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The role of international brokers in frozen conflicts: the case of transnistria


The “frozen” conflict between Moldova and its separatist Transnistrian region—which developed into a de facto state—is dynamic. Despite an active nation-building project to support Transnistria’s independence and a stated willingness to join Russia, Transnistria is juggling between Russia and Europe. While economically dependent on the former’s subsidies and security guarantees, Transnistrian economic ties with the West are growing strong. While most studies are interested in the geopolitical game and the role of external actors, this article argues for a complementary approach that links macro- with meso-level analysis through the role of externally oriented domestic agents. First, the article shows that Transnistria pursues dual alignment in order to survive and provide the population with public goods for which they need external resources. Although Transnistria relies heavily on its patron state, Russia, facing recurrent crisis and external constraints, it has to search for complementary sources of income. Dual alignment is the result of this “multiple asymmetric dependence.” Second, the article argues that local intermingled economic and political interests, embodied by businessmen with close ties not only to Russia but also to Europe, account for how this balancing act is sustained. These informal international brokers or “double agents” mobilize their political connections to support dual alignment while using their Western and Eastern business connections to consolidate their power in Transnistria. It is further argued that the role of international brokers embedded in Russian and European networks and engaging in cross-border cooperation helps understand why the Transnistrian frozen conflict seems to be withering.

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  1. 1.

    It is difficult to assess the exactitude of the economic data used for this article. The authors rely on and criss-cross a number of sources that together gave us a good and arguably reliable picture of the econominc and commercial situation in Transnistria.

  2. 2.

    As specialists of the region know, getting accurate and complete information on power circles in Transnistria is no easy task due to the institutions’ lack of transparency. The biographical data used in this section is based on a number of informal sources that we triangulated to get the most exhaustive picture possible of the politics-business nexus in Transnistria.

  3. 3. (December 21, 2017).

  4. 4.

    Following the electricity production affair, Transnistrian authorities opened a criminal investigation into corruption, contraband, and abuse of power against Shevchuk. Chisinau buys electricity from the Cuciurgan power plant, which is in Transnistrian territory (source of currency for Transnistria to survive). Under Shevchuk, Transnistria began selling Chisinau electricity via an opaque scheme of intermediaries. The media and experts connected the middlemen to Shevchuk and Plahotniuc, the oligarch, and leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova (Soloviev 2017).


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This study received funding from the Charles University Research Centre program UNCE/HUM/028 (Peace Research Center Prague/Faculty of Social Sciences) and the Ministry of Interior of the Czech Republic, grant project VI20152019011. Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC grant number 435-2016-0604).

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Correspondence to Magdalena Dembińska.

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Dembińska, M., Mérand, F. The role of international brokers in frozen conflicts: the case of transnistria. Asia Eur J 17, 15–30 (2019).

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