly when one takes into account that the current human rights
situation in Moldova is much improved and there is very little ethnic tension.
(Both being in contrast to the situation in Transnistria itself.)
War by its nature its brutal. But not all wars—actually as a matter of State
practice very few—lead to accepted claims of a right to secession. The 1992
Battle of Bender and its related skirmishes do not rise to the level of such a war.
Denial of Economic Rights. Perhaps the most constant complaint lodged
by our interlocutors in Transnistra was that the central government in Chisinau
denied them their economic rights. As Marakutsa put it, Chisinau was built on the
riches of Transnistria. Both Marakutsa and Litskai stressed that at the outset of
Moldovan independence, Smirnov had sought economic autonomy more than
anything and that this had been rejected. Now, however, as Marakutsa explained,
Gagauzian-style autonomy would not be enough because—in the view of the
TMR’s leadership—the Gagauz are unable to push forward their economic
claims.165 Marakutsa explained that the main concerns between Tiraspol and
Chisinau are economic, but not so much the economy itself as the “methods and
forms” of economic decision-making.
Litskai mentioned a similar theme. He explained that Moldova had lost its
industrial base very quickly through the form of privatization it used. And, he
continued, while Moldovans can live as agrarians, Transnistrians cannot. The
concern is that the Moldovan scheme of privatization will destroy the TMR’s
163 See David A. Ijalaye, Was Biafra At Any Time a State in International Law?, 65 AM. J. INT’L L.
551, 554 (1971). The brutality of the conflict was used as a reason for accepting secession:
Tanzania explained its recognition was in part due to the real and well-founded fears of the
Biafrans based on previous pogroms against them; Gabon and Zambia had similar explanations,
though more focused on brutality of the civil war
164 Id. at 556. One notes the irony of this statement in light of the Ethioiean Eritrean War that
would embroil his country with the ultimate secession of Eritrea.
165 Marakutsa meeting notes, supra note 69.
48
industrial base. Conversely, he noted, Moldova refuses to recognize the TMR’s
privatization plan.166
When asked again why autonomy is the answer to these problems, Litskai
explained that this is necessary to defend against economic exploitation of
Moldova.167 This argument is also not persuasive because, despite the economic
assets that the TMR controls and is actively selling off to willing buyers, the
economic benefits have not been felt beyond a select group of Smirnov associates.
As Dov Lynch of the European Union Insitute for Security Studies observed, “the
great majority of the PMR population lives in deep poverty, with an average
income of one U.S. dollar a day.”168The TMR has had effective control of the
economic assets of Transnistria for fifteen years and, aside from a state-of-the-art
soccer stadium and a clean veneer to the main street in Tiraspol, there is little to
show for it in terms of general economic benefits to the population.
Over the course of hours of meetings with the TMR’s leadership, we were
struck by how often the question came back to who gets to decide what to
privatize and who gets to decide how that money is spent. These are, without a
doubt, pressing policy issues. But secession is not about changing a policy but
about changing a polity, the political organization itself, the State. While the
Transnistrians may disagree with Chisinau over how entities should be privatized
and what percentage of that revenue should be reinvested in Transnistria, there is
nothing that rises to the level of a claim that the only solution is to split the
Moldovan State. Rather, if anything, there is a glimmer of hope here: if the
parties are really disagreeing over money, then a negotiated solution is more
likely, once we strip away the nationalistic rhetoric. But this would be a
negotiated solution within the rubric of Moldovan law, not a right to be
autonomous or to secede simply because you disagree with fiscal policy.
c. No Other Solution
Litskai argued that the people who have come to power in Chisinau in
1990 aimed the Moldovan State’s mechanisms against Transnistria and that to
defend themselves Transistrians had to create a State in order to respond.169 The
unitary Moldovan state would not provide the guarantees that the Transnistrians
needed and, as such, separation was sought, although, as Smirnov, Litskai and
Marakutsa each emphasized, some form of federation or confederation may now
be possible.
So, if the TMR is now willing to consider federation, is it accurate to say
there is no other solution? We should consider their argument here in the terms
166 Litskai meeting notes, supra note 73.
167 Id. At this point Litskai said that we should also consider the ethnic differences between
Moldovans and Transnistrians.
168 LYNCH, supra note 34, at 66.
169 Id.
49
that it would need to be made to support a claim for external self-determination.
(In any case, as was discussed in Part III.B, above, the TMR’s argument seems to
actually be for full sovereignty, though approached obliquely.)
Their claim that there is no other solution but for secession is not
persuasive. First of all, the actual history of Moldova since the end of the 1992
War shows that minority rights have been respected to a greater extent than
feared. Although Moldova does not have a pristine record, if such a human rights
record was enough to lead to a right of secession, the world would be rife with
secessionist conflicts.
This conflict has been frozen not so much because there are no other
options under domestic and international law besides secession, but because the
separatists gained by making the conflict seem intractable. As one commentator
put it, “Russophone leaders [in Transnistria] used ethnic outbidding to exacerbate
mass hostility and the security dilemma in order to preserve and increase their
power.”170 Head of TMR internal security Vladimir Antufeyev, for example,
“runs a number of social organizations and newspapers that inflate the nature of
the Moldovan threat to Transnistria.171 Furthermore, “[s]eparatist violence
occurred because Russophone elites had much to gain, especially increased power
and career opportunities for themselves, by promoting it.”172
The problem may not only be in Transnistria. The Infotag news agency
has reported that Voronin has said that
he often has an impression that the Moldovan political elite does not need
a Transnistrian settlement as such, that it is more advantageous to live in a
split country with an open border, with Transnistrian shadowy economy
and a foreign military presence.173
Dr. Charles King of Georgetown University describes the stalemate in
Moldova (and other post-Soviet countries with separatist crises) in this way:
It is a dark version of Pareto efficiency: the general welfare cannot be
improved—by reaching a genuine peace accord allowing for real
reintegration—without at the same time main key interest groups in both
camps worse off.174
King also notes William Zartman’s telling description: if the parties feel
that they can get more by fighting than by negotiating, if they have not reached a
170 Kaufman, supra note 20, at 126.
171 LYNCH, supra note 34, at 60.
172 Kaufman, supra note 20, at 126.
173 Moldovan Parliament Hears Transnistria Issue, Infotag (Chisinau, June 10, 2005).
174 King, supra note 145, at 526.
50
“hurting stalemate”, then they are unlikely to seek peace.175 In the case of
Moldova, a hurting stalemate—and real bargaining from the Transnistrian side—
is unlikely while the Russians continue to ameliorate the situation for the
Transnistrians. Similarly, the Bertelsmann Foundation, along with the East West
Institute, the Open Society Institute and other interested non-governmental
organizations, issued a report concerning the Transnistrian crisis that stated that
“[n]o durable conflict resolution is possible when the separatist rebels are in a
better position than the legitimate state.”176
King wrote that “[i]t is the multifaceted origins of the Transnistrian
conundrum, as well as the political and economic interest spawned by the war
itself, that have made the dispute so difficult to resolve.”177 The International
Crisis Group explains that a “wide array of actors play both sides against the
middle by maintaining ties with both Moldovan government and the DMR in an
effort to preserve lucrative—and often illegal—trading arrangements made
possible by the DMR’s parallel economy and customs policies.”178 These
businesspeople from Ukraine, Moldova, and Russia “constitute a well-financed
lobby that wishes to uphold the status quo.”179
Rosa Brooks has referred to the idea of conflict entrepreneurs — those who
profit from ongoing conflicts.180 Perhaps this is the best way to consider the
Smirnov regime and the truest explanation of the conflicts intractability.
175 Id. at 527.
176 Bertelsmann Foundation put together a group of foundations including the Center for Applied
Policy Research (Munich), Eurisc Foundation (Romania), Euro-Atlantic Center for Moldova,
EastWest Institute, Institute for Development and Social Initiative (Moldova), Institute for Public
Policy (Moldova), Open Society Institute (Belgium),, Romanian Academic Society, South-East
European Association.
177 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 179. This is exacerbated by the palpable personal
dislike between Smirnov and Voronin. While Smirnov came to Moldova in 1987, Voronin is from
Transnistria. The conflict over the territory seems more than merely political for these men. In our
meetings with the two leaders their personal dislike was apparent and the history of the
relationship of Igor Smirnov and Vladimir Voronin is a history of slights, great and small.
Smirnov, in particular, complained of Voronin “stealing” his gold coins, in reference to a shipment
of commemorative gold coins that were seized by Moldovan customs in transit to the TMR from
Poland, their place of minting. Smirnov asked us if Voronin would like it if he stole Voronin’s
motorcycle. (Unbeknownst to the Team at the time, Voronin seems to enjoy motorcycle riding.)
Smirnov, for his part, had refused to let Voronin cross into Transnistria to visit his ailing (now
deceased) mother and did not let Voronin come to Transnistria to watch a match of the Moldovan
national soccer team. Yes, although Moldova and the TMR are in an ongoing conflict, until 2003
the Moldovan National Soccer Team played certain “home” games in Transnistria where the TMR
had built a lavish soccer stadium complex. How the TMR arrived at the funds to do so is a
question of some interest to the Moldovans.
178 International Crisis Group, Moldova: Regional Tensions Over Transdniestria, ICG Europe Report
No.157 (17 June 2004) at 1 (hereafter “ICG 2004”).
179 Id.
180 See, generally, Rosa Ehrenreich Brooks, The New Imperialism: Violence, Norms, and the
“Rule of Law,” 101 MICH. L. REV. 2275 (2003).
51
Secession is clearly not the only option available to solve this conflict.
5. Conclusion
There is no solid basis for a claim of secession under external selfdetermination.
The most basic requirements for a legal claim are not met.
Moreover, the analysis of the legal requirements of external selfdetermination
only underscore that this is in part an opportunistic crisis. “The
Dniestrian leadership’s main approach to justifying itself, however, was not
ideological or historical but military: it stoked violent conflict by provoking a
security dilemma between Moldova and Dniestrian Russophones, then cast itself
as the Russophones’ defender.”181 The TMR portrays itself as part of the Russian
homeland (when seeking support of Cossacks), genuine socialists (when rallying
the vestiges of the USSR’s Communist Party), and as progressive capitalists
(when seeking support from the New York City Bar, for example).
Perhaps the TMR’s strongest argument for sovereignty is not one
stemming from the doctrinal requirements of external self-determination but the
argument that it was not part of Moldova historically. The MASSR was merged
with Bessarabia only as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. But the historical
argument is itself undercut by history as well as sociology. While it is true that the
east and west banks of the Dniester were often separated by a boundary, the
historical fact is that they have existed in a single state, without separation, since
1940. That is longer than most states in existence today. Moreover, there is no
linguistic, ethnic, or religious justifications for separation as the communities on
both sides of the Dniester are heterogenous and multi-ethnic.
The TMR has tried to answer this by arguing that the “average
Transnistrian” wants the TMR’s independence. According to one report:
On 12 October 2004, at a conference dedicated to the 80th anniversary of
the [MASSR], Igor Smirnov announced that PMR would hold a
referendum “to prove the legitimacy” of its independence. The results of
the referendum would become law and force the international community
to acknowledge the PMR people’s will: “We must hold a national
referendum, with international observers to make sure that there can be no
doubt about the legitimacy of our state. The results of the referendum will
be a law for us, a law that the international community, above all the
United States, the European Union and the OSCE, will have to respect.”
Smirnov had previously argued in August 2004 that holding separate
referendums in Moldova and PMR to settle the PMR-Moldovan conflict
was a possibility. Such action would be in accordance with the Cyprus
settlement model of conflict resolution, and would afford the people of
PMR “the right to self-determination.”182
181 Kaufman, supra note 20, at 127.
182 Herd, supra note 10, at 9 (citations omitted).
52
The Aaland Islands Commission found that the ability to choose fate by
plebiscite must be decided by the state itself; otherwise such a formulation would
infringe on the sovereign right of states.183
Secession is a serious undertaking. In order to prevent a general breakdown
of the state system, it must be a last resort. Situations short of that do not
give rise to a right of secession.
Merely wanting to secede does not allow one to secede. The TMR’s
arguments do not recognize this and, as such, they are not persuasive.
D. Defining the Legal Status of the TMR
In light of the foregoing, what is the legal status of Transnistria? If it is
not a state, then what is it? We considered two issues: (a) the role of recognition
in the process of state formation; and (b) whether the TMR is a de facto regime.
1. Recognition
The extent to which a new state is able to participate in the international
community is, in practice, largely determined by the extent of its bilateral
relationships with other states which, in turn, depends primarily on its recognition
by them.184 By recognizing a State, the recognizing State gives its opinion that
the new State meets the requirements under international law for statehood. When
recognition is withheld, the position of the entity in question is in doubt.185
Although there is no single text that explains what is required to be a
“state” the Montevideo Convention sets forth a series of benchmarks which are
generally accepted in the international community. 186 The Restatement (Third) of
the Foreign Relations Law of the United States gives the modern synopsis of the
requisites of statehood:
Under international law, a state is an entity that has a defined territory and
a permanent population, under the control of its own government, and that
183 Aaland Islands, supra note 132.
184 OPPENHEIM supra note 114, at §39, p. 129.
185 Jochen A. Frowein, Non-Recognition, in 3 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PUBLIC INTERNATIONAL LAW
627 (R. Bernhardt, ed. 1992). Recognition itself is not a formal requirement of statehood. Rather,
recognition merely accepts a factual occurrence. Thus recognition is “declaratory” as opposed to
“constitutive.” Nonetheless, no state is required to recognize an entity claiming statehood.
186 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, 49 Stat. 3097; Treaty Series 881;
165 UNTS 19 (December 26, 1933).
53
engages in, or has the capacity to engage in, formal relations with other
such entities.187
In considering the situation of the TMR, the Russian Ambassador to
Moldova, H.E. Nicolai Ryabov, told us that the TMR is unrecognized by any
other nation only because of politics. He argued that other entities—Bosnia and
East Timor, for example—were recognized because the political will existed to
recognize them. The TMR’s problem, he implied, though did not state explicitly,
was not one of law but of politics. In 2000, Vladimir Bodnar, the chair of the
Security Committee of the Supreme Soviet of the TMR, put it this way:
We are an island surrounded by states… What defines a state? First,
institutions. Second, a territory. Third, a population. Fourth, an economy
and a financial system. We have all of these!188
First, although Ambassador Ryabov’s statement implies (and Bodnar says
outright) that the TMR has all the requisites for statehood, such a conclusion has
little foundation. As one group of commentators wrote, “[o]ne legacy of the
traumatic ‘birth’ of the [TMR] is an almost complete lack of permanent,
functioning political structures.”189 As will be further discussed, below, the TMR
is less a functioning state and more a hothouse flower, an entity that is able to
survive only because of certain carefully regulated conditions—in this case the
ample economic and security support of the Russian Federation—that would be
unable to survive under normal circumstances.
Besides the question as to whether the TMR could survive as a state,
Ambassador Ryabov’s comment also ignores the fact that non-recognition can be
due to policy reasons or for some legal deficiency of the new entity, for example,
“[r]ecognition may also be withheld where a new situation originates in an act
which is contrary to general international law.”190 The Restatement (Third) notes
that
187 RESTATEMENT OF THE LAW, THIRD, OF THE FOREIGN RELATIONS LAW OF THE UNITED STATES
(1986) (hereafter “RESTATEMENT (THIRD)”) §201 “State Defined.”
188 As quoted by LYNCH, supra note 34, at 43. Note Bodnar’s replacement of “the capacity to
engage in formal relations with states” with “an economy and financial system” in his description
of the criteria for statehood.
189Bowers, et al., supra note 85.
190 OPPENHEIM supra note 114, at §54, p. 183. and ID., n. 4. See also Daniel Thurer’s 1998
addendum on self-determination in the Encyclopedia on Public International Law, which states
that
Rather than formally recognizing a right of secession, the international community seems
to have regarded all these processes of transition as being factual rearrangements of
power, taking place outside the formal structures of international law: international law
only became subsequently relevant within the context of recognition.190
Daniel Thurer, Self-Determination, 1998 Addendum, supra note 107, at 367.
54
A state has an obligation not to recognize or treat as a state an entity that
has attained the qualification for statehood as a result of a threat or use of
armed force in violation of the United Nations Charter.191
State practice gives ample support that the non-recognition of the TMR is
consistent with the recent norms of state practice as well as accepted rules of
international law. Consider the example of Southern Rhodesia, where a white
minority government took control and declared the colony’s independence from
Great Britain. The Rhodesian example shows that a unilateral declaration of
independence will not be tolerated if the result would be to then impair the rights
of others.192 In one basic casebook on international law, the co-authors explain
that Rhodesia should have met the traditional criteria for statehood, but the
Security Council and General Assembly resolutions denying such recognition
were nonetheless accepted as definitive.193 The issue of an entity’s ability to enter
in relations with other states is related to the formal recognition by other states of
the statehood of the entity in question.194 Great Britain’s refusal to accept the
validity of Rhodesia’s unilateral declaration of independence, for example, seems
to have played a part in the refusal of any other state to recognize Rhodesia which
thus denied Rhodesia from gaining the capacity to enter into relations with
states.195
Cyprus provides another instructive example. The combination of
different ethnic groups within a single state, the role of guarantor powers, and the
ongoing question of recognition provide numerous points of comparison. If
anything, Cyprus shows how complex such separatist situations can become if left
unresolved.
The modern story of Cyprus starts in the years following World War I
where the Mediterranean island came under British control and, in 1925, a formal
British colony. However, Cyprus had a mixed Greek and Turkish population and
there were ongoing concerns stemming from sectarian discord. In 1950, for
example, Greece argued that Cyprus should be united with Greece. During the
era of post-World War II decolonization, Britain began the process of granting the
island independence and fostering a stable government to rule Cyprus. It had to
191 RESTATEMENT (THIRD) §202(2) “Recognition or Acceptance of States.”
192 Brown-John, supra note 120 at 41.
193 LORI DAMROSCH, LOUIS HENKIN, ET AL, INTERNATIONAL LAW CASES AND MATERIALS 266 (4th
ed. 2001) (hereacfter “DAMROSCH, ET AL.”).
194 See Ijalaye, supra note 163, at 552. Ijalaye wrote
It would appear that there is no other way of acquiring this ‘recognized capacity’ than by
the grant of formal recognition by existing states. The question of capacity to enter into
relations with other states thus shades into the question of the nascent state’s being
formally recognized by other states.
Id.
195 Id.
55
keep the interest of the various communities in mind. In 1960, Cyprus’
population was 80% Greek Cypriot, 18% Turkish Cypriot and 2% “Other.” With
Britain, Greece, and Turkey playing the role of “guarantor states,” the Greek and
Turkish Cypriot communities signed a series of agreements in 1960 known as the
1960 Accords. These Accords included the Basic Structure, essentially to
Constitution of the newly independent Cypriot state, the Treaty of Gurantee in
which the guarantor States promised to “recognize and guarantee the
independence, territorial integrity and security of Cyprus as well as the Basic
Structure, and the Treaty of Alliance, which set up a means for the guarantor
states to cooperate.
There was disagreement and factionalization almost from the point of
independence. There was widespread civil unrest in 1963. The guarantor powers
unfortunately did more to sow discord than heal wounds: in 1974 Greece
engineered a coup in Cyprus and as a response Turkey invaded and took control
of the Northern third of the island.
In February 1975, the leaders of Turkish Cyprus announced that they had
formed the “Turkish Federated State of Cyprus,” (“TFSC”) which was not an
independent sovereign state, but an autonomous part of a federation with a Greek
Cypriot state.196 In this way, Turkish Cyprus attempted to seize territory first, and
then re-negotiate the constitutional order. This has similarities to Moldovan-
Transnistrian-Russian relations in the 1990’s.
In September 1975, the assembly of the TFSC declared full sovereignty.
Although the TFSC has effective control of northern Cyprus, the TFSC remains
generally unrecognized.197
While the Security Council did not call for non-recognition of the island, it
did note its regret over the proclamations of the TFSC and did say that no action
should be taken by any Member State of the UN that would divide the island.198
The situation further devolved with a November 1983 proclamation by what had
been the TFSC that the now newly named Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
(“TRNC”) was an independent state. Security Council Resolution 541 (1983)
calls upon states not to recognize any Cypriot state other than the Republic of
Cyprus.199 Only Turkey has recognized the TRNC and the Security Council called
the proclamation “invalid.”200 This shows the interplay of the legal doctrine
concerning the attributes of a state and the political reality of membership in the
international community.
196 See OPPENHEIM supra note 114, at §55, p. 189, n. 16.
197 ID. at §55, p. 189-90.
198 SC Res. 367 (1975) available at http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions.html; see also
OPPENHEIM supra note 114, at §55, p. 190.
199 SC Res. 541 (1983) available at http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions.html; see also
SC Res. 550 (1984) available at http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions.html.
200 SC Res. 541 (1983), supra note 199.; OPPENHEIM supra note 114, at §55, p. 190, n. 20.
56
Rather than pure politics, as Ambassador Ryabov may have it, what we
actually see is an evolving state practice. Effective control of territory, though
indisputably a crucial stepping stone towards recognition, is not in and of itself
enough for recognition.201
A frequent reason for not recognizing an entity as a new state is that
territorial changes caused by the use of force are generally seen as unlawful and
will not be recognized.202 Recognition of a territorial acquisition achieved from
the threat or the use of force “would be an improper interference in the internal
affairs of the state of which the unlawfully acquired territory was a part.”203 The
secession of Katanga was not recognized by any state. Biafra is another example
of an attempted secession that almost no other state accepted. In light of this,
whether the predecessor state recognizes the seceding entity as a new state is an
201 Effectiveness in fact should not be confused with legality as a matter of right.
The principle of effectivity…proclaims that an illegal act may eventually acquire legal
status if, as a matter of empirical fact, it is recognized that through a combination of
acquiescence and prescription, an illegal act may at some later point be accorded some
form of legal status. In the law of property, for example, it is well known that a squatter
on land may ultimately become the owner if the true owner sleeps on his right to reposess
the land. In this way, a change in the factual circumstances may subsequently be reflected
in change in legal status. It is, however, quite another matter to suggest that a subsequent
condonation of an initially illegal act retroactively creates a legal right to engage in the
act in the first place. Te broader contention is not supported by the international principle
of effectivity or otherwise and must be rejected.
Secession of Quebec, supra note 128, at para 146.
The latest iteration of this argument, at the time of this writing, is that the situation in Transnistria
is similar to that in Kosovo. As Smirnov complained, “[c]urrently they are preparing a recognition
of Kosovo, but would deny this to Transnistria. If this is a really fair, universal approach to
conflict settlement, it must be applied also to Transnistria, and Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, and
Nagorny Karabakh.” Transnistrian President Jealous About Kosovo Variant, Infotag (Tiraspol,
Feb. 17, 2006). Moldovan leaders see little resemblance between the situation in Kosovo and that
in Moldova and thus one cannot analogize that what may work as a solution in one would be good
for the other. Kosovo Experience is No Good for Transnistria—Voronin, Infotag (Chisinau, Feb.
21, 2006).
There situation in Kosovo is quite different from that in Moldova. For example, The situation in
Kosovo is animated by ethnic conflict between the Kosovars and the Serbs that includes real
concers over ethnic cleansing by the Serbs; there is no such ethnic conflict in Moldova. Kosovo is
currently an internationally administered territory; Transnistria is not.
Finally, one should note that, if the international community supports sovereignty for Kosovo, this
si the result of a political bargain. There international community has notused the argument that
Kosovo is owed sovereignty as a legal right. Here we ware concerned with whether Transnitria has
a legal right to sovereignty. To this end, therefore, the Kosovo example is neither a fitting analogy
nor one that would answer the legal questions that are being considered in this report.
202 Frowein, Non-Recognition, supra note 185, at 628.
203 DAMROSCH, ET AL, supra note 193, at 267. See also RESTATEMENT (THIRD), §202(2).
57
important criterion.204 “Third States… may be prevented from according
recognition as long as the injured state does not waive its rights since such a
unilateral action would infringe the rights of the latter State.”205 We should note
that we believe recognition by a predecessor state is an important criterion, but the
U.S. has consistently argued that such recognition is not required as a matter of
law. Nonetheless, in situations such as this, where there is an incomplete
secession, the fact that the predecessor state continues to actively deny the
validity of the secession is both legally and politically important, though not
dispositive.
A second reason for not recognizing an entity as a state is its lack of
independence in relation to some state.206 This argument could be made vis a vis
the TMR’s relationship to Russia. But for Russian assistance, the TMR would
probably not be able to survive as a separate entity as it “relies heavily on external
political and material support.”207 This will be discussed at greater length in Part
V, below, but warrants a brief mention here. Consider three aspects of Russian
support: military assistance, energy subsidies, and the provision of political and
military leadership.
The Russian 14th Army, or ROG, effectively ensures the separation of the
Transnistria from the rest of Moldova. It was Russian intervention that sealed a
Transnistrian victory in the 1992 War and a military stalemate since then.
Russian military units are essentially the guarantors of a separate Transnistria.
Russia has also made a Transnistrian economy viable by providing low
cost energy (at rates lower than what is provided to Moldova). This makes
Transnistrian factories able to produce (and sell) goods at lower cost than other
manufacturers in the area. Moreover, Gazprom has not sought from the TMR the
collection of one billion dollars in debt.
The TMR’s leadership cadre is also largely drawn from Russia. Victor
Balala, a former Duma staffer, is the TMR’s “Minister of Justice” and was also a
key person in the privatization program until he was fired in July 2005 at the
insistence of a majority of the deputies in the Transnistrian Supreme Soviet.208
Renegade Russian General Vladimir Antufeyev is the TMR chief of internal
204 Haverland, supra note 115, at 357.
205 Karl Doehring, Effectiveness, in 2 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PUBLIC INTERNATIONAL LAW 43 (R.
Bernhardt, ed. 1995) at 47.
206 Jochen A. Frowein, Recognition, in 4 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PUBLIC INTERNATIONAL LAW 33 (R.
Bernhardt, ed. 2000).
207 ICG 2004, supra note 178, at 1.
208 According to certain interlocutors, although the public explanation cited failure properly to execute his
duties, the real cause was Balala’s participation, along with at least two deputies from the Russian Duma,
in the theft of $15 million from the first stage privatization of the Moldovskaia GRES, a gas-fired power
station in Cuciurgan.
58
security.209 And Russia has also admitted that whole military units from the
Russian Army have joined the TMR’s army.210
State practice in Europe since the 1990’s and the successor state issues in
Yugoslavia and the former-USSR has increasingly established preconditions to
recognition. The European Community thus issued a Declaration on the
Guidelines on the Recognition of New States in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet
Union211 and also a Declaration on Yugoslavia212 which set out the ground rules
for (in the words of the Declaration on the Recognition of New States)
“recognition by the Community and its Member States and to the establishment of
diplomatic relations.” The Declaration on the Recognition of New States reads, in
part:
The Community and its Member States confirm their attachment to the
principles of the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris, in particular
the principle of self-determination. They affirm their readiness to
recognize, subject to the normal standards of international practice and the
political realities in each case, those new States which, following the
historic changes in the region, have constituted themselves on a
democratic basis, have accepted the appropriate international obligations
and have committed themselves in good faith to a peaceful process and to
negotiations.
Therefore, they adopt a common position on the process of recognition of
these new States, which requires:
– respect for the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and the
commitments subscribed to in the Final Act of Helsinki and in the Charter
of Paris, especially with regard to the rule of law, democracy and human
rights
– guarantees for the rights of ethnic and national groups and minorities in
accordance with the commitments subscribed to in the framework of the
CSCE
– respect for the inviolability of all frontiers which can only be changed by
peaceful means and by common agreement213
209 Antufeyev is sought by INTERPOL for his role in the murder of a journalist.
210 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 59.
211 Declaration on the Guidelines on the Recognition of New States in Eastern Europe and in the
Soviet Union’ (16 December 1991) 31 ILM 1486 (1992) (hereafter “Recognition Declaration”).
212 Declaration on Yugoslavia (Extraordinary EPC Ministerial Meeting, Brussels, 16 December
1991) 31 ILM 1485 (1992).
213 Recognition Declaration, supra note 211, at1486. (Emphases added.)
59
Moreover, the Declaration explained that “The Community and its
Member States will not recognize entities which are the result of aggression. They
would take account of the effects of recognition on neighbouring States.” This
goes well beyond the simple reading that recognition simply occurs once there is
effective control of territory. In particular, the concern of European states in the
protection of democracy, human rights, minority rights and uti possidetis should
give pause regarding any claim that the TMR deserves immediate rcognition. The
fact that it exists because of a military conflict, that it has one of the worst human
rights record in Europe, and it seeks to redraw the borders of Moldova lead to
serious questions as to its recognition under established European and indeed
international practice.
The United States has also had a similar practice. Secretary of State James
Baker, for example, said in a September 1991 speech to the Conference on
Security and Cooperation in Europe that U.S. recognition of new states in Central
and Eastern Europe would be based on the new states’ meeting certain criteria.
Recognition would be based, in part, on a determination that new states would
adhere to the following principles:
• Determining the future of the country peacefully and democratically,
consistent with CSCE principles;
• Respect for all existing borders, both internal and external, and change
to those borders only through peaceful and consensual means;
• Support for democracy and the rule of law, emphasizing the key role
of elections in the democratic process;
• Safeguarding of human rights, based on full respect for the individual
and including equal treatment of minorities; and
• Respect for international law and obligations, especially adherence to
the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris.214
Thus, while Ambassador Ryabov is correct in saying that recognition is
generally a political declaration of a legal fact, he did not actually address the
issue that state practice of recognition has evolved such that prospective states can
be expected to meet certain criteria before being recognized. Those criteria—no
territorial acquisition through force, respect for human rights, respect of borders
of existing states, etc.—pose a problem for the TMR. While recognition is a
political declaration, it does not ignore legality. Rather, the norms of
nonrecognition are the means by which a decentralized legal system may enforce
its norms. The jurist Sir Hersch Lauterpacht wrote that nonrecognition “is the
minimum of resistance which an insufficiently organized but law-abiding
214 Testimony of Ralph Johnson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian
Affairs, October 17, 1991, Vol. 2, No. 3 Foreign Pol’y Bull. 39, 42 (Nov./Dec. 1991) as quoted in
DAMROSCH, ET AL., supra note 193, at 258.
60
community offers to illegality; it is a continuous challenge to a legal wrong.”215
Thus it is not that the TMR is unrecognized merely because of politics; it is
unrecognized by even a single state in the world because it does not meet the most
basic standards of legality.
Rather than arguing that non-recognition is due to purely political factors;
the inverse may be more accurate in this case: that there are good reasons for nonrecognition
and that recognizing the TMR may be imprudent. James Brierly had
written:
It is impossible to determine by fixed rules the moment at which other
states may justly grant recognition of independence to a new state; it can
only be said that so long as a real struggle is proceeding, recognition is
premature, whilst, on the other hand, mere persistence by the old state in a
struggle which has obviously become hopeless is not a sufficient cause for
withholding it.216
One should keep in mind that a struggle need not be military; the norms of
the international system, as set out in the UN, seek the peaceful settlement of
disputes. It would be against the basic norms of the international system to
require that such a struggle must be military. Since the TMR’s original moves
towards independence, Moldova has consistently denied the possibility of such
separation. Since the end of actual fighting in 1992, the forum has changed from
the battlefield to one of diplomatic negotiation, but at no time has Moldova
stepped back from its insistence on some form of reintegration (although there
have been various plans including varying degrees of autonomy for Transnistria).
In such a case recognition may be unduly precipitous. Lauterpacht would go so
far as to call such acts premature recognition “which an international tribunal
would declare not only to constitute a wrong but probably also be in itself
invalid.”217 Without deciding whether Lauterpacht’s conception of premature
recognition survives today as a legal concept, there is little doubt its political
analog—that recognition can be premature and as such warp the politics of the
situation—is apparent. “To grant recognition to an illegal act or situation will tend
to perpetuate it and to be of benefit to the state which has acted illegally.”218 We
215 HERSCH LAUTERPACHT, RECOGNITION IN INTERNATIONAL LAW 431 (1947); see also
DAMROSCH, ET AL, supra note 193, at 267. In relation to this, one should note that being
unrecognized does not excuse an entity from the norms of international law. The protection of
property rights and of treaty obligations are ensured as the rules of State succession still apply.
Haverland, supra note 115, at 358. Moreover, human rights are also protected. For example, the
Second Circuit has held that the Torture Victim Protection Act applied even to unrecognized
States. See, generally, Kadic v. Karadjic 70 F. 3d 232 (2d Cir. 1995).
216 BRIERLY, supra note 93, at 138; see also Ijalaye, supra note 163, at 558.
217 LAUTERPACHT, supra note 215, at 9, as quoted in Ijalaye, supra note 163, at 559.
218 OPPENHEIM supra note 114, at §54, p. 184.
61
recognize though, that practice since the 1930’s has been mixed in this regard,
especially if the illegal act seems irreversible.219
In summary, there is no obligation to recognize the TMR, even if it does
have effective control of territory. Rather, it is likely that (a) the forcible
acquisition of territory, (b) the ongoing objections by the pre-existing state, and
(c) the lack of independence of the TMR may support a norm of nonrecognition.
In similar cases we have seen the Security Council and/or General Assembly call
on UN member states not to recognize such seceding entities.
2. The TMR as a De Facto Regime
a. Defined
The TMR is stuck in a political no-man’s land. While it has established
effective control over Transnistria and the government of Moldova has been
unable, as of yet, to oust its leadership, it has not been recognized as a sovereign
state by any state. It is an incomplete secession and the status of the TMR can best
be understood by using the doctrine of de facto regimes.
A rebel force may become “so well established in part of the national
territory that, although it has not overthrown the established government, it is
entitled to recognition as a de facto government, at least in respect of that part of
the national territory under its effective control.”220 Remembering the four
criteria for statehood (permanent population; defined territory; government;
capacity to enter into foreign relations with other states), Dov Lynch argues that
the post-Soviet “de facto states fulfill the first three of these requirements and
claim to pursue the fourth.”221 This doctrine seems to fit the current facts well:
“Especially where civil wars last for a long time or parts of a state become
factually independent without being recognized as a State, the status of de facto
regime has gained acceptance.”222
Such de facto regimes are treated as partial subjects of international law.223
Their unique status does give rise to certain rights and responsibilities.
219 ID. at §55, p. 186.
220 ID at §49, p. 162; see also §46 n. 6 .
221 LYNCH, supra note 34, at 16.
222 Frowein, Recognition, supra note 206 at 40.Examples of de facto states from various points in
recent history include Taiwan, Eritrea, the Republic of Somaliland, and the Turkish Republic of
Northern Cyprus. LYNCH, supra note 34, at 19-21. As for the former Soviet space, Abkhazia (in
Georgia), Southern Ossetia (also in Georgia), and Nagorono-Karabakh (in Azerbaijan) are
generally considered de facto regimes.
223 Jochen A. Frowein, De Facto Regime, in 1 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PUBLIC INTERNATIONAL LAW
966 (R. Bernhardt, ed. 1992) (hereafter “Frowein, De Facto,,”) (stating “State practice shows that
entities which in fact govern a specific territory will be treated as partial subject of international
law” ).
62
b. The rights and responsibilities of de facto regimes
De facto regimes may undertake normal acts required for the support of its
population. They may conclude agreements that are held at a status below
treaties.224 However, as will be discussed in the next section, the legal
effectiveness of their decisions is severely curtailed.
Besides the right to act in order to support its population, a de facto regime
may also be held responsible for breaches of international law. Although states
are the primary subject, they are not the exclusive subjects of international law.225
Our first query then is to what extent the TMR is subject to obligations and/or
holds rights under international law. Article 9 of the Draft Articles on State
Responsibility, entitled “Conduct carried out in the absence or default of the
official authorities,” states:
The conduct of a person or group of persons shall be considered an act of
State under international law if the person or group of persons is in fact
exercising elements of the governmental authority in the absence or
default of the official authorities and in circumstances such as to call for
the exercise of those elements of authority.226
The commentary specifies that article 9 does not apply to cases when a
general de facto regime has seized control of a country but does apply when a de
facto regime has seized control of part of a state. Professor Crawford wrote:
The cases envisaged by article 9 presuppose the existence of a government
in office and of State machinery whose place is taken by irregulars or
whose action is supplemented in certain cases. This may happen on part
of the territory of a State which is for the time being out of control, or in
other specific circumstances. A general de facto government, on the other
hand, is itself an apparatus of the State, replacing that which existed
previously.227
Thus, a de facto regime must respect human rights and other rights under
international law. In the Advisory Opinion on South West Africa/Namibia, the ICJ
explained that “Physical control of a territory, and not sovereignty or legitimacy
224 Id., at 967.
225 OPPENHEIM supra note 114, at §7, p. 16; see also id. at §33, p.119-20.
226 Draft Articles on State Responsibility, Art. 9, in JAMES CRAWFORD, THE INTERNATIONAL LAW
COMMISSION’S ARTICLES ON STATE RESPONSIBILITY: INTRODUCTION, TEXT AND COMMENTARIES
(2002).
227 ID., at 115.
63
of title, is the basis of State liability for acts affecting other States…”228 In several
cases reparations have been claimed for and paid by de facto regimes229
c. The legal effectiveness of decisions of a de facto
regime
While the de facto regime thus has certain rights and responsibilities,
unlike the acts of actual states, acts by of de facto regimes have uncertain legal
effectiveness. “Acts of an unsuccessful de facto regime… will become invalid
with the disappearance of the regime.”230 However, the reintegrated state after a
failed de facto regime may be held liable for the acts of the de facto regime that
were “part of the normal administration of the territory concerned” on the
assumption that such acts were neutral.231
If, on the other hand, the de facto regime becomes a state, then its acts will
be binding on the new state.232
The law of belligerent occupation supplies further insight into the limits
on the powers of a de facto regime. If control of territory is gained by military
force, the occupation is considered belligerent.233 While the territory must have
been taken over the objection of the state that has de jure control, “[i]t is sufficient
that the territory in question did not belong to the occupying power when the
conflict broke out.”234 The law of belligerent occupation can trace its roots to the
Lieber Code of 1863 and through the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 to its
modern codification in the Fourth Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol
I.235 While the Geneva Conventions apply as of the start of armed conflict, they
228 Advisory Opinion on South West Africa/Namibia ,ICJ Reports 1971, p.3 at p. 54; see also
Frowein, De Facto, supra note 223, at 966.
229 Id. at 967.
230 Id.
231 Id., at 967-68.
232 Id., at 967.
233 Michael Bothe, Occupation, Belligerent, in 3 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PUBLIC INTERNATIONAL LAW
763 (R. Bernhardt, ed. 1997).
234 Id., at 764; moreover, Common Article 2 paragraph 2 of all four Geneva Conventions state that
the Conventions “apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High
Contracting Party, even if said occupation meets with no armed resistance.” There is a real
argument that the rules of belligerent occupation directly apply here as Moldova became a state
party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions as well as Additional Protocols I and II on May 24, 1993.
See Ratification and Accession table compiled by the ICRC and available at
http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/WebSign?ReadForm&id=375&ps=P. However, due to the domestic
nature of the conflict, we chose to take a more cautious approach and apply the rules by analogy.
235 Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 75 UNTS
287, entry into force: Oct. 10, 1950 (hereafter “Geneva Convention IV”); Protocol Additional to
the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of
64
apply through the end of occupation.236 It is generally accepted that civil wars are
an example of where the law of belligerent occupation can apply in a domestic
conflict.237
In the law of belligerent occupation, one draws a distinction between
effectiveness and legality. “The occupying power’s ability to enforce respect for
its legitimate interest is not an authority to create law.”238 An occupier is thus
considered de facto authority, not de jure.239 In the present case, while Moldova is
recognized as having de jure control over Transnistria, the TMR has become the
region’s effective occupier, its de facto regime. Although there is no longer an
armed conflict between the Government of Moldova and the TMR, there is still a
state of occupation.
The law of belligerent occupation makes the occupier responsible for the
well-being of the inhabitants of an occupied territory. “It has a duty of good
government;” this applies essentially to protecting the public health and safety. It
is not a license to remake the domestic system; to the contrary, the occupying
power must apply the pre-existing laws of the occupied territory.240 In a case of
secession, of course, it would seem logical that the seceding entity would want to
make new laws and apply its own rules. But the critical point is that at issue is an
incomplete secession, an attempted breakaway that has not been successful in
garnering recognition from a single other state. While a successfully seceded
entity that becomes a new state may of course issue new laws, the TMR’s ability
to make fundamental changes in Transnistria is limited inasmuch as it does not
have de jure control of the territory. As any other such occupying power, it thus
“may issue only such laws and decrees which are necessary from the viewpoint of
military security.”241 Otherwise, the pre-existing laws of Moldova should be
applied until the conflict is resolved.
E. Conclusions Concerning the Status of the TMR
The actions undertaken by the TMR are only valid to the extent they are
required for the safety, security, and health of the population. Actions beyond this
International Armed Conflicts, 8 June 1977. 1125 UNTS 3, entry into force: Dec. 7, 1978
(hereafter “Additional Protocol I”).
236 Additional Protocol I, Art. 3(b) (stating “the application of the Conventions and of this Protocol
shall cease, in the territory of Parties to the conflict, on the general close of military operations
and, in the case of occupied territories, on the termination of the occupation.”)
237 See, e.g., Bothe, supra note 234, at 764-65.
238 Id., at 764.
239 Id.
240 Id., at 765.
241 Id.
65
narrow purview that depart from the pre-existing laws of Moldova are enforced
only to the extent that the TMR is able to enforce them by force, not as a matter of
right. Should Transnistria be reintegrated as a matter of fact into Moldova then the
decisions that had been made by the TMR pursuant to the framework of
Moldovan law may be imputed to the Government of Moldova. Any other such
actions are not imputable to Moldova. “In the absence of a specific undertaking or
guarantee… a State is not responsible for the conduct of persons or entities in
circumstances not covered by [Chapter II of the Articles on State
Responsibility].”242 There is no provision made in Chapter II for ascribing the
acts of a secessionist regime to that of the pre-existing state unless, perhaps, if the
pre-existing state makes no attempt to ameliorate the situation. That is not the
case here, due to Moldova’s ongoing protests to the TMR directly, and to other
states more generally, concerning the situation in Transnistria.
In considering the legal issues in this attempted secession more generally,
it may be useful to consider the reactions of the international community in
similar situations. One analogy that has been repeatedly cited in negotiations as
well as in the Ilascu decision is the ongoing conflict over the status of Cyprus. As
in the present case, Cyprus is a separated state. Turkey maintains troops in, and is
intimately involved in the affairs of, the Turkish part of Cyprus. Related to this,
Cyprus v. Turkey,243 the ECHR held that the TFSC did not have jurisdiction in
northern Cyprus.244
The Russian Government has argued that Cypriot situation is not a good
analogy. “The main difference lay on the number of troops as the [Russian force]
had only 2,000 soldiers, whereas the Turkish forces had more than 30,000 in
northern Cyprus.”245 This argument is not persuasive. At issue is not the raw
numbers of troop deployment but rather the effects of the troops deployed in each
instance. Moreover, as discussed in Part III.D.1, the constellation of guarantor
powers, occupying troops, de facto separation without formal recognition, and
other points, plots a similar picture to the situation in Moldova. The similarities
still outweigh the differences for the purpose of this analogy.
In summary, the TMR is an unrecognized entity that has effective control
over territory but whose de jure control is not accepted by any state.246 The TMR
242 JAMES CRAWFORD, THE INTERNATIONAL LAW COMMISSION’S ARTICLES ON STATE
RESPONSIBILITY: INTRODUCTION, TEXT AND COMMENTARIES 93 (2002).
243 18 YEARBOOK OF THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS 82, 112-20 (1975), and 21
YEARBOOK OF THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS 100, 226-34 (1978).
244 See also OPPENHEIM supra note 114, at §55, p. 189, n. 15.
245 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 355.
246 Note that the ECHR found in Ilascu that “[o]n the basis of all the material in its possession the
Court considers that the Moldovan Government, the only legitimate government of the Republic
of Moldova under international law, does not exercise authority over part of its territory, namely
that part which is under effective control of the [TMR].” Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para.
330. The State Department similarly recognizes that the Government of Moldova does not have
control over Transnistria. Moldova 2004 Country Report, supra note 4 (stating “The Government
does not control this region”).
66
is thus a de facto regime. While it has the right to undertake the basic acts
required for the care and security of the population under its effective control, any
measures beyond that are legally suspect and may be unwound by the government
of Moldova if the TMR is reintegrated into the Moldovan state.
IV. The Transnistrian Moldovan Republic and the Conversion of
Property
A. Claims by Moldova and by the TMR
At the heart of the dispute between Tiraspol and Chisinau is the issue of
control of the economic assets of Transnistria. As Marakutsa and Litskai each
reiterated, the form of privatization is of central concern to the TMR’s leadership
and they do not want Transnistria’s “riches” going to Chisinau. It is unsurprising,
then, that in the period of effective control over Transnistria, the TMR leadership
has begun “privatizing” or otherwise converting what had been Moldovan state
property in the region. Moldova rejects such privatizations, having passed a law
stating that any privatization in the territory of Moldova (including Transnistria)
must be approved by the Moldovan parliament.
Does the TMR have the right to convert the property in its area of
effective control? If the two parts of Moldova are reintegrated, must the decisions
of the TMR during this period be respected?
The answers to these questions have far-ranging implications. Since 2002
the TMR has sold 37 major assets for $51.5 million.247 Part of the concern is that
many of these deals where “sweetheart” deals for those close to Igor Smirnov and
his entourage. The privatization program as a whole plans to dispose of over 100
facilities. In 2005, “Tiraspol is looking forward to earning over $38 million in
privatization proceeds – nearly one-third of the region’s budget”248 In June, 2005
the “Ministry of Economy” of the TMR released data stating that in the year to
date the TMR had “privatized” 10 major assets for a price of $4.8 million.249
This included the Tiraspol bread-making bakery ($1.49 million), Tiraspol breadproduct
integrated works ($1.29 million), and the Odema textile factory ($1.29
million). The bread-making assets were purchased by Sheriff Corporation.250
Sheriff Company is TMR’s largest company. It has been and may still be
247 “Transnistria Extensively Sells Out Major Industrial enterprises,” INFOTAG (Tiraspol, June 7,
2005).
248 Id.
249 Id.
250 Id. Sheriff also owns “supermarkets, gasoline filling stations, and many other businesses as
well as the region’s biggest stadium.”
67
controlled by Smirnov’s son.251 As of June 2005, the highest price paid for a
single asset was $29 million for the Moldavskaya Power Plant in 2003 by Saint
Guidon Invest of Belgium.252 In 2005 Saint Guidon sold 51% of the shares to
RAOO Nordic, a subsidiary of RAO EES, a Russian company (United Electricity
Networks of Russia).253 Gazprom, the Russian energy company, is seeking to
purchase the remaining 49%.
Moreover, in early June, 2005, the TMR commenced the sale of “the
region’s light-industry flagship – the Tirotex textile factory, which ensures jobs to
20% of the working population in Transnistria;” a minimum tender has been set at
$22.9 million.254
Besides the conversion of these companies that had been Moldovan state
assets, one of the largest properties converted—but not privatized—is the part of
the Moldovan railway system that is within Transnistria. In August 2004,
“Tiraspol announced the establishment of the independent Transnistrian Railroad
Company – through alienation of the railroad network existing in the Transnistrian
region and of Bendery and Rybnitsa junction stations with all their property.” 255
Sergei Martsinko, the Director of the new Transnistrian Railroad Company
explained that the railway in Transnistria became a separate entity so as to avoid
taxation from Chisinau. According to one report, Martsinko’s explanation was
that
on July 31, 2004 Chisinau demanded that Transnistrian economic entities
must draw up all their tax documents only with the Republic of Moldova,
which [would cause} a double taxation for Transnistrian companies.
Simultaneously with that, the Moldovan side ceased supplying empty
freight cars to the left Dniester bank and began stopping cargoes heading
to Transnistria via the Moldovan territory. 256
251 Herd, supra note 10, at 5. Moreover, according to Igor Tokovyi, Deputy Chief of Ukraine’s
Southern Border Control Department, approximately 95% of Transnistrian contraband found in
Ukraine originates from the Sheriff Company’s storage facilities. “Ukraine Concerned Over
Sheriff’s Merchandize Smuggling,” Infotag (Tiraspol, July 5 2005). Current control of Sheriff is
somewhat unclear and we have been unable to confirm its current ownership status.
252 “Transnistria Extensively Sells Out Major Industrial Enterprises,” Infotag (Tiraspol, June 7,
2005).
253 “Transnistrian Parliament demands to Cancel Privatization of Moldavskaya,” Infotag (Tiraspol
July 15, 2005). The Transnistrian Supreme Soviet appears to be in a struggle with Smirnov and his
supporters over this privatization.
254 “Transnistria Extensively Sells Out Major Industrial Enterprises,” supra note 252.
255 “Tiraspol Claims New Blockade by Moldova,” Infotag (Tiraspol, June 13, 2005).
256 Id.
68
According to Infotag, the TMR itself taxes the new entity at “0.1% of the existing
rate of tax on every kind of income provided the income is used exclusively for
technical modernization of company facilities and incentives for workers.” 257
B. Property, State Transitions and International Law
In considering this question, we return to the conception of the TMR as a
de facto regime. Although, once again, we are applying the rules of belligerent
occupation by analogy,258 an underlying theme of the Hague and Geneva rules is
instructive: “Insofar as the use of force by States is itself unlawful, save in self
defence, it stands to reason that the scope of powers exercised by the Occupant
must be considered with care and caution.”259 Similarly, the occupier must respect
“unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.”260 We believe the
same holds true for insurgents who chose to attempt to carve out a section of a
257 Id. Smirnov sees the situation in reverse and complains about Moldova expropriating the
railroad assets of the TMR:
“However, Chisinau has not paid even a single ruble for using our railroad network,
despite our numerous demands of payment for the transit”, the minister [of industry
Anatoly Blascu ]complained…
[He also explained] that the Transnistrian railroad company establishment was “a
political rather than economic question, but at any rate that was a forcible measure taken
in response to Moldova’s destructive actions aimed at strangling Transnistrian economic
operators”.
Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov stated recently, “In all the years of our republic’s the
existence, we have not received a single ruble for exploitation of the Transnistrian
railroad network – the entire profit remained with Moldova. It was in Chisinau’s plans to
carry away to the right Dniester bank the company’s entire movable property. And only
the Transnistrian Railroad Company establishment prevented that large-scale theft”.
“Transnistria Demands Payment for Railroad Transit,” Infotag (Tiraspol, June 24, 2005).
258 Although we note that the analogy is not far from the actual situation. As a matter of
international humanitarian law, “occupation formally ends with the reestablishment of a legitimate
government (or other form of administration, such as that by the U.N.) capable of adequately and
efficiently administering the territory.” Michael N. Schmitt, the Law of Belligerent Occupation,
The Crimes of War Project (April 15, 2003) available at
http://www.crimesofwar.org/special/Iraq/news-iraq5.html.. Inasmuch as the TMR is the effective
(de facto) but not the legitimate (de jure) power ruling Transnistria, one could say that Transnistria
is still an occupied territory and that the relevant rules and norms of occupation, drawn from the
Hague and Geneva Conventions, apply. Also, to the extent the Hague and Geneva Conventions are
now part of customary international law, these norms apply regardless as to whether Moldova has
signed onto the treaties.
259 Kaiyan Homi Kaikobad, Problems of Belligerent Occupation: The Scope of Powers Exercised
by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, April/May 2003-June 2004, 54 INT’L & COMP. L.
Q. 253, 264 (2005).
260 Id., at 256.
69
state: insofar as their actions are against domestic law and may be against
international law, the scope of powers they use in the territory they occupy must
be considered with care and caution. Some may argue that the fact that this is a
struggle for self-determination should allow the TMR greater leeway in how they
administer the territory they control. But one cannot use justifications for starting
a conflict as a justification for how one acts during a conflict.261
As a general rule, then, occupants should use their powers only for the
immediate needs of administration and not for long-term policy changes. As one
commentator summarized:
It appears therefore that the Occupant must remain firmly rooted to the
immediate demands of the administration with a view to securing order
and safety of the occupied territory. Even if a legislative measure has farreaching
fundamental effects, it is not necessarily an invalid measure if it
can be demonstrated that it is substantially linked to the essential criteria,
that is, military expediency and the securing of public order and safety.262
Applying the analogy of belligerent occupation, one finds that Article 46
of Hague Convention IV of 1907 states that private property must be respected
and may not be confiscated,263 except if that private property could be considered
war materiel.264 Regarding state property, the occupying power is viewed as the
administrator or usufructuary.265 “Ususfructus was the right to enjoy the property
of another and to take the fruits, but not destroy it, or fundamentally alter its
character…”266 Article 55 of the Hague Convention IV states:
261 See, e.g., id., at 259. (stating “it is not appropriate in law to judge belligerent occupation
matters, namely matters jus in bello, by reference to the jus ad bellum; the two categories of law
are separate and need to be kept so.”) While in the present case we are not considering jus ad
bellum as this is not an international conflict, the analogy is nonetheless instructive.
262 Id. at 259-60.
263 Article 46 states:
Family honour and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious
convictions and practice, must be respected.
Private property cannot be confiscated.
Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its Annex: Regulation
Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, 187 CTS 227, art 46, entry into force: Oct 1,
1910. (hereafter “Hague Convention IV”).
264 Bothe, supra note 233, at 766.
265 Id., at 766.
266 W.W. Buckland, A TEXTBOOK OF ROMAN LAW 269-70 (3d ed. Rev. Peter Stein 1963) as
quoted by L.F.E. Goldie, Title and Use (and Usufruct)- An Ancient Distinction Too Oft Forgot, 79
AM. J. INT’L L. 689, 691-92 (1985). See also H. Jolowicz, HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION TO THE
STUDY OF ROMAN LAW 282 (2d ed. 1967).
70
The occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and
usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural
estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country.
It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in
accordance with the rules of usufruct.267
Consequently,
Enemy State-owned property other than real property, such as cash, funds,
transportation, and other movable property, may be confiscated, i.e., taken
without compensation, if it is usable for military purposes or for
administering the occupied territory. State-owned real property that is nonmilitary
in character, such as public buildings, parks, etc., can only be
“administered” by the Occupying Power. That power may use the
property, but not in a way that negligently or wastefully reduces its value;
moreover, the property may not be sold or otherwise disposed of. By
contrast, State-owned real property that is military in nature, such as a
military post or airfield, is at the absolute disposal of the Occupying
Power.268
This interpretation has been criticized at times. One review explained
that, due to qualifying language in Article 43 of the Hague Convention IV,269
“tribunals have regarded the terms of Article 43 and other provisions of the
[Convention] as being sufficient to support extensive reform of, and modification
to, government, especially where the Occupant has total de facto control of the
State.”270 Concerning economic regulation, orders affecting commodities
“essential for the economic welfare of the community such as food and
vegetables, olive oil, and timber have been held to be consistent with Article
43.”271 Nonetheless, the tribunals have not accepted such broad latitude and more
tightly circumscribe the maneuvering room of the occupier. For example, the
267 Hague Convention IV, supra note 263, art. 55.
268 Schmitt, supra note 258.
269 Article 43 states:
The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the
occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far
as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the
laws in force in the country.
Hague Convention IV, supra note 263, art. 43.
270 But see Kaikobad, supra note 259, at 256.
271 Id., at 257 citing to Bochart Committee of Supplies of Corneux, 1 ANNUAL DIGEST 462,
Belgium Court of Appeal, 1920.
71
Belgian Court of Appeals held that “the orders of the occupying Powers are not
laws, but simply commands of the military authority of the occupant…”272
Thus, we believe that an occupying power or its analog (a) may confiscate
state property, other than real property, if it is usable for military purposes or in
the administration of the territory; (b) may only administer in usufruct nonmilitary
state real property without destroying or otherwise converting the
economic value of the property; and (c) may not confiscate private property
unless it is war materiel.
C. Are the TMR’s Acts Tantamount to Expropriation?
The various actions of the TMR listed above, as well as others alleged by
Moldova can be grouped into three basic categories: (a) the use of assets; (b) the
sale of assets; and (c) the encumbrance of farmland. We will consider each in
turn. We assume for the sake of our analysis that the various plants and factories
mentioned above were, at the time of the 1992 War, property of the State of
Moldova, rather than private property. To the extent that any of these assets were
private property then they are protected from confiscation as described in the
previous section.
The Use of Assets. Applying the analogy to the law of belligerent
occupation and to usufruct, the TMR has the ability to use items so long as their
use does not destroy their economic value or exhaust the resource. Thus, ongoing
use of facilities as required for the ongoing functioning of Transnistria is allowed,
anything beyond that is questionable at best.
The Sale of Assets. As described above, the sale of assets is not allowed
under the law of occupation or usufructuary rules. While military assets may be
destroyed or other assets used for the well-being of the population, seizing and
selling property—either private or public—is expressly prohibited. The TMR’s
privatization program is thus exceedingly difficult to justify. Any private party
taking part in this program as a purchaser consequently does so at its own risk.273
272 Mathot v. Longue 1 ANNUAL DIGEST 471, as quoted by Kaikobad, supra note 259, at 257.
273 Whether Moldova would actually challenge any sales if Transnistria were effectively re-unified
with the rest of Moldova remains to be seen. In the latest diplomatic maneuver, the administration
of President Voronin has sought a rapprochement with Russia. According to Infotag, in an
interview on a Russian radio station on February 4, 2006,
Voronin voiced satisfaction that a majority of industrial enterprises in Transnistria are
privatized by Russian investors, for “this means there exists a guarantee that these
enterprises will be working and developing, will not die or [be] plundered…as very many
facilities have been plundered out on the right Dniester bank [ i.e. in Moldova proper] in
the 1990s. In the Law on the main provisions of a future special legal status for
Transnistria, we have written that we [Chisinau] shall not be tackling property questions
as such—maybe, perhaps, only to an extent in which such questions work for the benefit
of the country and of the investors who have put means in the enterprises.”
President Voronin hopes to Resolve Transnistrian Problem, Infotag (Chisinau, Feb. 6, 2006).
72
The Encumbrance of Farmland. The plight of the farmers in the Dubasari
region has been described in Part I.D of this report. Smirnov explained that the
TMR has not taken any land in this case. Rather, there is a land tax that farmers
are not paying. He claimed that thirty-three farmers have signed and agreement to
pay the tax but the Government of Moldova threatens the farmers who pay the tax
with prosecution. In his view, this is a local property matter.274 As this is private
property, the TMR’s actions may be viewed as being confiscatory of the
economic value of the land. As such, these activities may not be allowed. The
TMR may respond that their taxation of the land is part of the normal
administration of the territory. Resolution of this issue would require further fact
finding. The local farmers have filed a case against Russia before the ECHR for
ultimate responsibility of the acts of the TMR in relation to their fields.
V. Third Parties and Secessionist Movements
A. Duties of Third Party States Under International Law
Significant domestic turmoil within states can at times implicate relations
with other “third-party” states. The rights and duties of third-party states
regarding domestic conflicts is an issue that is rooted in the concept of
sovereignty: states have a basic duty not to intervene or otherwise interfere with
the resolution of the conflict by the recognized government of the state. Under
circumstances where self-determination or, more clearly, external selfdetermination
is implicated, or if the Security Council finds that a conflict has
become a threat to international peace, then third-party states may have more
freedom of action concerning the conflict.
The fundamental norm of non-intervention is linked with concepts of
sovereignty, self-determination, and peaceful coexistence.275 It is one of the
cornerstones of the UN and the modern state system. In light of modern means of
projecting power, the idea of non-intervention is broadly applied across a
spectrum of possible activities:
The exercise of economic or political pressure, unless covered by
legitimate aims of the foreign State to assert or defend its rights or
interests… may transgress the limits of non-intervention, depending on the
While the final hedging language does leave the door open to possible suits and/or refusal to
recognize property conversions made during the time of the TMR, the tone implies the opposite.
The rest of the interview also included Voronin mourning the break-up of the USSR and
reassuring Russians that many statues of Lenin have been restored in Chisinau. … And Regrets
Demise of Soviet Union, Infotag (Chisinau, Feb. 6, 2006). Whether this is a long term policy shift
or simply tacking in the political winds remains to be seen.
274 Smirnov meeting notes, supra note 70.
275 Meinhard Schroder, Non-Intervention, Principle of, in 3 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PUBLIC
INTERNATIONAL LAW 619 (R. Bernhardt, ed. 1992).
73
adequacy of the goals and means concerned. Borderlines between
admissible economic penetration and unlawful coercive interference are
still unsettled.276
It has a particular application in regards to limiting third parties in their
activities concerning secessionists:
A general right to military interventions in aid of insurgents would hardly
be compatible with the primary purpose of the United Nations to
maintaining international peace and security to which, pursuant to Art. 1
of the Charter, the principle of self-determination is subordinated.277
A more complete restatement of the principle is found in the Friendly
Relations Declaration, a General Assembly Resolution passed by member states
of the UN in 1970.278 Although, as a General Assembly Resolution, the Friendly
Relations Declaration is not legally binding upon the member states, it is
nonetheless of significant persuasive weight as to the state of customary
international law.
The reasoning and substance of the Friendly Relations Declaration, and of
the non-intervention norm can summarized in a couple of clauses:
Recalling the duty of States to refrain in their international relations from
military, political, economic, or any other form of coercion aimed against
the political independence or territorial integrity of any State…
No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or
indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of
any other State. 279
The Declaration does flesh out these concepts in greater detail.
In regards to military matters, the Declaration states that “armed
intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the
personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements,
are in violation of international law.”280 This applies to the assistance of
276 Helmut Steinberger, Sovereignty, in 4 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PUBLIC INTERNATIONAL LAW 500,
514 (R. Bernhardt, ed. 2000).
277 Thurer, supra note 106, at 368.
278 Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation
Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, GA Res. 2625, 25
UN GAOR Supp. 18 122; 65 AJIL 243 (1971) (Oct 24, 1970) (hereafter “Friendly Relations
Decl.”)
279 Id.
280 Id.
74
“irregular” forces: “Every State has the duty to refrain from organizing or
encouraging the organization of irregular forces or armed bands including
mercenaries, for incursion into the territory of another State…”281
Besides military matters, economic and political coercion can also lead to
a breach of international legal obligations:
No State may use or encourage the use of economic, political, or any other
type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the
subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights and to secure from it
advantages of any kind. Also, no State shall organize, assist, foment,
finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed
toward the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in
civil strife in another State.282
Using these general principles as a guide, we will consider the activities of
Russia and Ukraine as third-party states.
B. Third Parties and the Moldovan Situation
1. Russia
Senior Russian political leaders have consistently treated Transnistria as
part of a Russian sphere of influence, regardless as to what state it was within. On
November 17, 1995, for example, the Duma declared in Resolution no. 1334 IGD
that Transnistria was a “zone of special strategic interest for Russia.”283 Alexander
Lebed had called Transnistria “the key to the Balkans.”284 Even when part of the
Soviet Union, Transnistria was favored over the rest of the MSSR; it was not until
1989 that a first secretary of the MSSR Communist Party came from Bessarabia,
as opposed to Transnistria.285
Perhaps nowhere has the legal responsibility of Russia for certain acts
been made clearer than in the European Court of Human Rights’ decision in the
Ilascu case. Ilascu, however, was concerned with a particular set of facts—the
detention of Ilascu and his colleagues—while this Report is concerned with the
broader question of whether Russia may have over-stepped the norms of what
states may do in light of a domestic conflict within another state. To do this more
general assessment we will consider (a) the activities of the Russian Army and
other organs of the Russian Federation in Transnistria; (b) economic pressure by
281 Id.
282 Id.
283 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 143.
284 Kaufman, supra note 20, at 132.
285 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 183.
75
the Russian Federation on Moldova; (c) ties between the TMR leadership and
Russian leadership; and (d) the general diplomatic stance of the Russian
Federation.
a. The activities of the Fourteenth Army
The activities of the 14th Army286 can be divided into combat activities and
other support activities such as transfers of arms, ammunition, and personnel.
The Troops. The direct military involvement of the 14th Army can be
traced to the May 19, 1991, order of the Minister of Defense of the USSR to the
14th Army to call up reservists. The Minister allegedly stated that “[g]iven that
Transdniestria is Russian territory and that the situation there has deteriorated, we
must defend it by all means possible.”287 Commentators generally agree that the
14th Army was encouraged by the Soviet Ministry of Defense to “tilt toward
Tiraspol.”288 As set out in Part I of this Report, the result was widespread
activities by the 14th Army including the occupation of towns throughout
Transnistria and eventually engaging Moldovan forces directly. This was
immediately objected to by the Government of Moldova. The ECHR noted that
from December 1991 onwards the Moldovan authorities systematically
complained, to international bodies among others, of what they called ‘the
acts of aggression’ of the former Fourteenth Army against the Republic of
Moldova and accused the Russian Federation of supporting the
Transdniestrian separatists.289
Moreover, in assessing the 1992 War in the course of the Ilascu decision,
the ECHR stated that
In 1991-92, during clashes with the Moldovan security forces, a number of
military units of the USSR, and later of the Russian Federation, went over
with their ammunition to the side of the Transdniestrian separatists, and
numerous items of the Fourteenth Army’s military equipment fell into
separatist hands.
286 We will use this term for the sake of consistency although, technically, in 1995 the 14th Army
became re-designated the Operational Group of Russian Forces (sometimes referred to as the
OGRF or the ROG, for Russian Operational Group). ICG 2004, supra note 178, at 5.
287 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 46.
288 Kaufman, supra note 20, at 130, citing to Krasnaia zvezda, Sept. 8, 1190, p. 5, trans. in FBIS,
Sept. 12, 1990, p. 98 and Krasnaia zvezda, April 5, 1990, trans. in FBIS, April 23, 1990, p. 135.
Moreover, “Soviet KGB and interior ministry units were ordered to work with their (technically
illegal) Dniestrian counterparts;” Kaufman, supra note 20, at 131, citing to Izvestia, June 12,
1992, translated in CDSP, Vol. 44, No. 24 (July 15, 1992), p. 13.
289 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 380.
76
The parties disagreed about how these weapons came to be in the
possession of the Transdniestrians.290
It is generally accepted that key elements of the central command as well
as part of the ranks of the TMR’s forces came from defections from the 14th
Army.291 The Russian government has confirmed to the ECHR that at least one
battalion had joined separatists.292 More generally, though, the 14th Army
intervened on the side of the TMR.293 One author wrote that
Instead of deterring Dniestrian aggression, the Russian army provided
Tiraspol with the weapons to launch its offensive. Instead of reassuring
the Dniestrians that a compromise with Chisinau could be had, Russian
officials visiting Tiraspol confirmed their sense for grievance. Instead of
providing the Dniestrian elites with inducements to compromise, Russia
subsidized their intransigence. Finally, Russia’s climactic intervention in
the Bendery battle served not only to stop the war—though it did that—
but also to ensure the Dniestrian victory. Without Russian support, the
Dniestrians probably could not have launched their secessionist war, let
alone have won it.294
Due to the Russian troops’ active participation in the hostilities on the side
of the separatists and also their deterrent effect on further military activity to
reintegrate Moldova, their status became an ongoing diplomatic issue and the
subject of international agreements between Moldova and Russia.
The Agreement of July 21, 1992, ending hostilities between the Russian
and Moldovan stated in its Article 4 that:
The Russian Federation’s Fourteenth Army, stationed in the territory of
the Republic of Moldova, will observe strict neutrality. Both parties to the
290 Id., at para. 56.
291 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 192.
292 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 59.
293 Besides the role of the Russian Army, Cossacks—nationalistic Russian irregular troops
officially organized in the Union of Cossacks—also came from Russia and Ukraine to assist the
TMR. KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 192. As one commentator put it, “Moscow turned
a blind eye” to the Cossacks being dispatched. Kaufman, supra note 20, at 131.
It is worthy of note that Cossacks have been involved in other parts of the Russian “near
abroad” including the Abkhazian and Ossetian conflicts in Georgia and also in Bosnia. NEAL
ASCHERSON, BLACK SEA 102-103 (1996)
It is unclear whether Moscow merely turned a blind eye to these activities or if it actively
supported the Cossack involvement.
294 Kaufman, supra note 20, at 138.
77
conflict undertake to observe neutrality and not to engage in any action
against the Fourteenth Army’s property, its personnel or their families.
All questions relating to the Fourteenth Army’s status or the stages and
timetable for its withdrawal will be settled by negotiations between the
Russian Federation and the Republic of Moldova.295
Of particular importance here is (a) the obligation of neutrality by the
Russian troops to which Russia agreed explicitly; and that (b) withdrawal would
be negotiated between Moldova and Russia. The July 1992 agreement between
Moldova and Russia also ensconced Russia’s role as peacekeeper and guarantor.
However, from the beginning, “Russia was less than impartial as peacekeeper, not
intervening when the DMR established border and customs posts and deployed an
armed battalion in Bendery.”296 The Russian peacekeeping force also gave the
TMR an effective veto on any question as to whether or not peacekeepers should
intervene in any situation.
Moldova’s dissatisfaction with the ongoing presence of Russian troops is
also evident in its reservation to the Alma Ata Agreement, the document that
formed the new Commonwealth of Independent States. The original agreement
was dated December 21, 1991 but was ratified by the Moldovan parliament on
April 8, 1994,297 with the following reservation:
… 2. Article 6, with the exception of paragraphs 3 and 4 …
The Parliament of the Republic of Moldova considers that within the CIS
the Republic of Moldova will make economic cooperation its priority,
excluding cooperation in the political and military sphere, which it
considers incompatible with the principles of sovereignty and
independence.298
Moreover, an agreement between Moldova and Russia, dated October 21,
1994, states in Article 2 that
The stationing of military formations of the Russian Federation within the
territory of the Republic of Moldova is an interim measure.
Subject to technical constraints and the time required to station troops
elsewhere, the Russian side will effect the withdrawal of the abovementioned
military formations within three years from the entry into force
of the present Agreement.
The practical steps taken with a view to withdrawal of the military
formations of the Russian Federation from Moldovan territory within the
295 Agreement between Moldova and Russia, art 4, July 21, 1992.
296 ICG 2004, supra note 178, at 4.
297 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 293.
298 Alma Ata Agreement, art. 2, Dec. 21, 1991, 31 ILM 177(1992).
78
time stated will be synchronised with the political settlement of the
Transdniestrian conflict and the establishment of a special status for the
Transdniestrian region of the Republic of Moldova.
The stages and timetable for the final withdrawal of the military
formations of the Russian Federation will be laid down in a separate
protocol, to be agreed between the Parties’ Ministries of Defense.299
This agreement was never ratified by the Duma.300
The text of this Agreement is often referred to of its use of the principle of
“synchronization,” that troop withdrawal would be linked to a final political
settlement of the status of Transnistria. This synchronization argument is denied
by others. The U.S. and the OSCE, in particular, view Russia’s previous promise
to follow its CFE obligations for troop withdrawal concerning Moldova as
unconditional. According to Graeme Herd, “U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell
stated that the U.S. would make its ratification of the Conventional Forces in
Europe (CFE) Adapted treaty conditional upon the willingness of the Russian
Federation to honor its commitments on unconditional withdrawal of all troops
and ammunition from Moldova and Georgia, assumed at the Istanbul summit.”301
However, as recently as October 2005, Russia’s Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir
Chizhov, stated that
The presence of Russian troops in Moldova doesn’t play any global or
regional role. There are less than 1,100 Russian troops. Their primary task
is to guard arms stockpiles on Transnistria territory… But people in
Transnistria also count on them as part of their security. So without a
settlement it would be difficult to agree to a withdrawal.302
Nicholas Burns, the Department of State’s Undersecretary for Political
Affairs explained in December 2005 the U.S.’s decision to oppose a new CFE
treaty while Russia maintained forces in Moldova and Georgia:
A basic principle of the CFE (Conventional Forces Europe) Treaty is the
right of sovereign states to decide whether to allow the stationing of
foreign forces on their territory… Moldova and Georgia have made their
choice. The forces should depart and all OSCE member-states should
respect that choice.303
299 Agreement between Moldova and Russia, art. 2, October 21, 1992.
300 ICG 2004, supra note 178, at 5.
301 Herd, supra note 10, at 12-13.
302 David Ferguson, Russia to EU: ‘Hands off Moldova,’ Euro-reporters.com (October 11, 2005).
303 U.S. Refuses Arms Treaty While Russian Troops in Moldova, Georgia, supra note 56.
79
By contrast, in July 2005 Vladimr Antufeyev, the former Russian general
who is now the head of the TMR’s internal security apparatus, had requested an
increase of Russian peacekeepers by 1,900 troops and for the deployment of a
Russian helicopter squadron in Tiraspol.304
By this point the ongoing presence of the troops plays a twofold purpose
for the Russian Federation: (a) they are a bargaining chip that Russia uses to
extract concessions from the Moldovans and (b) they protect the TMR.
The troops allow the Russians to link issues—no troop withdrawal without
a satisfactory political solution of Transnistria or, perhaps more generally, no
troop removal until there is a satisfactory resolution on the place of Moldova as
the new frontier between Russia and the EU. The Russians have used issuelinkage
as a negotiating style elsewhere in its periphery; for example Russia had
argued that withdrawal of its troops from Georgia was contingent on the
resolution of the Ossetian separatist dispute.305 The troops not only allow Russia
to exert control over Moldova, but of course over the TMR as well. One little
reported aspect is that the payment in rubles of the salaries of the Russian
peacekeepers has ensured that the TMR would “remain economically tied to
Russia rather than to [its] recognized central government[], because local goods
and services are purchased using rubles rather than national currencies.”306 But
keep in mind that the TMR leadership, in any case, want and need the Russian
troops to remain in place. Russian officers, for example, had trained TMR forces
at least until late 2001.307 In a 2004 interview with Radio Free Europe, Litskai
said “We think that [Transnistria] is a sphere of Russian interests. We are under
the guarantees of Russia as a country, and these guarantees should have a military
component.”308 This was reiterated in the Team’s meeting with Litskai, where he
referred to Russia as Transnistria’s only ally.
Geopolitical strategy notwithstanding, the ECHR concluded that:
The Russian army is still stationed in Moldovan territory in breach of the
undertakings to withdraw them completely given by the Russian
Federation at the OSCE summits in Istanbul (1999) and Porto (2001).
Although the number of Russian troops stationed in Transdniestria has in
fact fallen significantly since 1992…, the Court notes that the ROG’s
weapons stocks are still there.
304 Transnistria Asks Russia to Build Up its Military Presence, Infotag (Tiraspol, July 11, 2005).
305 See, e.g., King, supra note 145, at 540.
306 Id., at 541.
307 ICG 2004, supra note 178, at 8.
308 Maksymiuk, supra note 42.
80
Consequently, in view of the weight of this arsenal…, the ROG’s military
importance in the region and its dissuasive influence persist.309
The Russian 14th Army thus (a) played a decisive role in the 1992 War; (b)
props up the viability of the TMR and makes reintegration more difficult; and (c)
provides materiel, expertise, and other support to the TMR on an ongoing basis.
The Weapon Stockpiles. Beyond the presence of the Russian troops, there
is also the issue as to how the stockpile of Russian weapons and war materiel
have been used to assist the TMR. According to some, Soviet civil defense and
paramilitary organizations supplied Transnistrian separatists with weapons as
early as 1990.310 Due to Russian assistance, the TMR forces were able to out-gun
the Moldovan army with T-64 and T-72 tanks and Grad and Alazan rocket
systems.311 One of the organizations implicated was DOSAAF, “The Voluntary
Association for the Assistance of the Army, Air Force and Navy” a civilian
organization that was established in 1951 to prepare the civilian population for
war.312
While there may be denials and disagreements over how the Transnistrian
forces came to possess arms from the Russian stockpiles, the ECHR noted that
By a decree of 5 December 1991, Mr. Smirnov decided “[to place] the
military units, attached for the most part to the Odessa military district,
deployed in the Moldavian Republic of Transdniestria under the command
of the Head of the National Defense and Security Department of the
Republic of Transdniestria”. The Head of that Department, Mr. Gennady I.
Iakovlev, who was also the commander of the Fourteenth Army…, was
requested to take all necessary measures to put an end to transfers and
handovers of weaponry, equipment and other property of the Soviet Army
in the possession of the military units deployed in Transdniestria. The
declared aim of that measure was to preserve, for the benefit of the
Transdniestrian separatist regime, the weapons, equipment and assets of
the Soviet army in Transdniestria.313
309 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 387.
310 Kaufman, supra note 20, at 130.
311 KING, THE MOLDOVANS, supra note 2, at 194. The Alazan rocket system was designed for
cloud seeding, however the Government of Moldova contends that it was converted for battlefield
use to carry explosive or radiological payloads.
312 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 34. DOSAAF has been described by one interlocutor as a
Soviet equivalent of ROTC, giving basic military education to young people between graduation
from school and entry onto the formal military.
313 Id., at para. 48.
81
Some are suspicious that similar activities are still occurring today and
that the Russian forces are using “withdrawal” as a cover to actually transfer arms
to the TMR.314 The International Crisis Group believes that the 14th Army
transferred substantial amounts of non-offensive military assets in the post-2000
withdrawal.315 The ECHR also noted that the interpretation given by the Russian
Government of the term “local administrative authorities”—which is in various
Russo-Moldovans agreements including the 21 October 1994 agreement
concerning the weapons stockpiles—is different from that put forward by the
Moldovan Government, and, in the Russian interpretation allowed them to
transfer the military assets directly to the TMR, as the “local administrative
authority” of Transnistria.316
Moreover, Ambassador-at-Large Valery Nesteroushkin, Russia’s
representative in the Transnistrian negotiations, is quoted as saying, regarding the
stockpile
One should realize that although this is Russian property, it is situated in
the territory of Transnistria. It is impossible to evacuate it from the region
without the local government’s consent, as that could trigger unnecessary,
dangerous complications.317
Similarly, as summarized by Infotag, Russian Defense Minister Ivanov
has stated that
the railroad to the Russian military depots has been dismantled by
Transnistrians, so it is impossible to use trains for ammunition evacuation.
He is convinced that this deadlock is solely due to political problems still
unresolved between the two conflicting sides. Until these problems have
been settled, the Tiraspol administration will never agree to Russian
weaponry withdrawal. But the longer the arsenals are kept there, the more
dangerous they will be for the local population. For example, some
ammunition consignments were manufactured as long ago as in 1932-
1934. They are so old that cannot be evacuated and have to be blasted up
on the site… 318
314 Id., at para. 151.
315 ICG 2004, supra note 178, at 8.
316 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 388.
317 No Proper Conditions for Troop Withdrawal Have Been Created Yet, Russia Says, Infotag
(Sept. 1, 2005).
318 Russian Arsenal in Transnistria Present Danger to Local Popultaion-Minister Ivanov, Infotag
(Chisinau, June 9, 2005).
82
Voronin is incredulous at such statements. He said in a speech in October
2005:
When the Russian defence minister [Sergey Ivanov] or anyone else tells us
that they cannot withdraw their arms… because of a certain Smirnov,…
then excuse me, Smirnov is a citizen of Russia and most of the ministers
[of the TMR]… are from the Russian FSB [Federal Security Service].319
Whether the majority of the TMR’s leaders are actually from the FSB is
an allegation that needs to be proven although, as will be discussed below, it is
clear that the majority of the leaders do have Russian government ties and/or are
Russian nationals. Besides Ivanov and Nesteroushkin’s arguments seeming more
pretextual than substantive, the TMR has a great interest in keeping the arms
stockpile. There is, first and foremost, the link that remains between the TMR
and Russia while the stockpile is in Transnistria. Nesteroushkin explains:
What we have in Transnistria today are the remains of the formerly
gigantic military stocks of the Russian 14th Army… The Transnistrian
government and public perceive the arsenals topic as kind of an ultimate
guarantee that the region will not be left all alone, and that its interests will
be duly taken into consideration.320
But there is also a financial incentive. Russia signed an agreement with the
leadership of the TMR, dated March 20, 1998, allowing for the sale of military
property with the revenue being split by the Russian Federation and the TMR.321
319 Moldovan President Accuses Russia of Shielding Separatists, Interfax-Ukraine (Oct. 29, 2005).
320 No Proper Conditions for Troop Withdrawal Have Been Created Yet, Russia Says, Infotag
(Sept. 1, 2005).
321 As quoted by the ECHR, Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 299, the March 20 Agreement
is as follows:
1. At the close of negotiations on questions relating to military property linked to the
presence of the Russian forces in Transdniestria, agreement has been reached on the
following points:
all the property concerned is divided into three categories:
– the first category includes the standard-issue weapons of the United Group of Russian
forces, its ammunition and its property;
– the second includes weapons, ammunition and surplus movable military property which
must imperatively be returned to Russia;
– the third includes weapons, ammunition and military and other equipment which can be
sold (decommissioned) directly on the spot or outside the places where they are stored.
Revenue from the sale of property in the third category will be divided between the
parties in the following proportions:
Russian Federation: 50%
Transdniestria: 50%, after deducting the expenses arising from the sale of military
property in the third category.
83
The situation is thus that (a) Moldova wants the immediate removal of the
weapons stockpiles; (b) Russia seems to apply the synchronization doctrine to the
stockpiles as well as the troop withdrawal; (c) the materiel has been and may still
be used to support the TMR both directly and as a source of revenue; and (d) the
stockpile likely poses a health and safety risk to Moldova and Transnistria and
Ukraine.
b. Economic activities linked to Transnistrian
situation
In assessing the economic and financial assistance of Russia to the TMR,
the ECHR summarized the situation by emphasizing the financial support enjoyed
by the TMR by virtue of the following agreements it has with the Russian
Federation:
• the agreement signed on 20 March 1998 between the Russian
Federation and the representative of the TMR, which provided for
the division between the TMR and the Russian Federation of part
of the income from the sale of the equipment of the Fourteenth
Army;
• the agreement of 15 June 2001, which concerned joint work with a
view to using armaments, military technology and ammunition;
Conditions for the use and transfer of property in the third category shall be laid down by
Russia with the participation of Transdniestria.
2. The parties have agreed to pay their debts to each other on 20 March 1998 in full by
offsetting them against the income from sale of military property or from other sources.
3. Russia will continue to withdraw from Transdniestria the military property essential to
the requirements of the Russian armed forces as defined in the annex to the present
agreement. The Transdniestrian authorities will not oppose the removal of this property.
4. In agreement with Transdniestria, Russia will continue to destroy the unusable and
untransportable ammunition near to the village of Kolbasna with due regard for safety
requirements, including ecological safety.
5. To ensure the rapid transfer of the immovable property, the representatives of the
Russian Federation and Transdniestria have agreed that the premises vacated by the
Russian forces may be handed over to the local authorities in Transdniestria in
accordance with an official deed indicating their real value.
6. It is again emphasised that the gradual withdrawal of Russian armed forces stationed
in Transdniestria and the removal of their property will be effected transparently.
Transparent implementation of the withdrawal measures can be ensured on a bilateral
basis in accordance with the agreements signed between Moldavia and Russia. The
essential information on the presence of the Russian forces in Transdniestria will be
transmitted in accordance with the current practice to the OSCE, through the OSCE
mission in Chişinău.
84
• the Russian Federation’s reduction by 100 million US dollars of
the debt owed to it by the TMR; and
• the supply of Russian gas to Transdniestria on more advantageous
financial terms than those given to the rest of Moldova. 322
Moreover, the Court also noted that
the information supplied by the applicants and not denied by the Russian
Government to the effect that companies and institutions of the Russian
Federation normally controlled by the State, or whose policy is subject to
State authorization, operating particularly in the military field, have been
able to enter into commercial relations with similar firms in the
[TMR]…323
For the purposes of this report, we are particularly concerned with how
Russia may use economic ties to put political pressure on Moldova and/or assist
the TMR in a manner that goes beyond the norms of non-intervention. For
example, according to Russian press reports, a mid-October 2005 Russian
delegation, led by Yuri Zubakov, Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council
and former Russian Ambassador to Moldova, to Chisinau on the Transnistran
crisis asked Voronin if he was prepared to resolve the situation according to
Russian conditions or otherwise face “economic blockade” from Russia. (Voronin
rejected the ultimatum.)324
Economic pressure is generally not barred; rather such pressure on a state
or assistance to separatists must not be used to the extent that Russia has inserted
itself into the conflict in a manner that would frustrate either Moldova’s sovereign
privileges or would breach one of Russia’s pre-existing commitments to Moldova.
In considering the present situation, there are four areas of particular interest (a)
the use of energy prices as a carrot or a stick; (b) the increased use of tariff
barriers against Moldovan goods; (c) economic assistance to the TMR; and (d) the
shared economic interests of Russian and Transistrian elites.
Energy prices as political pressure.
Energy politics are crucial in the post-Soviet space. In Moldova we see
energy used as both a carrot and a stick; Russia typically supports the TMR with
sub-market energy prices but has been increasing the cost of energy to the rest of
Moldova.
Transnistria has received approximately $50 million per year in energy
subsidies from Moscow which, calculated from the early 1990’s to today, totals
322 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 390. We have been told that the debt write-off has not
been completed.
323 Id.
324 Vladimir Soloviev, Russia Was Not Understood in Chisinau…But Well Received in Tiraspol,
Kommersant.com (Oct. 14, 2005).
85
(including interest) approximately $1 billion. According to some of our
interlocutors, this Transnistrian debt to Gazprom was assigned to Moldova in an
agreement between Moldova and Russia signed in 2001. We have not seen a
copy of this agreement and we understand that it has never been ratified by the
Moldovan parliament, although we were told that Russia views that if it has not
been officially denounced then it is effective. If this agreement were effective,
then Moldova would now be responsible for repaying to Russia the remaining
energy debts of the TMR. The irony is that much of the energy being used in the
TMR is used by factories, such as the Ribnita plant, which reportedly receive their
energy from the TMR at highly subsidized rates. These factories are now owned
by Russian and Ukrainian companies. The result would be that Moldova would
pay for a large amount of the energy used by Russian and Ukrainian companies
that operate plants in Transnistria.
This energy issue has become tied with the status of the Russian arms
caches still stored in Transnistria. The TMR has claimed that assets of the Soviet
military are now rightfully their own and they have attempted to sell some of
these weapons in the open market. Russia has allegedly adopted this view,
agreeing to write-off part of the debt.
By contrast to this easing of pressure on Transnistria, Russia has been
increasing pressure on Moldova concerning Moldova’s energy needs. In October
2005, Moldovan Prime Minister Vasily Tarlev announced that Moldova was
entering into negotiations via Paris Club members for the timing of the full
repayment of Moldova’s $120 million debt in gas payments to Russia.325 Then, on
November 29th, 2005 Gazprom announced that it would raise the price of natural
gas being sold to Moldova from $80 to $150-$160 per cubic 1,000 meters.
Although this is part of a broader policy of charging closer to market prices with
its trading partners, commentators note that the price that would be charged to
Moldova (and also to Ukraine) is significantly higher than those of other
countries—ranging from $110 for Georgia and Armenia to $120-$125 for the
Baltic states. It is of particular importance to note that the TMR will seemingly
receive a lower energy price than the rest of Moldova. As Marakutsa explained in
June 2005, “Transnistria does not deserve Moldova’s fate of receiving the fuel for
the world price… In the gas question, our delegation achieved mutual
understanding with the Russian side.”326 This has led to the concern that the price
of gas is simply being used as leverage in relation to other political issues.
The TMR has seemingly negotiated a separate peace with Russia
concerning its own $1 billion energy debt in which the TMR repaid part of the
debt by transferring its shares in Moldova-Gas to Gazprom. 327 At the end of
325 Vasily Tarlev: Moldova will Repay Gas Debt to Russia, Infotag (Oct. 28, 2005).
326 Russia Promises Help to Overcome Budget Deficit—Marakutsa, Infotag (Tiraspol, June 30,
2005).
327 “Part of the debt will have to be repaid in kind with industrial assets, which is what we have
been negotiating,” said Aleksander Ryazanov of Gazprom. Gazprom Wants Transdniester’s Stake
in Moldova-Gas Through Debt Reduction Scheme, RFE/RL (Oct. 4, 2005). According to Radio
Free Europe:
86
November, 2005, the TMR transferred the shares to Gazprom.328 It is unclear
how Gazprom currently views the state of the Transnistrian debt.
Increasing tariff barriers and prohibiting imports from Moldova
Russia is Moldova’s largest trade partner, accounting for 35.2 % of all of
Moldova’s exports.329 As such, it is able to exert significant leverage on
Moldovan policy based on adjustments to its trade policy.
In April 2005 Russia banned the importation of Moldovan meat. Russia
explained that this was due to concerns that Moldova was involved in reexporting
meat to Russia that had not been domestically produced.
In May 2005 Russia banned the importation of Moldovan fruits and
vegetables.330 Russia stated that Moldovan fruits and vegetables did not meet
Russian standards.
As of December 2, 2005, Moldova claims that they have complied with all
Russian requests concerning meats, fruits, and vegetables, but there has been no
response from Russian authorities. The Russian press agency ITAR-TASS
reports that, due to the Russian ban, Moldovan farms have lost between 40 and 80
percent of their income.331
In addition to these bans on agricultural products, in September 2005
Russia’s Federal Customs Service stopped releasing documentary excise stamps to
producers of Moldovan spirits and wines, thus jeopardizing their access to the
Russian market.332 In mid-October 2005, the Bardar Co., described by one
Russian news source as “a major Moldovan cognac plant,” needed to close
because it no longer had any Russian excise stamps which are needed to export to
Russia.333 According to Moldpres, the delay seems to have only affected
Moldova.334
Moldova-Gas was created in 1999 with capital of 1.33 billion lei ($100 million at the
current exchange rate), in which 50 percent plus one share belonged to Gazprom, 35.33
percent of shares were controlled by the Moldovan government, 13.44 percent of shares
belonged to Tiraspol, and the remainder was split among more than 1,700 private holders.
Id.
328 Gazprom Has No Commercial-Economic Reasons to Double Gas Prices for Moldova,
Moldova.org, citing to Reporter .MDF (Dec. 1, 2005).
329 Moldova seeks to Lift Russian Import Ban on Fruits, Vegetables, RFE/RL (Aug. 15, 2005).
330 Id.
331 Moldovan Exporters Reportedly Suffering from Russian Ban, Moldova.org (Dec. 2, 2005).
332 Russia Stops Releasing Excise Stamps for Moldovan Wines, Basa-Press (Sept. 26, 2005)
333 Cognac Distillery closes for Lack of Excise Stamps, Kommersant.com (Oct. 20, 2005).
334 Id.
87
Assistance to the TMR
As mentioned above, Russian economic assistance to the TMR has
included below-market energy subsidization even when the rest of Moldova does
not have such terms of trade. However, beyond sweetheart energy deals, Russia
has been integral in the construction of a Transnistrian economy separate and
apart from the Moldovan economy. In 1991, the Soviet Agroprombank
established the first separate Transnistrian bank; that bank operated as the
region’s central bank until early 1992.335 This was a key step in allowing the
Smirnov regime an economic policy that would diverge from that of the rest of
Moldova.336 The Transnistrian economy, such as it is, is completely reliant on
Russian munificence.
Private Economic Interests
Besides direct economic assistance by Russia, the fortunes of Russian
economic elites have become intertwined with a successful secession of the TMR.
The TMR’s economy is highly reliant on Russia. “Just over 50% of [the TMR’s]
officially registered exports are direct towards two key markets—Russia and
Russian companies registered in North Cyprus.”337 To pick just one example, the
ECHR found credible evidence that “from 1993 onwards Transdniestrian arms
firms began to specialize in the production of high-tech weapons, using funds and
orders from various Russian companies.”338
More generally, though, the risk of the TMR’s privatizations—which were
largely bought by Russian and Ukrainian companies—being unwound or
otherwise jeopardized leads to a substantial interest on the part of some of
Russia’s business elite. This is redoubled with the substantial interest that
Gazprom now has in the proper transfer of shares in Moldova-Gas from the TMR
to Gazprom as a valid means of paying off debt.
Or consider as another example the story of the Metalurgical Metallurgical
Plant (MMZ) in Ribnita. The Ribnita plant was built in 1984 using German
technology and is widely considered to still be the most advanced steel works in
the former Soviet Union.339 The Ribnita plant also generates between 40% and
66% of the TMR’s tax revenues.340
335 ICG 2004, supra note 178, at 3.
336 In addition to this, Transnistrian banks opened accounts in Odessa, Ukraine, to begin
constructing a separate Transnistrian economy. Id., at 3.
337 Herd, supra note 10, at 5. Cyprus, it should be noted is a favorite “offshore” location for front
companies.
338 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 150.
339 King, supra note 145, at 538.
340 LYNCH, supra note 34, at 66 (stating that the steelworks provide 40% to 50% of the TMR’s tax
revenue); Herd, supra note 10, at 5 (citing a level of two-thirds of the TMR’s tax revenue).
88
The TMR sold the Ribnita plant, despite the protests of the government of
Moldova, to the Russian company Itera.341 Then, in April 2004, Itera sold 75% of
the plant to the Hares Group, an Austrian company, which purchased another 15%
from other co-owners.342 Some have argued that the Hares Group is a “political
buffer” which purchases assets in former Soviet republics and then re-sells them
to the actual intended owners.343 In the summer of 2004, Hares allegedly sold 30
percent of the MMZ shares to Alisher Usmanov, one of the “metal tycoons” of
Russia, who then announced a plan to consolidate MMZ with five other
enterprises from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan making the new enterprise the
fourth largest ore mining and processing company in the world. Such high
economic stakes may well play a part in driving Russia’s political agenda,
regardless of the requirements of international law.
c. Leadership ties
There is ample circumstantial evidence that the Russian government is
closely tied with Igor Smirnov and his associates. The current “minister of
justice” of the TMR, Victor Balala was actually on the staff of the Duma until
1996 or 1997. He is believed to have been one of the planners of the
“privatization” of assets in Transnistria. The chief of internal security of the
Smirov regime is Vladimir Antufeyev, a former Russian general who had headed
the OMON unit in Latvia in 1991 and is wanted by Interpol for the murder of
Latvian journalists 344 He “is believed to be under the control of and in permanent
consultation with Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel and is
perceived to be the right hand of the Smirnov clan.”345
Most of the TMR’s leadership seem to be Russian nationals. Asked
whether he is a Russian citizen, Litskai said that he has two citizenships —
341 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 160.
342 MMZ May Become Part of Mighty Eurasian Mining and Metallurgical Company, Infotag
(June 15, 2005)
343 Id.
344 Herd, supra note 10, at 4. A New York Times reported has this exchange with Marakutsa:
Some also say that the region is a hotbed of smuggling and a potential haven for
terrorists. “I can assure you,” Mr. Marakutsa said emphatically, “that neither terrorists nor
smugglers will find a place on our territory.” They also say that the feared director of
internal security, Maj. Gen. Vadim Shevtsov, is actually Vladimir Antufeyev, a former
Soviet shock trooper wanted by Interpol for his role in an attack on the Interior Ministry
of Latvia in 1991 in which five people died.
Mr. Marakutsa frowned. “There’s probably some bit of truth in that,” he said.
Wines, supra note 39.
345 Herd, supra note 10, at 4-5.
89
Transnistrian and Russian. Although much the TMR’s leadership came to
Moldova from other parts of the USSR prior to Russia existing as an independent
state, they have been recently been granted Russian citizenship. Smirnov was
granted Russian nationality in 1997 and TMR Vice president Alexander Caraman
received Russian nationality in 1999. Marakusta was granted Russian nationality
in 1997.346 In speaking with the TMR’s leadership after the official meeting, we
were unable to find a single senior representative who had not emigrated to
Moldova from Russia or Ukraine.347
d. Diplomatic stance and unequal bargaining power
The various activities described above—the economic pressure, the
military assistance to the TMR, the energy politics—need to be understood in
light of the constant Russian rhetoric in favor of the TMR and critical of
Moldova.
Although support for the TMR has come most consistently from the
Duma, that is not the only source of support. During the early 1990’s, then
Russian Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi was a vocal supporter of an active
Russian foreign policy in aid to the Transnistrians.348 In April 1992 Rutskoi
visited Chisinau and Tiraspol and said that the Dniestr republic “has existed,
exists, and will continue to exist.”349 Rutskoi’s hard-line was offset by Minister of
Foreign Affairs Andrei Kozyrev, who sought a more conciliatory policy and
attempted to downplay Rutskoi’s rhetoric. Despite Rutskoi’s calls to recognize the
TMR, it was Moldova that was recognized by the Russian government at this
juncture. However, after the Battle of Bender of June 1992, Yeltsin seemed to
shift his support toward Rutskoi.350 Nonetheless, the ECHR noted that, in one
television appearance, President Yeltsin stated that “Russia has lent, is lending
and will continue to lend its economy and political support to the Transdniestrian
region.”351
In September 2004, a Russian delegation led by Sergey Baburin, deputy
chairperson of the Duma, said that “one genuine reality must be accepted:
346 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at paras. 147-49.
347 More generally, Litskai explained that the TMR allowed dual citizenship as of 1995. He
explained that in order to be able to travel abroad, some 90 percent of the population in
Transnistria have other citizenship in addition to Transnistrian. According to Tiraspol official
estimates, 80,000 people in the TMR have Russian passports; 20,000 are Ukrainian citizens;
100,000 are Moldovan citizens, and several thousand people have passports from other CIS
countries. Maksymiuk, supra note 42.
348 Kolsto, et al. supra note 9, at 993.
349 Id.
350 Id., at 994.
351 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 138.
90
Moldova is today made of two states—the Moldovan Transdniestrian Republic
and the Republic of Moldova, while the Transdniestrians have fully demonstrated
their right to choose their fate alone.”352
Observers have noted that Russia increased pressure prior to Moldovan
elections in 2005, possibly in part because recent elections in Abkhazia and
Ukraine caused a fear of loss of influence. Of particular importance was whether
Voronin would support the Kozak Plan that Russia had proposed as a method of
settling the Transnistrian conflict. During this period, one sees the most
aggressive energy politics as well as the banning of various Moldovan exports.
Graeme Herd wrote:
As no party comes to power in Moldova without Russian financial and
campaign support, the fact that Serafim Urichean, the mayor of Chisinau
visited Moscow in early 2004—albeit for “hospital treatment”—was
newsworthy. Voronin was facing an implicit choice: Moscow would back
or threaten to back an opposition candidate and party in the spring 2005
parliamentary elections unless Voronin ceased his refusal to support the
logic of the Kozak Memorandum.353
This occurred with a simultaneous warming towards the separatists. In
October 2005—in the midst of Moldova’s concerns over rising energy costs, the
Russian press reported on a trip by a Russian delegation to Tiraspol and Chisinau:
On the next day after the cold reception in Chisinau, Yuri Zubakov [the
Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council] took the Russian
delegation to Pridnestrovie capital – Tiraspol… the two sides immediately
signed an agreement “About the perspectives of cooperation between
Russian and Pridnestrovie business communities.”
Tiraspol was full of joy. The head of the Pridnestrovie Foreign Ministry
Valery Litskai told [Russian press outlet] Kommersant that Russia had to
switch long time ago from diplomatic pirouettes to the pragmatic policy.
“That had to start five years ago. Why is there Russian-Moldavian
commission and no Russian-Pridnestrovie commission? Now, everything
will be different,” he said. According to the minister, there were
discussions with Russian experts about the gas supply to Pridnestrovie,
cooperation in the area of energy resources, transportation, industry and
banking.354
352 Herd, supra note 10, at 5 (citation omitted).
353 Id., at 8.
354 Soloviev, supra note 324.
91
Russia understandably wants the states near its border to be nonthreatening.
However, using trade embargoes, garrisoned military units, and
energy prices to thwart the resolution of a separatist crisis in another state is at
odds with the norms of non-intervention contained in the U.N. Charter, the
Helsinki Final Act, and the Friendly Relations Declaration, to name only three
relevant texts.
Besides obstructing an internal settlement of the conflict, Russia has also
attempted to hold at bay third party states seeking to resolve the crisis. Russia’s
EU Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov was reported as welcoming EU and US
involvement in settling the Transnistrian conflict, he “stressed the limits to
expanded territorial discussions, especially with the Baltic states: ‘Border
agreements are not a Russia-EU issue. They are bilateral matters between Russia
and its neighbors.’”355 He also noted that “You may claim that Moldova is an
immediate neighbor of the EU, but so is Iraq in a certain manner after the opening
of negotiations with Turkey.”356 One should note that Moldova is not an
immediate neighbor of Russia, but Russian Ambassador Ryabov said that Russia
would not let Transnistria’s interests be infringed by the December 2005
Moldova-Ukrainian agreement.357
While a key concern for Russia may be to maintain primary influence in
the former Soviet space, it needs to keep in mind that there are legal limits to what
influence is allowed. As the ECHR concluded in the Ilascu decision:
In the light of all these circumstances the Court considers that the Russian
Federation’s responsibility is engaged in respect of the unlawful acts
committed by the Transdniestrian separatists, regard being had to the
military and political support it gave them to help them set up the
separatist regime and the participation of its military personnel in the
fighting. In acting thus the authorities of the Russian Federation
contributed both militarily and politically to the creation of a separatist
regime in the region of Transdniestria, which is part of the territory of the
Republic of Moldova.
The Court next notes that even after the ceasefire agreement of
21 July 1992 the Russian Federation continued to provide military,
political and economic support to the separatist regime (see paragraphs
111 to 161 above), thus enabling it to survive by strengthening itself and
by acquiring a certain amount of autonomy vis-à-vis Moldova.358
355 Ferguson, supra note 302.
356 Id. Similarly, Gleb Pavlovsky, an advisor to Russian President Putin, explained “Russia is
currently revising its policy in the post-Soviet space and the mechanisms of its implementation.”
He stated that “any country [that would] promote the doctrine of Russia’s rollback will certainly
create a conflict in relations with this country.” Herd, supra note 10, at 14.
357 Russian Ambassador Against Dictate and Extremities in Border Regulations, Infotag (Chisinau, Feb. 6,
2006).
358 Case of Ilascu, supra note 12, at para. 382.
92
Influence as a matter of fact may lead to responsibility as a matter of law,
especially when one finds that the state overreached its acceptable bounds and
used undue influence. Regardless as to whether one is convinced that Russia’s
actions and statements give rise to such a claim of state responsibility under
international law, these actions are properly understood as part of a larger pattern
of behavior that fosters the Transnistrian conflict. Contrast this with Turkey’s
involvement in resolving the situation in Gagauzia.
So why is Russia acting in this manner? We have no definitive answer.
Some have argued that there are psychological reasons—that Russia wants to hold
back the tide of Western influence and revolutions. Perhaps the domestic political
cost would be too high for whoever “lost” the TMR to the West. Perhaps, as some
have argued, one should think of the TMR as a “Giant Offshore” used by
businesses in the region because it is unregulated and untaxed.. In a similar vein,
The Economist has called Transnistria “a big, ugly smuggling racket with a piece
of land attached.”359
These and/or the other reasons listed above may explain Russia’s stance
towards the Transnistrian crisis. However none of these political explanations
confers the legal right to intervene in the domestic affairs of another state.
2. Ukraine
Due to its common border with Moldova—and particularly Transnistria—
as well as the significant ethnic Ukrainian population in Transnistria and
throughout Moldova, Ukraine has had a special interest in the resolution of this
frozen conflict. In part to its own internal disputes, Ukraine’s official stance was
critical of Transnistrian separatism from the beginning.360 Moreover, Since 1991,
Ukraine has advocated the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from
Transnistria.361
Nonetheless, although Ukraine has acted in many ways as a
counterbalance to Russian influence in Transnistria, its attentions have often been
viewed by the Moldovans with a mixture of hope and suspicion. Despite early
calls by Ukrainian leadership for a Russian troop withdrawal, there have also been
attempts by Ukraine to build a relationship with the TMR’s leadership. During the
1990’s, for example, Smirnov had several visits to Ukraine in which he met with
the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.362 Some reports claim that the
son-in-law of Kuchman, the former president of Ukraine, allegedly owns one of
359 THE ECONOMIST, Jan. 29, 2005.
360 ICG 2004, supra note 178, at 10.
361 Id.
362 Bowers, et al., supra note 85.
93
the steel companies based in Transnistria. And now, there are reports that some
close to Yuschenko are alleged to have business interests in Transistria.363
But, given that the Transnistrian economy seems to be reliant on illegal
trafficking of goods,364 and that such trafficking needs the open border with
Ukraine in order to move the goods to Odessa or other Black Sea ports, Ukraine’s
policies concerning the separatist situation have great impact. Some have argued,
perhaps wishfully, that if Ukraine closed its Transnistrian border, the Smirnov
regime would be forced to negotiate a settlement.
Such a result is not so definite. Litskai quipped in his meeting with the
Mission that even if Moldova and Ukraine economically blockaded Transnistria,
Russia would save them with an airlift of food and supplies and that such an
operation could be viable for a very long time. The TMR’s leadership and Russia
are deploying the blockade rhetoric once again with the advent of the new
Moldova-Ukraine border regime—which cannot reasonably be considered a
blockade—as of March 3, 2006. Images of the Berlin Airlift notwithstanding, it is
unlikely that better border patrols alone would solve the situation, especially if the
whole customs system is venal, as some have argued. Ukrainian Minister of
Foreign Affairs Boris Tarasyuk has said that “the previous authorities in Ukraine
actually established a chain of smuggling.”365 However, he said, there is some
hope because, regarding planned anti-smuggling projects in Ukraine, “[i]t was
impossible to imagine such things before [Viktor] Yushchenko was elected
president. The former leadership of Ukraine had served as a cover for smugglers.
Today, legal business could celebrate and smugglers should despair.”366 While a
363 See, e.g., Lynch, Yuschenko Undercutting?, supra note 84 (noting allegations that Yuschencko
associate Poroschencko has business interests in Transnistria.)
364 Consider that in 1998, during a brief period of joint customs control that had been encouraged
by the OSCE, Transnistria imported 6,000 times as many cigarettes as Moldova. King, supra note
145, at 547. Oazu Nantoi, who was the president’s senior advisor on Transnistria, resigned and
attempted to publicize the issue via television broadcasts. The head of Moldovan National
Television, supposedly on orders from government officials, ordered the broadcasts to stop.
365 Stephen Castle, Over Tea and Biscuits, EU Plots to Bring Order to Moldova’s Frontier, THE
INDEPENDENt, Oct. 15, 2005.
366 Vladimir Socor, Ukraine Must Limit Smuggling for EU-Moldova Mission to Work, Eurasia
Daily Monitor, Jamestown Foundation (Oct. 18, 2005); citing to UNIAN (Oct. 7, 2005.). Socor
himself tends to have a critical view of Ukrainian policy:
The peace plan’s real author, former National Security and Defense Council secretary
Petro Poroshenko, in effect farmed out Ukraine’s customs service to a group of his longtime
associates from the grey-business world in Vynnytsya, an oblast adjacent to
Transnistria and known as a conduit for smuggling. Poroshenko’s close associate from
Vynnytsya, Volodymyr Skomarovsky, top chief of Ukrainian customs until September
2005, advocated publicly and imposed in practice a policy whereby Transnistria’s exports
via Ukraine are legal, unless the cargos contain drugs, illicit arms, or trafficked humans.
Through this definition, Ukraine legalized the Tiraspol leadership’s lucrative exports,
despite the fact that they do not carry customs seals, stamps, or certificates from any
recognized authorities. This issue has been discussed at length in the Ukrainian press this
94
certain amount of Tarasyuk’s rhetoric is merely a new regime contrasting itself to
the previous rulers, the disposition of the border is undoubtedly a central
component to any solution as border controls make separatism more economically
difficult.
The European Union is now lending its weight to resolving the border
situation. “Under an initiative known as the Neighbourhood Policy, the EU will
send 65 staff to help monitor Moldovan and Ukrainian border guards at 38
crossing points.”367 The EU’s Border Assistance Mission began on December 1st,
2005. 368 Besdies “back office” staff and advisers, there are five teams each
composed of nine to fifteen customs officers seconded from EU membercountries.
369 The Border Assistance Mission is monitoring the entire length of the
Moldovan—Ukrainian border, including the 400 kilometer section between
Transnistria and Ukraine. According to the “Martini mandate”—a paraphrase of
an old advertisement for the drink—the EU border guards can go “any time, any
place, anywhere” to monitor the situation.370
Although preliminary results seem promising, whether and to what extent
the Border Assistance Mission makes a long-term difference remains to be seen.
Beyond the open border question, Ukraine under the leadership of Victor
Yuschenko has sought a comprehensive solution in a proposal that has been called
year, corrupt interests were exposed, and the president could not have been unaware of
the adverse implications for Ukraine’s international image.
For their part, Moldova (in the first place) and the EU (less consistently) took the position
that all cargos out of Transnistria that do not carry legal customs seals, stamps, or
certificates and are unregistered in Moldova constitute contraband by definition. Moldova
wanted the producer and exporter firms in Transnistria to register with Moldova’s
authorities and pass through Moldovan customs—or joint Moldovan-Ukrainian
customs—in order to qualify as legal exports.
Responding to Moldovan and EU requests, the government of Yulia Tymoshenko issued
three decisions and ordinances in May 2005 in accordance with the proper legal
definition of contraband. With this, Tymoshenko sided with the Moldovan government
against her rival Poroshenko and his Vynnytsya group interests. However, the
implementation of those decrees was postponed until July, at which point Yushchenko
officially suspended their validity indefinitely. Yushchenko took this decision during a
meeting in Kyiv with Transnistria leader Igor Smirnov, as part of some reciprocal
understandings that remain unclear. The meeting itself was amply covered by media from
Kyiv and Tiraspol, but the decisions reached were not reported, and official Kyiv left
Chisinau largely in the dark. The Tymoshenko decrees remain frozen.
Id.
367 Castle, supra note 365.
368 Vladimir Socor, EU Launches Unprecedented Mission on Ukraine-Moldova Border, Eurasia
Daily Monitor, Jamestown Foundation (Oct. 13, 2005).
369 See “Structure” at the EU Border Assistance Mission website, http://www.eubam.org.
370 Castle, supra note 365.
95
“the Yuschenko Plan.” At its heart, it tries to satisfy Transnistrian demands for
self-rule, Moldovan requirements that their state not be carved-up, and Russian
desire to maintain its Near-Abroad as a sort of buffer zone where it has control.371
Moldovans are concerned that the Yuschenko Plan would make eventual
secession too easy and pre-secession relations too difficult. As some see it, the
Ukrainian plan “would allow Transnistrian officials to have input into, and
perhaps veto power over, international agreements signed by Moldova.”372
Whether and how the Plan evolves in continuing discussions among Ukraine,
Moldova, the TMR, Russia, and other interested parties remains to be seen.
While the Yuschenko Plan was greeted with optimism, events since then
have not borne out the Plan’s promise as of this writing. Russia and Ukraine
became embroiled in a crisis over energy sales from Gazprom to Ukraine.
Ukraine has argued that Gazprom was acting under instructions from the Russian
government. On the Transnistrian question, Ukraine has at times taken a stance
that is markedly closer to Russia’s. First, after criticism from the TMR and
Russia, Ukraine backed away from the border agreement it had made with
Moldova. (Although it did subsequently enact a revised border regime, under
Russian and TMR criticism.) Ukraine and Russia also had a fact-finding mission
to Transnistria concerning alleged arms production. They found that there was no
evidence of any weapons being manufactured in Transnistria. While the Mission
has been skeptical of some of the more fantastic allegations of military production
in the TMR, there seems to be a reasonable claim that at least some level of small
arms manufacturing, as well as the manufacturing of component parts for larger
weapons systems, still occurs in Transnistria. In light of this, the credibility or at
least the rigor of the Russian-Ukrainian fact-finding mission must be considered.
The current and future role of the Ukraine can be summarized as follows:
(a) stricter border controls are a necessary, though not conclusive, step in
resolving the Transnistrian crisis, however Ukraine now seems reluctant to enact
border controls; (b) Ukraine has made what may be a good faith effort at
designing a solution to the crisis, however the proposal is still fluid and the final
version of the Yuschenko Plan needs to be seen before its legal implications—if
any—can be assessed; and (c) now that Ukraine has become a more active
participant in the Transnistrian crisis its actions will need to be monitored, as have
those of Russia and Moldova, by the various stakeholders.
Conclusion: Peril and Promise
Secessions are more a problem of politics than law. If an entity secedes
and the parent state accepts the secession, there is little role for legal argument. If
371 For example, Graeme Herd reports that Konstantin Zatulin, a member of the Duma, has said
“At least we are a superpower on the territory of the former Soviet Union. I mean the CIS and the
Baltic states. We are a superpower in relation to Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia.” Herd, supra
note 10, at 14.
372 Lynch, Yuschenko Undercutting?, supra note 84
96
an entity secedes and such a secession is largely accepted by the international
community then, even if the parent state objects, such an entity will likely enter
into the community of states as a new member.
If, however, an entity attempts to secede and the result is a military victory
for the secessionists (by denying the parent state the ability to reconquer the
territory, at least for the moment) but a political victory for the parent state (no
other country recognizes the secession), then one has a hard case both for politics
and for law. Here, where politics is most prevalent and power is most naked, the
role of law is (perhaps paradoxically) most important. It is where political
rhetoric becomes overheated that it especially makes sense for stakeholders to
return to the norms of the international system and to first principles.
Based on the principles of international law examined in this report, we
conclude the following:
Concerning the Status of the TMR. Attempted secessions are largely
viewed as domestic affairs that need to be resolved by the state itself. There is no
right to secede as a general matter. At most, secessions may be accepted in cases
where a people have been oppressed and there is no other option for the protection
of their human rights. In light of these rules, the TMR has not made a legally
sufficient case that it has a right to external self-determination or secession.
Consequently, the effective control of the TMR of the Transnistrian part of
Moldova is that of a de facto regime and may be viewed as analogous to control
by an occupying power. The TMR is thus limited as to what it may legally do
with the territory it administers.
Concerning the Conversion of Property by the TMR. The law of
occupation recognizes that the occupying power may, as a matter of fact, control
the economic resources within a territory but, as a matter of law, the rightful
owners are the previous owners. The final disposition of the property is not
decided by the current effective control by the occupier and as such, the occupier
has the legal duty not to destroy the economic value of the property. Any
economic activities undertaken jointly with the separatists or insurgents by
another party are at the peril of that party. There is no comfort that such activities
will be sanctioned after the final resolution of the separatist conflict and they may,
in fact, be “unwound.”
In light of the rules governing de facto regimes and also the law of
occupation, the TMR’s privatization program can leave investors with no
confidence that these transactions would be enforced if the TMR is reintegrated
into Moldova.
Concerning the Responsibilities of Third-Party States. Interventions by
third parties are not favored and are assessed in relation to the norms of nonintervention
set out in numerous global and regional treaties and legal documents.
Sovereignty requires that a state’s wishes concerning affairs within its own
territory be respected up to the point that some other core interest of the
international system is implicated. Thus, for example, the garrisoning of troops
97
on foreign soil is not allowed if the host state requests that the troops leave.
Russia’s activities concerning the Transnistrian situation, particularly the
intervention of the 14th Army on behalf of the separatists, the ongoing military
assistance to the TMR, the economic support of the TMR, and effectively
bargaining on behalf of the TMR using energy process and other levers of power
against Moldova, leads to credible claims of state responsibility on the part of
Russia for the continuing separatist crisis and its proximate results.
Similarly, in light of the experience with Russia, Ukraine’s increased
participation in the conflict should be monitored.
This is a time of peril and promise in the Transnistrian crisis. The peril of
the situation is that, given recent events, attitudes will harden and that there will
be no soft landing or “buy-out option” in which Smirnov will simply be given
enough money to go away.373 The ever-present promise of the situation is that a
“negotiated reintegration process [for Transnistria] might also then serve as a
template for the reintegration of South Ossetia and Abkhazia into a sovereign
Georgia.”374 As always, the role of law in international politics is to assist in the
peaceful settlement of disputes. The first step in any such settlement is an honest
accounting of the strengths and weaknesses of the position of each side. That is
what this report has attempted to do.
373 Herd, supra note 10, at 10.
374 Id., at 3.
98
Moldova Mission Team
Mark A. Meyer, Mission Chair
Robert Abrams
Christopher J. Borgen∗
Elizabeth Defeis
Barrington D. Parker, Jr.
The Special Committee on European Affairs
Mark A. Meyer, Chair
Susanna C. Biletta, Secretary
Robert Abrams Mark Ira Greene Morlan Ty Rogers
Luis Acuña Robert H. Hotz, Jr. Rotem Rosen
Lauri Apple James V. Kearney Jeffrey B. Samuels
Jose M. Arrufat Gracia Richard H. Langan, II Leslie B. Samuels
Stuart David Baker Pascale Longuet Perry M. Sayles
Michael D. Blechman Cyrus D. Mehta Peter C. O. Schliesser
Christopher J. Borgen ∗ Terry A. Myers Michael L. Sher
Anna Dalla Val Debra Monaghan Nazar Christopher Smeall+
Eleanor M. Fox Ellen J. Odoner Bernard Spoor +
David F. Freedman Ernest T. Patrikis Helena Sprenger
Donald George Glascoff, Jr. Peter J. Pettibone+ Edward Toptani
Allison S. Gray Lennaert J. Posch Daniel F. Walsh
∗ Principal author of report.
+ Members who did not participate in the report process.