Tuesday, March 07, 2006

These Small Conflicts...

There are a number of small conflicts in or around Europe that have the potential of having wider repercussions - and that have to be solved sooner or later.

The last few days have suddenly seen renewed tension around the break-away statelet of Transdniestria in Moldova.

We will hear more about the place later in the year, I believe.

When Moldova - once a Soviet Republic - acquired its independence, the small Russian-dominated area on the Eastern bank of the Dniestr river refused to accept the authority of the capital Chisianu.

And they certainly had the force to assert their position. Theirs was the main staging area for the 14th Army of the old Soviet Union, with huge stocks of arms and ammunition geared to support - in the old days - a Soviet offensive down towards Turkey and the Bosphorous.

Since then there has been an effective stalemate. App 550 000 mainly Russians have persisted in living in a socialist and smuggling economy, being the source of both illegal arms and the trafficing of women. And they have had the support of people in Moscow as well.

You get the flair of the place by its distinctly Soviet-style coat of arms.

Moscow still keeps some remnants of the 14th army - app 1 500 soldiers - there to protect the break-away statelet. Within the OSCE they have committed themselves to withdrawing these, but nothing has happened.

But gradually the European Union is increasing its pressure for some sort of solution. Customs monitors have been deployed along the border between Transdniestria and Ukraine, creating problems for thre lucrative smuggling that often use the near-by Black Sea port of Odessa.

And on Friday Ukraine said that it will only allow goods to enter from Transdniestria that had the stamp of approval from the Moldovan authorities in Chsinau. If properly enforced, this would effectively pull the rug from under the feet of the rebel authorities in Tiraspol.

Accordingly, they have been screaming murder, and have appealed to Moscow for help. In addition, they have blocked train traffic on the direct route from Ukraine to Moldova since it passes through them.

So, it's an economic war that is rapidly escalating by the Dniestr.

It's an ouverture to what will happen later. Moscow has already started saying that if Kosovo gets independence they don't really see why not places like Transdniestr could not be given the same. And there are more places in the Caucasus that, in their opinion, would qualify.

These conflicts must not be forgotten - they need to be sorted out. If not, they might poison relationships and issues of far greater importance.

One would hope that the European Union will have the will and the persistence to continue to gradually increase the pressure on the issue.

That's in all probability the only way a solution can be reached.