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Sunday, 27 August, 2000, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Two Moldovas celebrate independence

While Moldova marks its independence from the Soviet Union nine years ago, a breakaway region in the east of the country seems likely to overshadow the official celebrations with its own.

The self-proclaimed Transdniestria region, on the east bank of the Dniester river, has been outside central control from the very beginning of Moldova's life as an independent state.

Originally part of Soviet Ukraine, the east bank was joined with regions of Romania ceded under the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact to form a new Moldavian Soviet republic.

Transdniestria declared its own "independence" from Moldavia on 2 September 1990, when its Slav population feared that west bank politicians were planning to join the republic to Romania.

Ten years on, a region which endured an armed conflict in 1991-92 and remains in virtual political and economic isolation is trying to make its voice heard.

Talks stalemate

Although the prospect of Moldova and Romania merging has receded, no agreement is in sight on the east bank's status.

Vladimir Putin and Petru Lucinschi
Lucinschi and Putin had seemed close to a deal

Transdniestria wants independence, while Moldova is only prepared to allow it the status of autonomy subordinate to the central government in Chisinau.

And centrist Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi, who seemed prepared to accept the compromise solution of a federal state with equal rights for both sides, was rendered a lame duck in July by constitutional amendments curbing his powers.

New confidence

Impatient with the progress of talks, Transdniestria leader Igor Smirnov recently instituted a presidential system and set up a foreign ministry, whose main purpose will be to seek international recognition for the region.

He has also invited top Russian politicians to the much-vaunted independence day celebrations in the self-declared capital, Tiraspol, which include a big military parade.

Moldova's political failure in nine years of existence is that it did not manage to solve peacefully the Transdniestria conflict

Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis

Mr Smirnov seems to have been buoyed by the election of Vladimir Putin as Russian president.

Previously, Russia's seemingly weak foreign policy had led Transdniestria politicians to favour communist and nationalist movements in Moscow.

Now a younger and apparently more energetic Russian leadership has given new confidence to Transdniestria, and the local branch of the pro-Putin Yedinstvo movement has rapidly gained in popularity.

Troop presence

Transdniestria's reliance on Russia is based on Moscow's 2,000-strong troop presence there, the remnant of the Soviet 14th Army.

Russia pledged to withdraw these troops by the end of 2002 at the 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul.

But so far it has shown little inclination to do so and could use Chisinau's $900m gas debt as a negotiating lever.

Moldovan woes

In contrast to Tiraspol, Chisinau's own anniversary celebrations are likely to seem muted as economic woes continue.

A shortage of cash has even persuaded the authorities to cancel their own military parade this year.

And senior politicians remain irked by the fact that Moldova is still unable to control a large part of its territory or find an acceptable solution to the problem.

In a pre-independence day news conference, Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis said: "Moldova's political failure in nine years of existence is that it did not manage to solve peacefully the Transdniestria conflict."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

13 Nov 99 | Europe
Moldova arms withdrawal begins
16 Jul 99 | Europe
Talks on Transdnestr in Kiev
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