The recent economic crisis that is affecting the EU and many of its members brought to the news the case of Cyprus. The Island, forced to request a financial bailout, is not only a troubled EU member struggling for its economic survival, but also home to one of the longest unsettled territorial disputes since 1974.
Cyprus is currently divided between the official Republic of Cyprus in the south and mainly inhabited by Greek-Cypriots and the internationally unrecognized Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic, supported by the Ankara’s Government.
The dispute on the partition following Turkish invasion in 1974, has not found any solutions and recent events seem to increase rather than favor a reunification of the Island.
Cyprus nationalism and independence
In 1571 the mostly Greek-populated island of Cyprus was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, and held until 1914 when Cyprus was formally annexed by Britain following the Ottoman Empire’s decision to join the First World War on the side of the Central Powers; subsequently the island became a British Crown colony.
The two communities of Greeks and Turks, soon developed a strong national sentiment toward the respective mother countries, although they lived peacefully for many years. Nevertheless, this nationalist sentiment grew stronger after the First World War due to several reasons. One can be linked to the colonial policy of “divide and rule” which was applied in other areas such Nigeria for example. The major counter effect of this policy was to strengthen division among the population on ethnic lines, but serving British interest in keeping both groups weak and unable to challenge colonial rule.
Whilst Greek-Cypriots grew a strong sentiment of reunification with Greece, enosis, the Turkish nationalism was reinvigorated by events in the Anatolia peninsula where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, President of the Republic of Turkey from 1923 to 1938, attempted to build a new nation on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and elaborated the program of “six principles” (the “Six Arrows”). These principles of secularism and nationalism reduced Islam’s role in the everyday life of individuals and emphasized Turkish identity as the main source of nationalism.
In the early fifties a Greek nationalist group was formed called the Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston (EOKA, or “National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters”). EOKA wished to remove all obstacles, British, Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot from their path to independence, or union with Greece. EOKA initiated its activities by planting the first bombs on 1 April 1951 with the directive by Greek Foreign Minister Stefanopoulos. A “Council of Revolution” was established on 7 March 1953 and EOKA’s campaign against the British forces began to grow. On the other side, the Turkish Resistance Organization (TMT, Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı) declared war on the Greek Cypriot rebels as well.
Following the above surge in attacks and decolonization policy in the post WWII, British rule lasted until 1960 when the island was declared an independent state under the London-Zurich agreements. The agreement created a foundation for the Republic of Cyprus, which joined the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities in a single state, seen as a necessary compromise to avoid intervention from Greece or Turkey.
Independence and Partition
The 1960 Constitution of the Cyprus Republic proved unworkable however, lasting only three years. Greek Cypriots wanted to end the separate Turkish Cypriot municipal councils permitted by the British in 1958, as this would have exacerbated Turkish nationalism and increase risks of partition. The Greek Cypriots, at this stage where strongly supporting the enosis, a union with Greece, whilst Turkish Cypriots were in favor of taksim, partition between Greece and Turkey. Along with different vision on Cyprus future, the two communities accused each other of altering constitutional equilibrium and persecution. The Greek Cypriots complained about Turkish Cypriots larger share of governmental posts compared to the size of their population. Additionally, the position of vice president was reserved for the Turkish population and both the president and vice president were given veto power over crucial issues. In this condition, the 1960 constitution fell apart and communal violence ensued. Between 21 and 26 December 1963, the conflict centered in the Omorphita suburb of Nicosia, which had been an area of tension in 1958. The participants were Greek Cypriot irregulars, Turkish Cypriot civilians and former TMT members. The Turkish fighters were less powerful, outnumbered from the superior Greek Cypriot side that were supplied with stored EOKA guns and eventually weapons from foreign powers. Both President Makarios and Dr. Küçük issued calls for peace, but these were ignored. These clashes, as in 1967, were only settled after Turkey threatened to invade on the basis that they would be protecting the Turkish population from possible ethnic cleansing by Greek Cypriot forces.
In 1967, a military junta overthrows Greek government, establishing an obscurantist far right government widely condemned by the whole of Europe but had the support of the United States. In the autumn of 1973 there had been a further coup in Athens in which the original Greek junta had been replaced by one still more obscurantist headed by the Chief of Military Police, Brigadier Ioannides, with head of state General Phaedon Gizikis. Ioannides believed that Cypriot president Makarios was no longer a true supporter of enosis, and suspected him of being a communist sympathizer. This led Ioannides to support the EOKA-B and the National Guard as they tried to undermine Makarios. On 15 July 1974 sections of the Cypriot National Guard, led by its Greek officers, overthrew the government. Makarios narrowly escaped death in the attack; he fled the presidential palace, whilst the British managed to assist his escape to London the next morning. In the coup itself, 91 people were killed, all Greek-Cypriots. The Turkish-Cypriots were not affected by the coup against Makarios; one of the reasons was that Ioannides did not want to provoke a Turkish reaction. Nikos Sampson was declared provisional president of the new Cypriot government; Sampson was a Greek ultra nationalist who was known to be fanatically anti-Turkish and had taken part in violence against Turkish civilians in earlier conflicts.
In response to the coup, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sent Joseph Sisco to try to mediate the conflict. Turkey issued a list of demands to Greece via a US negotiator. These demands included the immediate removal of Nikos Sampson, the withdrawal of 650 Greek officers from the Cypriot National Guard, the admission of Turkish troops to protect their population, equal rights for both populations, and access to the sea from the northern coast for Turkish Cypriots. These demands were rejected as they would have given Turkey an unacceptable amount of power on the island. Turkey, led by Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, then applied to Britain as a signatory of the Treaty of Guarantee to take action to return Cyprus to its neutral status. Britain declined this offer, and refused to let Turkey use its bases on Cyprus as part of the operation.
The inevitable happened: Turkey invaded Cyprus on Saturday, 20 July 1974. Heavily armed troops landed shortly before dawn at Kyrenia (Girne) on the northern coast meeting resistance from Greek and Greek Cypriot forces. Ankara said that it was invoking its right under the Treaty of Guarantee to protect the Turkish Cypriots and guarantee the independence of Cyprus. The operation, codenamed ‘Operation Atilla’, is known in the North as ‘the 1974 Peace Operation’. By the time a ceasefire was agreed three days later, Turkish troops held 3% of the territory of Cyprus. Five thousand Greek Cypriots had fled their homes.
Along territorial changes, the Turkish invasion had also the effect to facilitate on 23 July 1974 the collapse of the Greek military junta with Greek political leaders in exile started returning to the country. On 24 July 1974 Constantine Karamanlis returned from Paris and was sworn in as Prime Minister.
Talks to solve the issue started in Geneva, Switzerland, with all the guarantor powers present: Greece, Turkey and Great Britain. These talks, divided in two rounds between 25 July and 14 August 1974, were intended to find a solution for a permanent settlement of the Cypriot crisis. If during the Greek military power international sympathy was mainly on Turkish side, after the return of democracy Greek Cypriots were gaining more support. The Turkish invasion if justified at first to prevent a pogrom was now starting to be seen as a possible act to consolidate partition. Turkey demanded that the Cypriot government accept its plan for a federal state, and population transfer. When the Cypriot acting president Clerides asked for 36 to 48 hours in order to consult with Athens and with Greek Cypriot leaders, the Turkish Foreign Minister denied Clerides that opportunity on the grounds that Makarios and others would use it to play for more time.
On 14 August Turkey launched its “Second Peace Operation” with troops rapidly occupying even more than was asked for at Geneva. 40% of the land came under Turkish occupation reaching as far south as the Louroujina Salient. In the process, many Greek Cypriots became refugees. The Cypriot government estimates their numbers at about 200,000, with other sources stating 140,000 to 160,000. The ceasefire line from 1974 today separates the two communities on the island, and is commonly referred to as the Green Line.
As a result, the de facto partition of the Republic and the creation of a separate political entity in the north was established. On 13 February 1975, Turkey declared the occupied areas of the Republic of Cyprus to be a “Federated Turkish State”, to the universal condemnation of the international community. The United Nations condemned the move with the UN Security Council Resolution 367-1975 and reiterating that they recognize the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus according to the terms of its independence in 1960.
In 1983 the Turkish Cypriot assembly declared independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. United Nations Security Council Resolution 541 (1983) considered the “attempt to create the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is invalid, and will contribute to a worsening of the situation in Cyprus”. It went on to state that it “Considers the declaration referred to above as legally invalid and calls for its withdrawal”. The conflict continues to affect Turkey’s relations with Cyprus, Greece, and the European Union.
Negotiations to find a solution to the Cyprus problem have been taking place on and off since 1964. Between 1974 and 2002, the Turkish Cypriot side (effectively controlled by the Turkish government) was seen by the international community as the side refusing a balanced solution. Since 2002, the situation has been reversed according to US and UK officials, and the Greek Cypriot side rejected a plan which would have called for the dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus without guarantees that the Turkish occupation forces would be removed.
Greek Cypriots rejected the UN settlement plan in an April 2004 referendum. On 24 April 2004, the Greek Cypriots rejected the plan proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the settlement of the Cyprus dispute. The plan, which was approved by the Turkish Cypriots in a separate but simultaneous referendum, would have created a United Cyprus Republic and ensured that the entire island would reap the benefits of Cyprus’ entry into the European Union on 1 May. The United Cyprus Republic consisted of a Greek Cypriot constituent state and a Turkish Cypriot constituent state linked by a federal government. More than half of the Greek Cypriots who were displaced in 1974 and their descendants would have had their properties returned to them and would have lived in them under Greek Cypriot administration within a period of 31/2 to 42 months after the entry into force of the settlement. For those whose property could not be returned, they would have received monetary compensation.
Following Greek Cypriots rejection, the entire island entered the EU on 1 May 2004 still divided; the EU acquis communautaire – the body of common rights and obligations – applies only to the areas under direct government control, and is suspended in the areas occupied by the Turkish military and administered by Turkish Cypriots.
The Greek Cypriots started their struggle for independence against the British, and the Turkish community at first to establish enosis, the union with Greece. Today, this initial goal has been completely sidelined, especially after Cyprus joined the EU in 2004; Cyprus is seen as an independent country that, although maintains strong ties with Greece, has its own path. The conquered economic progress until 2013 and the achievement of EU membership shifted Greek Cypriots towards a conservative position in maintaining the status quo. The reasons are:
- The collapse of the Greek economy, united with the achieved own development, contributed to the abandon of enosis in recent decades.
- Cyprus joining the EU has also strengthened the community and the nationalist sentiment, bringing economic development and international stability.
- Greek Cypriots fear a strong Turkish influence in a possibly reunited island, mainly due to the presence of a strong military force in Northern Cyprus, thus maintaining an unbalanced and disproportionate section of the Island.
- Alteration of equilibrium: a reunification for many Cypriots is a threat to stability. For them could unite a strong-developed south and a militarized but poorer north, with consequent afflux of population to the Greek Cypriot inhabited areas.
The Turkish Cypriots have fought along British forces against Greek and Cypriot nationalists to avoid independence or enosis. After independence they maintained a strong and defensive approach, due to being a minority in a 3% of land. This increased their idea of being discriminated and under constant attack. The actions of the Greek military junta and EOKA-B in Cyprus in the 70’s demonstrated to many the existence of an anti-Turkish agenda. This led to the first Turkish invasion, still seen by many as justified. The second invasion, however, altered existing equilibriums and historical balance, with Turkey occupying 36% of territory and in the following years favoring settlement to increase its population. The Turkish community, at first rejected any plan of reunification, fearing reprisal and abandon by Turkey, represented at best by its leader Ruf Denktash. This sentiment today changed to a contrary position, switching side with Greek Cypriots. Turkish community voted for integration, dreaming of an EU membership in 2004.
- They see the reunification as the best chances of a bright future and abandon of isolation, as the Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic is not recognized.
- They also know that Turkey will appease this desire of a settlement due to Ankara’s EU membership claims.
- The fear of inter communal clashes and Greek pogrom is considered unlikely in a country today part of EU with strict international monitoring.
- Turkey’s NATO membership is another guarantee that Turkey will commit herself to international obligations.
The guarantors: Greece and Turkey
Although Greece maintains strong relations and ties with Greek-Cypriots, its role and influence is clearly undermined by the recent crisis that shattered the economy. Greece sympathy for enosis finds the same indifference as in Cyprus; Greeks would clearly prefer a peaceful settlement of the question rather than having their country embroiled in an expensive Cyprus conflict or even the resurface of political tensions with Turkey.
Turkey’s position today is more complicated and rather different from the past. If their first invasion of the Island received some sort of support and understanding as a genuine intervention to defend its population against an attack supported by a fascist regime in Athens, the second invasion is widely seen as a clear attempt by Turkey to a partition on permanent basis. The years that followed saw Turkey’s hostility to any negotiations on reunification, although something is changing today:
- Turkey has a fast growing economy with enormous potentials. This is in contrast with EU countries struggling to cope with debt.
- Turkey is widely accused of maintain strong military presence, but Turkey is also a member of NATO and has strong relations with the USA, that strongly support a solution on Cyprus for reunification.
- Turkey is seeking EU membership and any obstacle to a permanent settlement of Cyprus dispute will undermine her chances.
Turkey therefore is seen today as more cooperative towards a solution for Cyprus and a possible reunification. However, there are some points that could undermine this view:
- Turkey’s recent interference in the Syrian conflict can drag the country in a proxy war, leading to tensions with regional powers and, in case of joining the EU, would pose risk of stability by bordering a troubled region.
- Turkey is still unstable internally with Kurds insurgence, and the renaissance of Islamism that, if not controlled, could threaten the established laicism that marked Turkey’s modern history.
- EU recent crisis could make less desirable an entrance into the union to ordinary Turkish people, especially after having seen the effects in Greece and Cyprus.
The Mediators: EU and UN
The EU is in a difficult position. Favor Cyprus reunification will be a statement of progress in a continent that saw fragmentation and rising nationalism rather than the idyllic European dream of bringing countries together. The economic crisis is shattering hopes and the support to the EU both on political and economic basis. Cyprus therefore could be at the same time the savior or the destroyer. A reunification will boost political chances and will increase the possibility of Turkey joining in the future, bringing an emerging economy inside the European market. On the other, Cyprus recent financial crisis has shown once again the limits and the opposition of the population to an EU guided from the top, imposing unjust policies to their governments. This trend, noticeable in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and UK, could alienate both Greek and Turkish Cypriots as well as Turkey’s population itself.
A reunification of the Island could also speed up Turkey’s chances of joining the EU; however, this will open the risk in sharing a border with a troubled region: Kurds insurgencies, Lebanon instable governments and Hezbollah, Iraq fratricidal bombings, and a future Syria that, with or without Assad, would be far from being a stable country for decades.
The UN has always been a stronger supporter of Cyprus reunification and, compared with the above players, the only one who maintained a coherent position. Nevertheless, UN attempts to solve Cyprus dispute have been undermined during the years by:
- Greek nationalists during the military dictatorship, and their interference in Cypriots affairs that ultimately led to Turkish reaction
- Turkish strong military presence and refusal to withdraw
- Influence of superpowers: the USA in an anti-communist stance appeased the Greek dictatorship first and then switched to Turkey when non aligned Cyprus leaned towards pro-soviet links.
- Swinging position of Cypriots sides moving out, alternatively, from a vision of reunification. Refusing the Annan plan, Greek Cypriots joined the EU as a separated country, whilst pro-European Turkish Cypriots were left outside.
Based on the above, to many the Cyprus dispute appears as leaning towards a permanent partition, and even to consider this the best solution. A two-Cyprus States will ease tensions in the short term, and only a Turkey’s admission to EU will ease all the remaining tensions related to military attacks or reprisals, therefore paving the way for a reunification under EU policy of integration in the longer term. The above solution is plausible only if the central pillar will resist to the recent storms: the EU.
Seen the recent developments, appears that the EU is the key to the future settlement for the Island; a survival of a reformed EU could bring solutions and stability, but a collapse and the constant rising of anti-EU sentiment and nationalism could effectively make way for the permanent partition of Cyprus.
The conflict in Syria, with its human costs and destruction, is still far from being over and, although contained to a civil war, many ask when this will turn in an international conflict. Sitting in a region where religious and ethnic lines cut across several states, this civil war could generate a dangerous conflict capable of involving anyone who has links or roots to the conflict inside Syria.
To this moment the conflict managed to contain itself within the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic; however, are not the mindless and irresponsible actions of both parts in the conflict, but the international community that create alarms of a possible enlargement of this conflict.
Phase 1: The Libyan and Iraqi Recipes
The first point that strike into the minds of the western powers leaders is the desire to stop a civil war, causing thousands of victims, by international intervention. The failing points of this strategy are:
- By intervention the US, UK and France intend their war
- No UN legitimisation due to Russia/China veto
- Moved by post-Assad desires of influence in the area rather than Syrians wellbeing
- Blind appeasement of the opposition.
To this aim the so called democratic powers used at first the same strategy tested with success in Libya, by granting the opposition the etiquette of Samaritans against the wolves of the regime. This calculation was soon fallacious due to:
- The fragmented opposition forces
- Emerging proof that the most active rebels are in fact ex Assad forces deserters, al Qaida linked and other islamist groups. Although Assad at first denounced this, along with Russia, derision in what was branded as propaganda was the response in western medias.
- Egypt revolution ended with a Muslim Brotherhood government
- Tunisia is in the hand of Islamic parties
- In Libya militias still run free and even the US ambassador was killed in Benghazi in an embarrassing security failure
- Afghanistan stability is like the search for El Dorado
- Iraq has practically daily attacks and bombs.
This block, after launching some threats such as intervention without UN legitimization, then moved to the next strategy: the Iraqi recipe/WMD scare. A continue accusation and revelations that Assad forces used chemical weapons, the threats of war if this were employed, an attempt to show to the world that Syria was the new mortal danger, entered our TV screens taking the clocks back to 2003.
Nevertheless, even the chemical connection failed: the UN took distance this time from any attempt of manipulation and reasserted its independence; it appears clear that either part in conflict likely used chemical weapons.
This strategy of interventionism started to collapse as details of massacres, human rights violations, used of WMD, and terrorist groups destroyed the romantic image of the rebels.
The complete disinterest of the western powers in proposing a real solution, rather than bring war into a civil war contest, has also being demonstrated by:
- Undermining any UN attempt of mediation, like the Kofi Annan plan for cease fire
- Undermining any Russian diplomatic efforts by stubbornly refusing to pressure opposition forces. Although it must be said in their defence that they simply cannot do that as it has become clear that the islamist and pro al-Qaida groups are hijacking the revolution
- Are preoccupied more to destroy Assad rather than think of the consequences for the area
This series of incapacity to run the conflict to their side made space to the plan B: proxy war/third party attacks.
Phase 2: Third Party Interventionism
If the humanitarian hypocrisy moved the powers to a war in Libya, this time we are going back to the old sphere of influence and power strategy, with the use of “puppets” for a proxy war that resemble more of a cold war era.
How to bring down Assad by using the military power of a country that is not easily accused of imperialism? The first name to come to their mind was Turkey. It all started with using the pretext of Syrian shelling along the border as an excuse to legitimise Turkey in a disproportionate response and threats of military intervention that seemed coming nearer day by day. All was going well until two big mistakes were committed: not taking into account Turkey’s internal politics and a hazardous move by Ankara. Turkey was pressured by US to act strongly, and PM Erdogan came under fire by its own citizen for supporting someone else desire for war and revenge. Turkey is also fighting internal insurgency by Kurds, so how to legitimise intervention for democracy when even internally they are not able to solve their own issues? To this we must add: risk of Kurds taking advantage in case of conflict to raise their actions against Ankara’s government; Turkey possible EU membership would be undermined as how appealing is to share a border with Syria and Lebanon, with a country in turmoil for Kurdish independence and whilst Cyprus status is still unresolved?
The second mistake, and a huge one, was when Turkey’s fighter jets blocked a Russian plane accused of transporting weapons for the Syrian army. This led to a diplomatic row with Moscow and angered President Putin to the point that Russia made it clear to be ready to defend its planes. How serious Russia was, no one can say, but we must remember that only one head of state was so silly to test Putin nerves: Georgian President Saakashvili in 2008, and we all know how it ended.
After going “cold Turkey”, the western powers relied on an even more dangerous card: Israel. Israel bomber twice Syrian targets in the past weeks, accusing Damascus to transport missiles towards Hezbollah bases in Lebanon. Whether true or not, Israel crossed a line that could have serious consequences if repeated:
- Transform the Syrian civil war in a Israeli-western backed aggression against an Arab country
- Split the pro rebel faction as the Arab League will have to find a very good reason to legitimise its position in staying in the same side with the Israelis
- Could bring into war other countries such Egypt and Iran
- All the Al Qaida linked terrorist groups, islamist factions, Hezbollah and Hamas will have a reason to enter the conflict.
Although Israel could have legitimate reasons on a war in Syria, like the one that is strengthening pro-Iranian Hezbollah and other hostile groups, taking out Assad by direct intervention could turn the civil war into an Arab war. Western powers, ignorant of history and basic diplomatic calculations, are failing to see the danger; during the Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein tried desperately to bring Israel into war by launching missile scuds against Tel Aviv. The then US president George Bush Senior, had to pull every string available to calm the hawks in the Israeli army; he knew that a strike by Israel would have took away any legitimation for intervention at the eyes of the precious Arab allies and created a mass of mujahidin ready to fight against the Americans.
This time, unfortunately for us, the arrogance of these current leaders is far more dangerous than the actual act from Israel and the risk of miscalculations is increasing day by day. This strong desire of the western powers, and especially US and Israel, to solve quickly the question is not dictated by benevolence towards Syrians but rather by national interests in the post Assad era. Their aim is especially to weaken Iran and its proxies. To many analysts Syria is the first step in a wider scenario intended to weaken Iran in preparation for a possible military confrontation. This is also seen as a test of Teheran’s political, diplomatic and military strengths. The problem with this calculation is that, bringing Israel into the arena will also generate tensions with Russia and China and how Egypt will move?
Conclusion: Echoes of Cold War and Sphere of Influence
The Syrian conflict is therefore starting to resemble more to a cold war scenario where powers are fighting to decide who will get hold of the area, but without taking into account that a false move will bring into war Lebanon, Turkey and the Kurds, Hezbollah, Palestinian armed groups, Hamas, Iran and so on.
Russia and China, who vetoed any resolution and back a different solution rather than intervention, are also moved by political gains and strategic calculation. China is more preoccupied about economic investments, and to keep hold of insurgency in Xinjiang rather than generating a dangerous example for intervention in internal affairs. Also, this will fulfil the task in “keeping busy” the American forces elsewhere, distracting them from the China Sea.
Russia on its side, counter any American move for the simply reasons of influence and strategic necessity, as losing ties in Syria and eventually Iran will be a major blow for Moscow. This will leave unsecured two crucial areas, potentially dangerous also for the proliferation of terrorist and islamic insurgences that could spill in the rebellious Caucasus region.
Based on the above is clear that until we will have nationalistic and strategic reasons leading the proposals by these powers, the result will be only war and more destruction rather than stability. Until now the Syrian conflict maintained its internal character, but for how long it will depend on the acts of these leaders, on whose shoulders will fall all the responsibility for their actions and consequences, or to paraphrase a celeb quotation from Fidel Castro, “History will judge… them”.
Bolivia has recently become a central point in Latin America politics following its president actions towards historic enemies and some neighbouring states. Evo Morales’ strong rhetoric, with a mix policy of nationalism and socialism, has somehow managed to revive the radical left wing’s morale after the loss of its main leader, Pres. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Since the death of the Bolivarian Revolution leader, Morales has stepped in accusing the US to plan his assassination and overthrow the government, and reopening territorial claims against Chile. Are these moves a project to replace Chavez at the head of the anti-imperialist movement or is simply guarding the post against the so called reaction?
Morales’ way to socialism and reactions
Juan Evo Morales is the president of Bolivia since 2005, when it was elected as the first indigenous president and leader of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). Morales, along Chavez, soon became a central figure of the Latin America “rebellion” against the US imperialism and bringing back socialism as an alternative to neo-liberal policies. Morales, although did not have the same weight of Chavez on the international scenario, became soon source of attention after a nationalisation programme of Bolivia’s natural resources angering especially US and Spain.
During these years in power, Morales attacked essentially on three fronts: control of national economy, land-social programmes and constitutional powers. With a strong nationalisation programme, Morales first brought under state control all gas companies, then moving towards the energy sector culminating with the nationalisation of the Spanish REE in 2012. The above measures assured state control on substantial revenues and blocked any external interference in the Bolivian economy. With a land redistribution programme, Morales consolidated its indigenous base with expropriation and distribution of allotments to poor peasants. The programme has been also accompanied by a strong support on the coca leaf producers and social initiatives, mainly financed by the revenues obtained after nationalisation.
Once consolidated the social power, Morales then moved on strengthening his political power through the reform of the institutions. In 2009 called a referendum on a new constitution which gives more power to indigenous and was approved with over 60% of the vote. Morales were then re-elected in a landslide victory. The latest move sees Bolivia’s Constitutional Court ruling that President Evo Morales can run for a third term in elections scheduled for December 2014, despite under the current Bolivian constitution, presidents are only allowed to serve two consecutive terms. The court declared that the first mandate, started prior 2009, cannot be considered as such under the provisions of the constitution and therefore Morales can run for another mandate.
Nevertheless, opposition politicians were critical of the ruling allowing him to run again. Former president Carlos Mesa called the decision “unacceptable”, whilst Samuel Doria Medina of the opposition National Unity Party said President Morales should have put the issue to a referendum instead of leaving the decision to the Constitutional Court.
Along crescent criticism from opposition forces and international organisations, even internally Morales is facing difficulties and challenges to his authority with a number of strikes and protests, including by police and army staff asking for higher pay and by indigenous groups rejecting the building of a major motorway.
But opinion polls recently published suggest Mr Morales still enjoys strong support, with 41% of people saying they would vote for him over 17% for Mr Medina if the elections were held.
The new threats: what’s the real strategy?
Along with the internal opposition Morales faces also a strong international outcry especially from US and EU on the nationalisation programme and by the UN agencies on the drug programme. Morales responded to this criticism with two new actions: strong anti US policy accusation and nationalism.
Morales relations with the US can be described as hostile or based on mutual distrust, but these are now severed by claims of political interference, accusation to plot in killing the president and fomenting unrest to overthrow the Bolivian government. Although some of these accusations are not new, in the last period Morales took a stronger position against the US with a last act: the expulsion of USAID for the country. In a May Day address, Mr Morales accused USAID of seeking to conspire against Bolivia, that there was “no lack of US institutions which continue to conspire against our people and especially the national government, which is why we’re going to take the opportunity to announce on this May Day that we’ve decided to expel USAID”. The president also linked the expulsion to a recent remark by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who referred to Latin America as “the backyard” of the US.
The US has expressed regret at Bolivia’s decision to expel America’s development agency, rejecting allegations made by President Evo Morales as “baseless and harmful to the Bolivian people”. USAID has worked in Bolivia for almost five decades, and had a budget of $52.1m (£33.4m) for the country in 2010, according to its website. It cites as its main aims the strengthening of Bolivia’s health system and the provision of “equal access to health care by eliminating social exclusion”, as well as improving “the livelihoods of economically and socially disadvantaged people by increasing income and managing natural resources”.
The above step, opened several questions on whether there are basis for such accusations or Morales is using this as a propaganda tool to strengthen his position. USAID has been hostile to his policy in favour of coca growers and Morales has always considered the agency a concurrent rather than co-operator in his social programme for the poor. Nevertheless accusing Morales of madness concerning US activity is not believable; the US never hid their wish to control other parts of the world and especially Latin America after it slipped away from their control since the first Bush administration. History of CIA interventions and covert plans to overthrow governments are well-known to do not think for a moment that Morales accusations have somehow a theoretical basis. We cannot also forget that another country closed by decree USAID activity in its territory and for the same basis: Russia. Can Putin and Morales be both mad? Certainly Morales, as Putin, fears that social programmes are also used for political gains or reinforce oppositions; in eastern Europe we have assisted to anti-Russian opposition movements financed by the west and even in Latin America activities such the failed coup against Chavez in 2002 had links to the US.
The other strong argument from Morales recently has been the rediscover of the nationalist and irredentist claims on the sea access. This access through the Litoral Department in the Antofagasta region was lost after a disastrous war against Chile in 1879-1883. The war, in which Bolivia was allied with Peru, ended for both with the loss of territories rich in nitrates given to Chile. Bolivia never renounced to recover this territory as legitimate part of the country and even maintains a small navy, whilst school teaches that the access to the sea is a fundamental right of the nation. Along the years the Bolivian government tried to negotiate, encountering hostility or inadequate proposals from Chilean government, either under Pinochet or the post dictatorship democratic coalitions. However, in the last month Morales started a new incisive claim arriving to submit the question to the International Court angering Chile.
The reasons for the above actions, nationalisation, internal policy, US hostile policy and irredentist claims, may be the same side of the medal and find answer not only in the programme of radicalization and consolidation of Morales government, but also to build a new leadership for the anti-imperialist movement after Hugo Chavez death.
Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador guided the radical wing of the socialist revival in Latin America, having strong links with Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Frente Farabundo Martí in Salvador and Cuba. Chavez represented the strong leader in this new group, not afraid to challenge US hegemony and policies in contrast with the more moderate approach of Brazil, Uruguay or Argentina. As the US have never abandoned their desire to put down the Bolivarian Revolution, to block this leftist surge, some recent development increased their morale: success in Colombia, Chile passage to the right, the ousting of President Lugo in Paraguay and the death of Chavez. The last has been a clear loss for the radical group; the new Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro failed to win a large consensus, the vote result is challenged by the opposition and his charisma and strengths are to be demonstrated. Cuba is fast approaching a succession issue and future is full of doubts. Especially the death of Chavez reinvigorated opposition parties and neoliberals in the continent, whilst the US and the EU along with multinationals have seen the chance to reconquer terrain.
This may explain Morales “intervention” that has become vocal and stronger in conjunction with Chavez death. The attack on corporative sections and multinationals is the continuation of the policy for an alternative to capitalism, whilst strong anti US rhetoric is the signal to Washington that they will not give up easily and that the door is already closed. The attack on Chile, apart the irredentist claim, is the attack on a country that turned on the right, whose economic programme is attacked by left movements and it is designed to weaken a political adversary.
Independently on how we consider the matter, is clear that Morales is trying not only to open this landlocked country back to the sea but also to open his locked leadership to the wider scenario of Latin American and international politics in order to present himself as the new socialist leader of the post Chavez era.
The death of Hugo Chavez opened the discussion not only on the political succession but also on the survival of the Bolivarian revolution and the future of Venezuela’s way to socialism. Is Maduro the right leader and how solid are the foundations of the bolivarian revolution? Will they survive Chavez death, or they were a mirror of its leader?
The recent presidential election contain itself some answers and signals that we are maybe approaching a change. Nicolas Maduro, the appointed leader chosen by Chavez, was seen by many set to win with a large majority, a victory in the pocket never in discussion. The main point was that although Maduro may not have the charisma and political skills of Chavez, ultimately the grief and the relative short period in the preparation of these elections would benefit him rather than a debate on his programme. When Maduro has been chosen, obviously in the Socialist Party of Venezuela there was the idea that the institutions were solid, a strong and solid block of support was created and the work in these years created a barrier against the resurgence of the conservative policy. All these reasons led many to believe that Maduro was therefore set for an easy victory.
The result has been the opposite: Maduro won by a slim margin, accusation of illegal acts have emerged from the opposition leader Capriles, while the US did not lose time in not recognizing the new government. The opposition protests are not really a news, even with Maduro winning at 60% that would have been accusations, as demonstrated at every election where Chavez used to win and considered illegal and unconstitutional by opposition, US , EU and so on. Although Capriles is right in asking a recount, that should and must be performed when such a slim difference is present between contestants, in reality the missing point is there in clear evidence: Maduro did not win by a landslide, something has been lost. The sadness and overwhelming grief that was supposed to put wings under his feet suddenly transformed in sandbags with Maduro coming back to earth. Venezuelans seem more concerned about their future and less prepared to follow a new and less charismatic leader.
Chavez in the last election won with 55.07% of the votes, meaning that 5% of voters have already abandoned the Bolivarian revolution. Maduro should be more preoccupied to conquer the hearths of his supporters rather than fight the opposition. The violence and protests that followed the elections are clearly the result of a society on the verge of change: socialism or back to conformism?. Venezuela has been for years at the forefront of a socialist renaissance, projecting left-wing radicalism into the 21st century. Chavez had the merit to be seen as the successor of the Cuban revolution icon, inspiring other countries to follow. Chavez, along with Morales in Bolivia and Correa in Ecuador constituted a solid anti-imperialist block, but also they influenced and supported left movements in Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Chavez represented the real antagonist to US policies in Latin America, a real new power capable to build relations with other countries tired of european and american-centrism. Even some opponents praised Chavez policies in relieving the living conditions of the poor.
With such presentation Venezuela lost its leader, opening what in the past has been a recurrent issue for socialism: how to continue a policy for the community avoiding personality’s cult? How to manage to continue the programme with a new leader, are ideas powerful than men? Even in a one party states, where succession is assured by no contest, decline has been sometime the result of solid institutions but with the wrong man in power, or fragile institutions that worked under a brilliant but then lost leader.
Venezuela, that is still a multiparty system for whoever forgot that, has to face the reality of the electorate’s unpredictability that often cause ungovernability in western countries by giving birth to governments without a real majority. Maduro re-election sounds more like a defeat rather than victory and, recount or no, it seem that the bolivarian revolution is losing already its grip on the society. Maduro’s slim victory has open a door that many, included Capriles and the US, thought already closed. How this will turn out for Venezuelans is not easy to foresee, either the country will continue to represent a strong opponent to neo-liberist policies or violence, military coups and guerrillas, that are not uncommon in the continent, could bring back the typical dysfunctional democracy of many Latin American states.
The Transnistria republic is not recognized by the international community, nonexistent in the mind of the Europeans looking to the east in the enlargement process of the EU. Nevertheless, this small republic, which has its own flag, army, national anthem and constitution, claims strong ties with Russia maintaining at the same time a strong soviet posture.
Transnistria, known also as Transdniestria, it is governed as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic PMR, also known as Pridnestrovie. The Republic of Moldova does not recognize PMR and considers the territory as part of Moldova, under the autonomous territorial unit with special legal status Unitatea teritorială autonomă cu statut juridic special Transnistria, or Stînga Nistrului, meaning “Left Bank of the Dniester”.
Only the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the Republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are also unrecognized states, have officially recognized Transnistria and maintain friendly relations with each other.
Soviet Legacy, Independence and War
At the end of the Second World War the Soviet Union established the Socialist Soviet Republic of Moldova, born from the union of the Dniester river region, mainly Russian speaking and part of Ukraine, and the Bessarabia region, which was part of Romania from 1918 to 1940. The SSR Moldova was fully integrated in the Soviet Union as one of its 15 republics.
In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost produced its effects in the Moldavan SSR, allowing the creation of political movements. The most prominent of these was the Popular Front of Moldova, a nationalist movement which set Moldovan as the only state language, returns to the use of the Latin alphabet, and the shared ethnic identity of Moldovans and Romanians.
On 31 August 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the Moldavian SSR adopted Moldovan as the only official language, returned Moldovan to the Latin alphabet, and declared a shared Moldovan-Romanian linguistic identity. Ethnic minorities felt threatened by these moves, the possible unification with Romania and the strong nationalist character of the Popular Front. The response was the Slavic Yedinstvo Unity Movement.
The nationalist Popular Front won the first free parliamentary elections in the Moldavian SSR in the spring of 1990, and its agenda started slowly to be implemented. On 2 September 1990, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed as a soviet republic by an ad hoc assembly, the Second Congress of the Peoples’ Representatives of Transnistria. Violence escalated when in October 1990 the Popular Front called for volunteers to form armed militias, while in response volunteer militias were formed in Transnistria.
In the interest of preserving a unified Moldavian SSR within the USSR, and preventing the situation escalating further, the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, while condemning the restriction of civil rights of ethnic minorities by Moldova, declared the Transnistria proclamation illegal and annulled it by presidential decree on 22 December 1990. Nevertheless, no real action was taken against Transnistria and the new authorities were able to stay in power.
The first serious armed clash broke out between Transnistrian separatists and Moldovan volunteers as early as November 1990 at Dubăsari. Volunteers, including Cossacks, came from Russia and Ukraine to help the separatist side. In mid-April 1992, under the agreements on the split of the military equipment of the former Soviet Union negotiated between the former 15 republics in the previous months, Moldova created its own Defense Ministry. According to the decree of its creation, most of the 14th Soviet Army’s military equipment was to be retained by Moldova.
The war that followed was inevitable as Chisinau government tried to conquest and regain control of the Dniester region; the bitter conflict had its peak in June 1992 with the battle of the Dniester river bank where over 700 people died. The former Soviet 14th Guards Army entered the conflict in its final stage, opening fire against Moldovan forces, backing the secessionists.
As a result, the Moldovan “blitzkrieg” failed, over 1.000 lives were lost and Moldova was forced to accept a ceasefire on 21 July 1992. The armistice ensured a demilitarized zone of 10Km, allowing the small republic to survive, although decisive was the intervention of the Russian army stationed in defense of the arsenal still present in the area.
Since 1992, the situation is blocked and the presence of Russian troops is for Moldova one of the reasons of the impossibility to reach an agreement and solve the latent conflict between the two republics. Nevertheless, several attempts of mediation have been made during these 20 years with small progresses but unable to unblock the stalemate.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) organized a negotiation on 8 May 1997, between the Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi and the Transnistrian President Igor Smirnov. The “Memorandum on the principles of normalizations of the relations between the Republic of Moldova and Transnistria”, also known as the “Primakov Memorandum”, established legal and state relations.
In November 2003, Dmitry Kozak, a counselor of the Russian president Vladimir Putin, proposed a memorandum on the creation of an asymmetric federal Moldovan state, with Moldova holding a majority and Transnistria being a minority part of the federation. The opposition of Transnistria, seeking equal status, was balanced giving veto power on constitutional changes. The plan at the end failed as the Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, who was initially supportive of the plan, refused to sign it after internal opposition and international pressure from the OSCE and US, and after Russia had endorsed the Transnistrian demand to maintain a Russian military presence for the next 20 years as a guarantee for the intended federation.
In September 2006 a referendum, unrecognized by Moldova and the international community, asserted Transniestria demand for independence and also backed a plan eventually to join Russia.
In 2008 a new negotiation was organized under Russian mediation involving Moldova, Transnistria, Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE. In February 2011 these were extended in the new formula “5 + 2 Talks” involving in addition the US and the EU as external observers in Vienna.
PMR, Transnistria Republic: Soviet Rhetoric and Challenging Economic Survival
Transnistria is considered by the majority of countries as a legal part of the Republic of Moldova. The small republic is recognized only by states in similar situation such South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Most of the population, between 300 and 400 thousands, have Moldovan passport as the international community does not recognize the ones issued by the Transnistrian government. Moscow in an attempt to keep influence over the region issued Russian passport to almost 80,000 citizens and open a consulate in Tiraspol.
Even after the war there are several disputes on the border: nine villages from the Dubăsari district, including Varniţa, Copanca, Cocieri and Doroţcaia, which geographically belong to Transnistria, are under the control of the government of Moldova; one city and six villages on the west bank are controlled by the PMR. These issues led to several tensions with confrontation between Moldovan and Transnistrian forces, however without any casualties.
Tiraspol is the capital of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Transnistria, maintaining a clear reference to the USSR, from which everything is coming back from the past: large roads and typical soviet architecture, military parades, hammer and sickle in clear sight, soviet anthem playing on the roads. KGB is in control of the society, politics and economy of the country, while censorship on TV, radio and press ensure devotion to the government. The government adopts a mixture of socialism and nationalist rhetoric: while announcing the great conquest of socialism on one side on the other remarks the differences with Moldova and the peculiarity of the region. In Transnistria nearly 40% speaks Russian, but Moldovan is the first language, although the government tried to shut down schools that do not teach Russian.
The country has a multi-party system and a unicameral parliament named the Supreme Council. Its legislature has 43 members elected by Single-member district plurality. The president is elected to a five-year term by popular vote.
Igor Smirnov was the first President of Transnistria since the declaration of independence in 1990 for four consecutive terms. Self-proclaimed head of state in 1990 at the moment of secession, has later “legalized” his position with the official election in December 2001, disputed by UE, Romania, Moldova and even Russia. In 2011 was defeated at the first round and replaced by Yevgeni Shevchuk. His party, the Renewal Movement, has the majority in the parliament followed by the Republic Party affiliated with the ex President Igor Smirnov. A former speaker of Transnistria’s parliament, Yevgeny Shevchuk was a former ally of Igor Smirnov, who later challenged the president’s power with an anti-corruption movement that also called for greater transparency in the government. The new president says he wants to improve relations with Moldova and Ukraine, while remarking Transnistria independence.
The only two opposition parties, Narodovlastie Party and Power to the People Movement, were outlawed at the beginning of 2000 and eventually dissolved. This led many to believe that the multiparty system is only nominal and elections are questioned about their fairness and transparency.
In 2007, was founded the Social Democratic Party, led by former separatist leader and member of the PMR government Andrey Safonov, which allegedly favors a union with Moldova.
Transnistria in Soviet times was heavily industrialized, and in 1990 it was responsible for 40% of Moldova’s GDP and 90% of its electricity. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Transnistria wanted to return to a Soviet-style planned economy. However, following a large scale privatization process in the late 90s most of the companies in Transnistria are now privately owned. The economy is based on a mix of heavy industry, mainly steel production, electricity, manufacturing and textile, which together account for about 80% of the total industrial output.
Transnistria central bank issues the Transnistrian Ruble, which it is convertible at a freely floating exchange rate but only in the country.
Over 50% of the export goes to the CIS, mainly to Russia, but also to Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova. Main non-CIS markets are Italy, Egypt, Greece, Romania, and Germany. The main imports are non-precious metals, food products and electricity.
The economy is largely dependent from Russia and the major industries have more or less official links with Moscow’s firms: the Moldova Steel Works is part of the Russian Metalloinvest Holding; the largest power company Moldavskaya GRES is owned by Inter RAO UES; the gas company Tiraspoltransgas is probably controlled by Gazprom, although Gazprom has not confirmed the ownership officially; the banking sector of Transnistria consists of eight commercial banks, including Gazprombank.
Russian Military Presence, Arms Withdrawal and Influence
A 1,200-strong Russian military contingent is present in Transnistria, whose status is disputed. The 1992 cease-fire agreement between Moldova and Transnistria established a Russian peace-keeper presence in Transnistria. Russian troops stationed in Moldova since the time of the USSR were fully withdrawn to Russia by January 1993.
A series of agreements to ensure the withdrawal of Russian armaments, were only partially or not fully implemented, increasing suspicions on Moscow’s role:
- Agreement signed on 21 October 1994 by Russia and Moldova: Moscow government committed to the withdrawal of the troops in three years from the date of entry into force of the agreement; this did not come into effect because the Russian Duma did not ratify it.
- The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) included a paragraph about the removal of Russian troops from Moldova’s territory and was introduced into the text of the OSCE Summit Declaration of Istanbul (1999), in which Russia had committed itself to pulling out its troops from Transnistria by the end of 2002. Not ratified by the Russian Duma until 2004.
- On 19 July 2004, the Russian Duma passed the treaty and President Vladimir Putin signed the Law on the ratification of the CFE Treaty in Europe, which committed Russia to remove the heavy armaments.
According to the OSCE Mission to Moldova, of a total of 42,000 tons of ammunitions stored in Transnistria, 1,153 tons (3%) was transported back to Russia in 2001, 2,405 tons (6%) in 2002 and 16,573 tons (39%) in 2003. However, no further withdrawal have taken place since March 2004 and a further 20,000 tons of ammunition, as well as some remaining military equipment are still to be removed. Russia insists that it has already fulfilled those obligations and states that the remaining troops, serving as peacekeepers authorized under the 1992 ceasefire, are not in violation of the Istanbul accords and will stay until the conflict is fully resolved.
In a NATO resolution on 18 November 2008, Russia was urged to withdraw its military presence from the “Transdnestrian region of Moldova”.
The Russian role in the Transnistrian legacy is clearly out of question, and is one of the reasons of the actual incapacity to reach a final settlement. However, the reasons of Russian involvement have changed during these 20 years. Following the collapse of the soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, a strong nationalist opposition made of anti-Russian and anti-Slavic tones pervaded the Romanian area. This area suffered the same malaise that destroyed the ex-Yugoslavia for a decade. At first, the Transnistria struggle was a clear matter between a Slavic population and pro-Romanian nationalists, as well as a resistance of hardliners in the soviet state against any change of the status quo. Many of the volunteers or fighters that joined the transnistrian war were past member of the KGB or Red Army with some involved with the failed military coup in August 1991. One of these central figures was for example General Vladimir Shetsov, better known as Vladimir Antiufeev. The General was for many years Head Minister for National Security in Transnistria, until it was relieved by the current President Shevchuk. Antiufeev was a key member of the KGB in USSR and took refuge in the new republic after the failed coup in August 1991. He is still wanted by Latvia for war crimes committed during the uprising in 1990-91, when he led the special soviet forces to crush the rebellion.
This character of a “safe soviet exile” made Transnistria the home for disillusioned soviet members with the new path in Russia and convinced with the necessity to preserve the Slavic population rights. However, the role of Russian state in the first 10 years can be considered passive or inclined to a tacit cooperation, mainly due to the weakness of the state during Yeltsin years and major disruption of institutions. The turning point in history is Putin’s coming to power, especially after 2005-6 we assisted a reasonable grow in Russian economy and in parallel a more aggressive stance on foreign policy. This culminated with the blitzkrieg in Georgia in 2008 that signed the end of the Russian appeasement toward the west and the start of a more aggressive policy in defense of Russian geopolitical space.
Transnistria consequently changed its aspect from a defense to a nationalist and Slavic secession to a geopolitical strategy for Russian counterbalance of western influence in Romania, Ukraine and Eastern Europe in general.
Republic of Moldova and Arms Trade Accusations
The Republic of Moldova still considers Transnistria part of its territory and does not recognize its secession. The initial strong nationalism and pro-Romanian stance that led to the disastrous war in 1992 have with time left space for a more diplomatic approach through the mediation of the OSCE and EU in particular, although stronger has grown US interest in the region.
Moldova has reiterated several time its accusations on Russian responsibility not only for the secession but also for the war and its stalemate until these days. In reality most has changed from the chaos and anarchy that ensued the collapse of the Soviet Union and nationalism has now paved the way for a more complex geopolitical and strategic calculations involving the powers. Moldova tried especially until 2003-4 to use the illicit arms trade claims as a propaganda tool to win consensus and isolate further Transinistria and its main protector Russia. In those years, characterized by a weak Russian position on the international scenario, Moldova cultivated strong ties with Romania, Ukraine and other ex-soviet republic or satellite states hostile to Moscow. Moldova addressed concernsthat the Transnistrian authorities would try to sell armaments internationally, and intense pressure was applied to have these ammunitions removed by the Russian Federation. However, in the autumn of 2006, the Transnistria leadership agreed to let an OSCE inspectorate examine the munitions and further access was agreed moving forward. Transnistrian authorities declared that they are not involved in the manufacture or export of weapons. The OSCE and European Union officials stated in 2005 that there is no evidence that Transnistria “has ever trafficked arms or nuclear material” and much of the alarm is due to Moldovan government’s attempts to pressure Transnistria. Their report stated that the evidence for the illicit production and trafficking of weapons into and from Transnistria has in the past been exaggerated, although the trafficking of light weapons is likely to have occurred before 2001. The report also states that the same is true for the production of such weapons, which is likely to have been carried out in the 1990s primarily to equip Transnistrian forces.
Although this now seems not anymore a big issue, what concerns more Romania and Moldova is the presence of Russian troops and the clearly “unofficial” appeasement of Moscow to these breakaway regions such South Ossetia and Abkhazia. To the above needs to be added the renewed interest of the US in the region.
Transnistria is a particular case but not dissimilar from other territorial disputes in the world; it has closest ties with other unrecognized regions like South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Nagorno–Karabach, and its unilateral declaration of independence is also not dissimilar from the Kosovar one. Nevertheless, Transnistria case is more complicated, and even Russian is in reality struggling to find a position that will not backfire. Whilst Kosovo indepepence was regarded as a “democratic change and wish of the population to a brighter future” for the west, Transnistria and the other ex-soviet territories are branded rebellious regions whose illegal status cannot be accepted under international law. The dual standards used in these cases is clear and evident, as the anti-Russian posture from the international community. Russia therefore, especially under Putin, blocked any change of status quo in Transnistria as well as appeasing and supporting the two Georgian secessionist republics. The military involvement, that at first was legitimated by presence of troops prior USSR collapse, change to military defense in assistance to fellow countries. However it is difficult even for Russia to balance herself in this play. Russia has always condemned any separatist movement or change of status quo internally, and the Chechen war is an example and warning to any rebellion. Russia does not recognize Kosovo independence, as this could clearly set dangerous example in a federation that sometimes struggle to stay united. However, it did not hesitate to wage war against Georgia in 2008 in defense of two secessionist regions on the claim to support Russian population and even threatened to recognize their status permanently. Transnistria did not seem to be on the same length, as Russia still does not recognize the region.
Russia currently prefers to keep open the Transnistria issue, but a full independence will not be easily achieved without international support from other countries. On the other side an integration into the Russian Federation would not be easy but could offer to Moscow a way to control directly a corridor between two states that saw a clear US interference: Romania and Ukraine. The decline of both states in their anti-Russian posture and the rise of pro-Russian parties have clearly supported Russia in the desire to use the Transnistria to counterbalance US strategy in the Eastern Europe.
Whatever will be the future of the PMR is clear that no change will happen without Russian approval and under favorable terms and conditions to its strategic needs.
The Falkland Islands/Las Malvinas referendum, which ended as expected confirming the wish of the population to stay British, in reality does not solve the question.
If in the minds of David Cameron, and other British diplomats, this signs the end of the dispute, on the other Argentina’s Government reject the vote and declared that nothing really changed on the Malvinas.
The referendum result was not set for surprises, seen the composition of the population in the islands and to many it seems that this vote open even more questions than give answers to the existing ones.
The Falklands/Malvinas residents have obviously all the rights to express their wishes and make their voice heard in this long standing dispute. However, the form of the referendum is flawed and for the reasons below:
- Do not address the real territorial dispute and its historic consequences.
- Does not reflect a vote on a political proposal or negotiation between Great Britain and Argentina to resolve the dispute
- The unilateral character can be used as a blueprint for other territorial claims in other parts of the world. (No Argentine live in the islands)
One of the key point, is that the referendum stressed more on the continuation of the status quo, by asking a banal and obvious question to a population that has always declared itself British. The vote did not addressed the historic claims by Argentina on request of sovereignty, as well as not offering the possibility to express themselves on a real political proposal.
The vote, in its unilateralism, make little sense to Argentinians, who are not living in the islands, and examples can be drawn from everywhere in the world: If you have a referendum in the Palestine territories occupied by Israel, the 100% Jewish population will back an Israeli sovereignty; in Pakistani or Indian Kashmir, you will have same results based on ethnic composition; etc. The governments who have sovereignty at the moment will use the plebiscite to justify occupation, but will this solve the disputes?
Obviously no, but just to clarify why the form of the referendum is right but the substance is wrong, let’s not go too far from Britain and look at the Northern Ireland issue. If you apply this same principle and reduce all the matter to a question whether remaining British in protestant strongholds, you will have 100% backing, but what if the question is based on political proposals to either achieve independence, accept British rule or Annexation to Ireland?
In the Falklands/Malvinas case no proposal has been advanced to the population and requests to open a negotiation by Argentina have been slammed by the British Government.
Britain appear in a strong position, but in reality is the main responsible for the deadlock and although accuses Argentina of colonialism, appear clear that arrogance and militarization of the area are symptoms of an absence of policy and political will to resolve the issue.
Britain accuses Argentina to prepare for war when, of the two contenders, only one was engaged in Iraq is still operating in Afghanistan, participated in the destruction of Libya, and is now pushing to send more weapons to Syria in an attempt to stop a civil war by arming everyone on the ground.
Argentina, on the other side, is accused to exploit Las Malvinas issue for nationalistic and political purposes in order to distract people from economic decline and crisis. Although this accusation is not unfounded, las Malvinas are one of those subjects that cut across the political spectrum and represents a true political goal for every citizen in the country.
Argentina does not want to eradicate the population, or wage war, recognize that after 180 years of British rule, and colonization of the island, you cannot expect to change the will or the national sentiment of the population. However, the territorial claim is still open and Argentina will always consider Las Malvinas part of its state.
So what will happen now?
Solutions could be on the table if Britain decide to open a negotiation: grant independence? Or an Argentinian territorial sovereignty with British citizenship maintained, demilitarization of the area with joint control over economic resources? And so on, with anything can be better than the present situation.
Whatever will be the answer, or the possible negotiation, it appear that the economic variable will be the key to unlock the dispute. In a moment where Argentina is worse off than Britain in the current economic climate, the islanders have clearly all interest to keep their ties in Europe. But with the current economic decline in Europe, and the British economy that is not living the best of its years, it can be argued what will happen if Argentina will assist to an economic boom in the next decades. Will British diplomats be confident enough that the islanders will back again a British rule?
Many will argue that you cannot sell national pride for economic value, but the dispute is also around the possible oil reserves and opens new scenarios where the exterior nationalist rhetoric hide inside a policy of “depredation” to help a struggling economy to survive. Also, of the two contender, Britain is the country where there is the lowest interest in the mainland for the dispute, seen by many a remnant of a glorious but lost empire.
The referendum, seen in Britain as a “yes” to keep the status quo and a closure to the issue, in Argentina as a “no” and keep open the dispute, leave the islanders in fact in the same situation giving them an illusory victory that no one really believe will settle the dispute.