Not Another Transnistria:
How sustainable is separatism in Eastern Ukraine?
András Rácz & Arkady Moshes
The Finnish Institute of International Affairs
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The situation in Eastern Ukraine is often compared with that
of Transnistria, the separatist region of Moldova. However, the two cases
differ for a number of reasons, all of which will make the "Novorossiya”
project much harder for Russia to sustain than Transnistria.
First and foremost, unlike Transnistria, the Donetsk and
Luhansk People’s Republics in their current shape will be unable to influence
the everyday political and economic functioning of Ukraine. Vis-à-vis the rest
of Ukraine, they are much smaller than Transnistria is in relation to Moldova.
The main energy pipelines leading to Ukraine do not cross the separatist
territories, and with the economic ties getting severed, the main instrumental
function of a frozen conflict – namely to constantly influence and destabilize
the target country – is likely to be lost.
There are also several other factors, including: the lack of
ethnic, national, linguistic or cultural background that would provide identity
foundations for the Novorossiya project; the reliance of the separatists on the
continuous, massive presence of the Russian military; the damage already
inflicted on Russia’s international reputation; the effect on Russian domestic
politics; the need for considerable financial assistance from Russia to the
separatist territories; and the risk of increasing soft security challenges
directly affecting Russia.
In addition to all this, it cannot be guaranteed that the
separatist elites will always be fully obedient to the will of Moscow. The a
priori readiness to defend and support the action of the local authorities will
limit Moscow’s room for maneouvre.
Costly both politically and economically, the Novorossiya
project is able to serve the Russian strategic objectives vis-à-vis the rest of
Ukraine much less than Transnistria was able to do so vis-à-vis Moldova. Hence,
one probable scenario is a further escalation of hostilities to expand the
separatist-controlled territory, which may unfold relatively soon. However, in
the medium term, the gradual restoration of Ukraine’s constitutional order in
the territory should also be considered possible, within the framework of a
larger international compromise and provided that reforms progress in Ukraine.