ISSUE 2-2013
Раду Врабие Tomasz Stępniewski Peter Plenta
Ярослав Шимов Любовь Сидорова
Игорь Тышкевич
Тарас Шульга
Рафик Исмаилов Владимир Воронов

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

By Peter Plenta | SFPA Bratislava, Slovakia | Issue 2, 2013

Although conflicts in Transnistria as well as in Nagorno Karabakh are both known as “frozen”, there are many differences between them. Firstly, the borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan are closed. Secondly, majority of population in both countries has sceptical view on mutual cooperation. An attitude of society is an important precondition for collaboration in conflict areas. In addition, any kind of (cross border) cooperation is impossible without a permission, or at least tolerance, of political elites. On the other hand, we can find also several common features. These features form a background for possible transfer of experience from cross border cooperation in Transnistria to Nagorno Karabakh.

Comparing conflicts in Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh
In 1992 civil conflict sparked between two competing groups in Moldova. The two warring parties were the Moldovans who occupy the majority of the territory and the “Transnistrians” who occupy the smaller eastern region of Moldova known as Transnistria. Conflict began in March of 1992, and froze in July of the same year. Both warring parties agreed upon a ceasefire, and the de facto state of Transnistria was born.[1]

The Transnistrian conflict, unlike other frozen conflicts in ex-Soviet space, is less complex. Artificial nature of this conflict inspired from outside and a lack of ethnic or religious antagonisms represent the proper conditions for the development of realistic regulatory scenarios. Despite some differences in mentality, and the negative impact of hostilities in 1992 on public awareness, people living on both banks of the river Dniester does not harbor feelings of hatred and enmity towards each other.[2] This conflict, despite of involvement of international actors, can be considered as internal. There are just two sides of conflict Moldova and Transnistria separated from each other by security zone. However, the zone is open for transfer, which is a basic precondition for cross border cooperation.

The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is more complicated. Despite many opinions, this conflict can be viewed as international. Armenia guarantees security of so-called “Nagorno Karabakh republic.” On the other hand, Azerbaijan never recognizes “NKR” as a side of the conflict. The war lasted from 1988 until 1994, when a ceasefire was signed. The number of death has reached 30 000 people. Azerbaijan lost around 16% of its territory in the war. In September 1991 Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence. Despite the declaration, even Armenia does not recognize it as an independent state.

The outer perimeter of these territories is a line of direct conflict between the military forces of the Azerbaijan and „Nagorno Karabakh republic“. The fragile ceasefire continues to be violated, with frequent exchanges of fire. In 2012 over 30 lives were lost. Moreover, the conflict has changed the composition of population in region. During the Soviet census in 1989, the population of the NKAO was calculated to be 189,085, including 145,500 ethnic Armenians (76.9 per cent) and 40,700 ethnic Azers (21.5 per cent) According to the 2005 NKR Census, the country's ethnic composition is: Armenians- 137,380;  Azers- 6; Others- 351.

Public opinion
The positive attitude of population is a key precondition for cross border cooperation. The public opinion also influences a position of political elites, whoaremorewillingto collaboration. In the opinion of the majority of the population in Moldova (78.1%), the two decades’ lack of settled relationships between Moldova and Transnistria was “harmful for both sides”, which is also the opinion shared by more than a half (56.1%) of the Transnistrian population. 81% of the respondents approve the cooperation perspectives between both banks of the Dniester river. Only 8.7% of the respondents had a negative opinion.[3]

The main obstacle for the cross border cooperation between Armenia and Azerbaijan is approach of political leaders and public. Both countries have advocated maximalist positions. The two publics have become used to these demands and thus see the resolution of the conflict only through the concessions made by the other side. Azerbaijanis do not accept the idea of Nagorno Karabakh’s independence. Armenians refuse to see the region reintegrated under Azerbaijani sovereignty. Thus, any departure from these maximalist positions might portrait the leaders of these nations as traitors, risking their power bases and causing domestic political instability in their countries.[4]

On the other hand, even in this case, there are a few examples of cooperation. Cooperation is, however, limited to personal contacts, especially in culture and science. Moreover, there are also discussion forums where young people and politicians exchanged their views on the situation in the region. Further development of these contacts can lead to the easing of tension between the parties and influences attitude of the societies.

Owing to differences mentioned above, the situation between Moldavian and Transdniestrian regions is more favourable for the cross-border cooperation, although, there are also certain specific problems.  The cooperation, developed on different levels, has its ups and downs dependent on the development of relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol.  

Collaboration and contacts between governments
In 2006, both Chisinau and Tiraspol began to break off all ties (diplomatic, infrastructural, economic and social) between the two banks of the Dniester River. Preparation of working groups and joint implementation of concrete projects in the social-economic, humanitarian and security areas, was meant to contribute effectively to support population and at the same time, to create favourable conditions for conducting the necessary negotiations on political settlement of the conflict. During the period of 2007-2009, were held 13 meetings of working groups. However, working groups meetings had an informational character through an information exchange between representatives of central authorities in Chisinau and Tiraspol administration. Representatives of Transnistrian administration insisted on formalizing working groups, calling for development of regulations on the activities of these groups, the recognition of previously agreed arrangements. For these reasons, the working groups during this period did not achieve any remarkable result.[5]

In 2012, the Republic of Moldova and the Transnistrian region agreed to initiate small steps policy to rebuild confidence through the settlement of common socio-economic problems. After a six-year break, the first freight train travelling from Moldova to Ukraine across the breakaway republic of Transnistria was cleared by Transnistrian border officials in town of Rybnitsa. At the same time, Chisinau and Tiraspol failed to reopen the bridge over the Nistru River at Gura Bacului for local and international traffic. The situation of the Moldovan-administered, Latin-script schools in the Transnistrian region remains uncertain, direct telephone links were not resumed, and the Tiraspol administration has reimposed the 100% fee on the “imports” of a range of goods from the Republic of Moldova.[6]

Civic society
From 2006 to 2011, the Moldovan Foreign Policy Association implemented the “Transnistrian Dialogues” project. The main objective of this project was to establish bridges of communication between Moldova and its Transnistrian separatist region. This included civil society as well as journalists, professors, students, young politicians, bankers, businessmen, and local authorities. This meant we were able to maintain a constant dialogue between Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, and Tiraspol, the administrative centre of the Transnistrian Separatist region, at a time when official political negotiations were suspended. This was crucial in keeping communications open between all relevant parties.[7]
Euroregion Dniester project
A system of cross-border cooperation in conflict region is more suitable for lower-level administrative units. These stakeholders define their own interests and they can establish their own goals in this most obvious form and framework of international cooperation. The individual initiative of local self-governments should be a signal to the central authorities of the need for deepening cooperation.

The Euroregion "Dniester" is created as a body of cross-border cooperation, as an association of local administrative-territorial units of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. It consists of Vinnytsia region from Ukraine, 7 districts from Moldova and 2 districts of Transnistria are under negotiations. The main purpose is the implementation of programs for harmonized and complex development of territories adjacent to the river Dniester. Between another goals are:

  • implementation of joint cross-border investment projects
  • regional projects (programs) on the reduction of unemployment among the population in border areas by increasing the economic potential
  • business contacts with relevant international organizations, foundations, institutions, agencies and other organizations
  • overcoming physical and psychological barriers by strengthening community ties between neighbours through joint projects
  • developing strategic cross-border concepts by developing joint institutions
  • preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the region[8]
The first project, which was implemented in the framework of the agreement, was the exchange of children groups during the summer holiday for rest and health-improvement.Further events within the framework of the project are:
  • Moldovan-Ukrainian forum in order to establish and strengthen cooperation between the businessmen
  • The artists from Ukraine and Moldova (including Transnistria region) took part in the First Ukrainian International Festival „Dniester Mermaid“
  • International football tournament for the cup of the Euroregion Dniester
  • Children`s painting competition
  • Launching of tourist routes
  • Journalist visits
  • The preparation of the Action plan to prevent the emergencies situations on the river Dniester
At least in the short-term, there appears to be no solution to the problems which would be acceptable to all parties. Therefore, a system of cross-border cooperation is reserved for lower-level administrative units that help build mutual confidence. Although there are many differences between conflict in Transnistria and conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, some of the examples of cross border cooperation can be appropriate also in this region. It is hard to imagine direct contacts between Armenian (and Nagorno Karabakh) and Azerbaijan elites, or cross border cooperation in real sense. On the other hand, also in this case exist area of cooperation in which both countries (including territory of “NKR”) have common interests.

Such areas of cooperation are environmental issues, culture, exchange of student, visits of journalists and discussions between young people. Collaboration in these areas may create conditions for changes in attitude of political elites and societies toward cross border cooperation. 

[1] MATTHEWS, J.C.L. 2012. The Chicken or the Egg? Causes of the Moldova-Transnistria Conflict:
[2] BALAN, G. 2010. Place of the Confidence Building Process in the Policy of Solving the Conflict in the eastern region of Moldova
[3] Bobcova E.:
[4] Ismailzade F. 2011. The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: Current Trends and Future Scenarios
[5] BALAN, G. 2010. Place of the Confidence Building Process in the Policy of Solving the Conflict in the eastern region of Moldova



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Tomasz Stępniewski
Ярослав Шимов
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