trench war

War of Transnistria

The War of Transnistria involved armed clashes on a limited scale that broke out between Transnistrian Republican Guard, militia and Cossack units, supported by the Russian 14th army and Moldovan policemen or troops as early as November 1990 at Dubăsari (Дубоссáры, Dubossary). Fighting intensified out of local incidents on 1 March 1992, with the accession of newly independent Moldova into the UN and alternated by ad hoc ceasefires, lasted throughout spring and early summer 1992 until a ceasefire was declared on 21 July 1992, which has held ever since.

Background

Historical background

Before the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina and the creation of the Moldavian SSR in 1940, the Bessarabian part of Moldova, i.e. to the west of the Dniester (Nistru) river, was part of Romania (1918-1940). The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and the Nazi Germany, that led to the events of 1940, was later denounced by present-day Moldova which declared it "null and void" in its Declaration of Independence in 1991. However, the territorial changes resulting from it have remained in place.

Before the creation of the Moldavian SSR, today's Transnistria was part of the Ukrainian SSR, as an autonomous republic called the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, with Tiraspol as its capital.

Political background

During the last years of the 1980s, the political landscape of the Soviet Union was changing due to Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of perestroika and glasnost, which allowed some political liberalization at the regional (republican) level. In the Moldavian SSR, as in many other not primarily Russian parts of the Soviet Union, national revival became the leading political force. Some Russians, however, viewed this tendency as exclusivist nationalism. This displeasure with the new trends and potential future policies was manifested in a more visible way in Transnistria, where, unlike the rest of the MSSR, ethnic Moldovans (39.9%) were outnumbered by a Slavic majority of Russians and Ukrainians (53.8%) as per the 1989 Census in Transnistria and which experienced higher immigration during the Soviet Era.

From September 1989, there were strong scenes of protests in the region against the central government's moves towards national revival/nationalism. While some believe that the combination of a distinct history (especially 1918-1940) and a fear of discrimination by Moldovans, gave rise to separatist sentiments, others believe that genuine ethnic tensions fail to completely account for the dynamics of the conflict. According to John Mackinlay and Peter Cross who effectuated a study based on casualty reports, significant numbers of both Transnistrians and Moldovans fought together on both sides of the conflict. They suggest that the conflict is more political in nature.

On 31 August 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the Moldavian SSR enacted two laws. One of them made Moldovan language the official language, in lieu of the Russian, which remained at the moment official in the Soviet Union as a whole. It also mentions a linguistic Moldo-Romanian identity. The second law stipulated the return to the Latin Romanian alphabet. Moldovan language is the term used in the former Soviet Union for a virtually identical dialect of the Romanian language during 1940-1989.

On 27 April 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Moldavian SSR adopted the traditional tricolour (blue, yellow and red) flag with the Moldavian coat of arms and changed the national anthem to Deşteaptă-te, române!, the 1848 revolution song that was also Romania's national anthem before 1946 and after 1989. Later that year (1990) the words Soviet and Socialist were dropped and the name of the country became the "Republic of Moldova". These events, as well as the end of the Communist rule in neighboring Romania in December 1989 and the partial opening of the border between Romania and Moldova on 6 May 1990, led many in Transnistria and Moldova to believe that a union between Moldova and Romania was soon possible, ending them inside Romania, where they could no longer demand the return to Russian as the official language. At the time of the war, it was widely believed on both sides that Moldova would, in the near future, most likely reunite with Romania leaving the Russian population alienated.

Timeline of events before the war

  • 30 December 1988: In Chişinău (Kishinev), with the help of A. Bolshakov, the manager of "Tocilmaş" factory from Tiraspol, an organisation, "Interdvizhenie", is formed. This was later renamed "Edinstvo", a movement with the aim of defending the interests of Russian-speakers living in Moldova. This movement was against adopting Moldovan (Romanian) as the single official language, Latin script for Moldovan and later supported Transnistrian independence.
  • 15 July 1990: Anatoly Lukyanov, chairman of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow, sends a letter written by Transnistrian and Gagauzian separatists to Izvestia (a widely read Russian newspaper).
  • August 1990: Moldovan SSR refused to participate in the referendum for the retention of the Soviet Union, but in the Gagauz and Transnistrian regions - and with the help of Soviet 14th Army (according to an agreement between A. Lukianov and Igor Smirnov) - a referendum is organised.
  • 2 September 1990: The Pridnestrovian Moldavian SSR is proclaimed in Tiraspol as a Soviet Republic in its own right, separate from Moldova. The Soviet government does not recognize it.
  • 16 September 1990: A meeting protesting against separatism is held in the village of Lunga, near Dubăsari.
  • 2 November 1990: The bridges over the Dniester are blocked by PMSSR supporters. At the bridge near Dubăsari, clashes are reported between the Moldovan police (who wanted to open the bridge) and civilians supporting the PMSSR. Moldovan forces open fire at the PMSSR supporters, causing 3 deaths and several wounded. Two of the dead are ethnic Moldavians, who supported the PMSSR. The third, also a PMSSR supporter, is an ethnic Ukrainian.. According another source, one of the victim was a pro-Moldova supporter shot from an unit of Russian 14th Army from Dubasari, as he carried the Moldovan flag.
  • 12 March 1991: Based on the order of V. C. Bogdanov, a place tenant on the Tiraspol city Executive Committee, a 200-strong military unit is formed, with weapons and ammunition received from the Soviet Army. The same developments happened in Bendery, Dubăsari (Dubossary) and Rîbniţa (Rybnitsa).
  • May 1991: The Moldovan government of Mircea Druc, a coalition between the Moldovan Popular Front and the reformist wing of the Communist party, is dismissed. Moldovan Popular Front enters opposition.
  • May 1991: The Supreme Soviet of the PMSSR orders all policemen from the Transnistrian territory to obey the PMSSR authorities. A PMSSR Ministry of Interior and Prosecutor's Office is also formed.
  • 19 August 1991: The PMSSR government proclaims a state of emergency in Tiraspol and Bendery. Dniester guards are patrolling the cities and roads are blocked. PMSSR leaders ask the local population to support the coup which was underway in Moscow.
  • Several PMSSR officials, including Igor Smirnov and G. Pologov, are arrested. They are later freed.
  • 27 August 1991: Moldova declares its independence and formally secedes from the Soviet Union. The PMSSR continues to regard itself as a part of the Soviet Union until the USSR ceases to exist on 31 December 1991, after which the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic has regarded itself as an independent country in its own right.
  • 6 and 18 September 1991: The PMSSR government orders all Soviet military units in the region to obey the jurisdiction of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian SSR.
  • 10-20 September 1991: On the initiative of the Odessa military district leadership a general assembly of Soviet Army officers and non-commissioned officers in Transnistria is held. On this occasion, an agreement is expressed to give support to the Pridnestrovian Moldavian SSR, regardless of Moscow's orders.
  • 11 September 1991: The Russian military unit 03517 from Rîbniţa (Rybnitsa) decides to defend the PMSSR.
  • 19 September 1991:A Police unit in Rîbniţa is captured by PMSSR forces.
  • 22 September 1991: A Police unit in Camenca (Kamenka) is captured by PMSSR forces.
  • 2 October 1991: Tiraspol city Executive Committee issues a decision asking the local police force to refuse to obey Moldovan authorities.
  • 16 October 1991: At Dubăsari, an explosion occurs at the police station, where the local police unit is still loyal to the Moldovan government.
  • 8 November 1991: The newspaper Nezavismaya Moldova publishes facts about human rights abuses in Transnistria: namely, explosions and burning of the homes of people who refused to accept the jurisdiction of the PMSSR, threats against the family of policeman Vladimir Colesnic (the second in command of the Dubăsari police unit which refused to accept the authority of the PMSSR government) and the situation of the refugees.
  • 15 November 1991: In Bendery and Dubăsari people are forbidden to subscribe to Romanian-language newspapers from Chişinău.
  • 19 November 1991: Weaponry and ammunition is transferred from the 14th Soviet Army unit to the PMSSR security forces.
  • 21 November 1991: PMSSR authorities forbid local businesses to collaborate with the Moldovan National Bank.
  • 26-30 November 1991: PMSSR guard units in Rîbniţa (Rybnitsa) receive weapons and ammunition from the 14th Soviet Army unit based at Colbasna.
  • 27 November 1991: In the local authority's building in Teia village (Grigoriopol district) 6 people from Tiraspol (2 with automatic guns) forced the local authority to organise a voting process for the PMSSR presidential elections. The same situation occurs in other areas in Transnistria.
  • 27 November 1991: A delegation from the International Helsinki Committee for Human Rights visit Moldova. Igor Smirnov refused to participate in the meeting in Tiraspol with the foreign visitors.
  • 27 November 1991: Trudovoi Tiraspol, a newspaper run by OSTK, publishes a list with the names and addresses of Moldovan policemen from Transnistria who refuse to obey the PMSSR authorities and ask for reprisals against them.
  • 1 December 1991: A group of around 20-25 people (6 of them with automatic guns) enter the village of Mălăieşti in Grigoriopol district and petition the election officials on behalf of the PMSSR authorities. However, local villagers refused to participate in elections. Meanwhile, the same incidents occur in Speia, Butor and Taşlîc.
  • 1-5 December 1991: All the bridges over Dniester are blocked by PMSSR supporters.
  • 5 December 1991: Viktor Malik, an assistant at the Soviet Union's Ministry of the Interior, (in an interview with "Nezavisimaia Moldova") reveals that the result of research done by the Soviet Union's Prosecutor's Office - regarding the events in 2 November 1990 in Dubăsari - shows that PMSSR authorities acted unlawfully and Moldovan police acted within legal limits.
  • 6 December 1991: PMSSR security forces order the Slobozia police unit to accept the jurisdiction of the PMSSR. The commander of this police unit is beaten and he is prevented from accessing his local force.
  • 6 December 1991: PMSSR guards open fire on a car belonging to the Moldovan police at the bridge over Dniester at Gura Bîcului. The policeman, N. Dociu, is wounded.
  • 8 December 1991: L. Toderaş, the prosecutor of Bendery, is arrested by the PMSSR security forces and interrogated at OSTK.
  • 8 December 1991: 700 PMSSR guards and cossacks, armed with bren guns, armoured carriers and grenade throwers (and all received from Russian 14th Army) mass at the outskirts of Dubăsari. The police receive an ultimatum to swear allegiance to the PMSSR.
  • 9 December 1991: A police unit from Bendery are visited by a group representing PMSSR authorities (headed by Kogut from Tiraspol) and inform the local commandant, V. Gusleacov, that he is being dismissed from his position. The separatists also ask him to give them the keys and all relevant documents to the newly appointed police chief. Gusleacov refused and the police unit was then surrounded by PMSSR guards. Some policemen who came to this incident are subsequently arrested and disarmed. The building housing the local Transport Police is subsequently attacked and all the vehicles are confiscated. The local police are later aided by people from nearby villages such as Varniţa, Chircăieşti, Ursoaia, Firladani and the PMR guard unit was forced to withdraw.
  • 10 December 1991: Near the village Lunga, 5 PMSSR guards stopped a car with policeman A. Ismailov inside. The guards then take Ismailov out of the car, beat him and confiscate his gun.
  • 10 December 1991: S. Trocin and V. Oprea are arrested in Bendery and kept imprisoned for several days in a basement simply because they spoke Romanian in a Sovetskaia street.
  • 11 December 1991: Presidential elections are held in the area controlled by the Pridnestrovian Moldavian SSR.
  • On the night of 12 to 13 December 1991: The Police section in Dubăsari is besieged by PMSSR forces. 35 policemen are in the building and are all threatened with death.
  • 13 December 1991: A group of policemen is sent to assist the besieged Dubăsari police station but they are attacked with bren guns. 4 policemen are killed in this incident; Ghenadie Iablocikin, Mihail Arnăut, Valentin Mereniuc and Gheorghe Caşu.
  • 13 December 1991: At Bendery, a reporter from Moldovan television is arrested and his camera confiscated. He will later be freed following the intervention of the Moldovan police.
  • 14 December 1991: In Dubăsari, shots are fired at electrician A. Terentiev and against a truck belonging to the regional Soviet, which had refused to submit to the jurisdiction of the PMSSR. The truck driver, V. Chiriac and his passenger, are wounded.
  • 14 December 1991: Policemen S. Lopatiuc and V. Dorofenco are arrested by PMSSR security forces. They are later hospitalized after being beaten.
  • 14 December 1991: The newspaper "Druzhba" from Grigoriopol, which voiced opinions against separatism, is closed by the PMSSR authorities. A local radio station is also attacked.
  • 15 December 1991: The Moldovan president, Mircea Snegur, meets with Igor Smirnov.
  • 21 December 1991: Igor Smirnov is made an honorary cossack.
  • 27 December 1991: Access to the building of the regional Soviet of Dubăsari (which had refused to submit to PMSSR jurisdiction) is blocked by the PMSSR authorities.
  • 31 December 1991: The Soviet Union ceases to exist. Transnistria, which had formally seceded from the Moldovan SSR and constituted itself as the separate de facto Pridnestrovian Moldavian SSR on 2 September 1990, becomes a de facto independent country under the name of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic.
  • 3 January 1992: The building housing the KGB unit at Bendery is occupied by PMR security forces.
  • 3 January 1992: The mayor of Varniţa, A. Cuconescu and several other people are arrested in Varniţa Town Hall and are taken to Tiraspol where are interrogated and threatened with prison. They are later freed after a request from Moldovan authorities.
  • 6 January: On the road between Dubăsari and Rîbniţa 6 armed Transnistrian guards captured Moldovan policemen P. Frecăuţan and H. Adam. They are then forced to leave the region with their families and are threatened with death if they refuse.
  • 9 January 1992: A 70 men strong PMR unit attacked a column of trucks from military unit 07481, which transported weapons from Hlinaia (Grigoriopol district) to Chişinău. Trucks, weapons and ammunition are all captured by the PMR forces.
  • 12 January 1992: PMR guards open fire on a car belonging to Moldovan police in Dubăsari. 2 people, policemen S. Ţîstoi and a passenger, are wounded. In another incident at Dubăsari, another 2 people are wounded, policeman S. Manole and G. Damaschin.
  • 13 January 1992: E. Martin and V. Plămădeală are shot and wounded by PMR guards at an exit point from Dubăsari.
  • 15 January 1992: 2 policemen and a woman are wounded when gunfire is opened on a Moldovan police car.
  • 22 January 1992: The prosecutor of Bendery, L. Toderaş, is arrested again. Following discussions with the Moldovan police he will later be freed.
  • 25 January 1992: L. Toderaş, prosecutor of Bendery, is arrested yet again. His family and colleagues are also threatened.
  • 29 January 1992: PMR militia arrest a group of drunken cossacks in Tiraspol. The headquarters of this militia is then blocked by a committee of local women. The cossacks are later freed.
  • 30 January 1992: There are attacks against several units of the Moldovan police in Bendery. 39 policemen are arrested. The Transport Police section is stormed and the building later set on fire. 18 guns and 6 cars are stolen.
  • 31 January 1992: 4 policemen are arrested in Bendery and subsequently beaten.
  • 1 February 1992: F. Ţurcan is killed at a check-point by PMR guards in Lunga, a village near Dubăsari. Turcan's car was fired on despite responding to a request from the PMr guards to stop his vehicle.
  • 2 February 1992: Also at Lunga, policeman V. Rusu is wounded after his car was stopped by 18 separatists guards.
  • 4 February 1992: The deputy of the Bendery Police unit, A. Corolicov and police officer O. Pavliuc are arrested when they returned from duty. They are subsequently beaten and their weapons confiscated.
  • 12 February 1992: The medical nursery school Bendery is closed by PMR authorities.
  • 14 February 1992: People from Transnistria are heading to Moscow to inform public opinion about human rights abuses in Transnistria.
  • 19 February 1992: The Customs building in Dubăsari is attacked by PMR forces and customs officers are beaten. Their weapons are later confiscated.
  • 20 February 1992: A protest demonstration is held in Lunga, near Dubăsari, against a referendum organised in the village by the PMR authorities. The demonstration is later broken up by force. The protesters are fired on and tear gas used against them. The order to use force against the protesters was made by Alexandru Porojan, a PMR official from Dubăsari.
  • 21 February 1992: In Slobozia, the bank accounts of 2 schools which refused to accept the legitimacy of the PMR authorities, are closed.
  • 22 February 1992: Military unit 01002 is attacked by PMR forces. 95 officers and soldiers were ambushed and driven to a bridge over the Dniester river. They are then told to go to Chişinău on foot.
  • 29 February 1992: Unknown assailants armed with automatic guns stop a car near Dubova and kill the driver, N. Boiniceanu. Another person is wounded. All the passengers are also robbed in this incident.

Political conflict

The language laws presented a particularly volatile issue as a great proportion of the non-Moldovan population of the Moldavian SSR did not speak Moldovan (Romanian). The problem of the official language in the MSSR had become a Gordian knot, being exaggerated and, perhaps, intentionally politicized. Some described the language laws as "discriminatory" and criticized their rapid implementation. Others, on the contrary, complained the laws were not followed.

The different historic background prior to 1940, the different ethnic background, the social composition (up to 1/3 of inhabitants of Transnistria were recent migrants from other regions of the former USSR, with which (regions) they felt a closer connection), the socio-economic background (more industrial and skilled workers in Transnistria than in Moldova proper) and the political background (different power basis), gave rise to separatist sentiments.

Although not yet independent, Transnistria's protests against the central government were increasingly accompanied by moves towards more autonomy and self government of local affairs. The first operation by the special forces of the Moldovan police were launched against separatists in Dubăsari on 12 June 1990, in response to local moves that would effectively cut off parts of Transnistria from the central government.

On 2 September 1990, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic was proclaimed; "Pridnestrovie" being the name for Transnistria in Russian. On 22 December 1990 the president Mikhail Gorbachev signed a decree that declared void the decisions of the Second congress of people deputies of Transnistria from September 2. For two months, Moldovan authorities refrained from taking armed action against this proclamation. Transnistria became one of the "unrecognized republics" that appeared throughout USSR, alongside Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh. The events leading to the de facto separation of the former three were very similar and many speculated they were simply a product of the old Soviet apparatus trying to "punish" the distantiation of Moldova and Georgia. Despite the fact that no country has recognized them, all four successfully survive until today. These four de facto states maintain official relations only with each other.

In the aftermath of the failure of the Soviet coup attempt of 1991, on 27 August 1991, the Moldovan parliament adopted the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Moldova. The declaration specifically referred to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as null and void and called for the political and legal consequences of the above be eliminated, declaring, among other facts, that the merger of Transnistria and the previous Romanian west-bank Moldova to have been an act of occupation and absent of any real legal basis. The PMR side interpreted this as meaning that the 1940-merger of the two sides of the Dniester river was dissolved. Moldova, however, did not agree, as large portions of the territory occupied in 1940 by USSR remain in Ukraine and almost immediately took steps to assert its sovereignty over the full territory of the now-former MSSR.

At that time, the Republic of Moldova did not have its own army and the first attempts to create one took place in early 1992 in response to the beginning of the War of Transnistria. The newly independent Moldovan parliament asked the defunct government of the USSR "to begin negotiations with the Moldovan government in order to put an end to the illegal occupation of the Republic of Moldova and withdraw Soviet troops from Moldovan territory".

When, on 29 August 1991, Transnistria's independence leader Igor Smirnov and three other deputies arrived in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, to meet the Ukrainian leader Leonid Kravchuk. Smirnov and Andrei Cheban were arrested by Moldova's police and immediately transported to a prison in Moldova. As a protest, the women's strike committee headed by Galina Andreeva blocked the Moscow-Chişinău railway line at a waypoint between Bendery and Tiraspol, until the arrested were freed by the president of Moldova Mircea Snegur in an uninspired attempt to quell the spirits.

In late 1991, the policemen in Tiraspol and Rîbniţa swore allegiance to the PMR.

Military strength

In 1992, Moldova had troops under the Ministry of the Interior. On 17 March 1992, they started recruiting troops for the newly created Ministry of Defence. By July 1992, total Moldovan troop strength has been estimated at 25-35,000 people, including called-up policemen, reservists and volunteers, especially but not only from the Moldavian villages near the conflict zone. On the Transnistria side, there have been alegations that in addition to Soviet weaponry inherited upon independence, Moldova also obtained arms from Romania.

At the same time, the Russian Army in Moldovan territory numbered about 14,000 professional soldiers. The PMR authorities had 9,000 militiamen trained and armed by officers of the 14th Army. In addition, there were 5,000-6,000 Russian volunteers who came forward after an appeal was made on Russian television for fighters to go to Transnistria to support the cause. These volunteers came from all over the Russian Federation: a number of Don, Kuban, Orenburg, Sibir and local Transnistrian Black Sea Cossacks joined in to fight alongside the separatists. Due to the irregular makeup of the forces, troop strength of the PMR is in dispute, but it is generally accepted that it was as large, if not larger, than the Moldovan forces, as shown by the fact that the PMR forces were able to repel Moldova in the fighting near Bendery and partially near Dubǎsari.

Forces of the 14th Army (which had owed allegiance to the USSR, CIS and the Russian Federation in turn) stationed in Transnistria, had fought with and on behalf of the PMR forces. A significant portion of the personnel of the Russian 14th Army were local conscripts and officers that had been given local residence. PMR units were able to arm themselves with weapons taken from the stores of the former 14th Army. The Russian troops chose not to oppose the PMR units who had come to help themselves from the Army’s stores; on the contrary, in many cases they helped the PMR troops equip themselves by handing over weapons and by opening up the ammunition stores to them.

In December 1991, the Moldovan authorities arrested Lieutenant-General Yakovlev in Ukrainian territory, accusing him of helping the PMR forces to arm themselves by using the weapons stocks of the 14th Army. At that time, General Yakovlev has been both Commander of the 14th Army and "Head of the National Defence and Security Department" of the PMR. The government of the Russian Federation interceded with the Moldovan government to obtain the release of General Yakovlev in exchange for 26 policemen detained by PMR forces at the start of the fighting in Dubăsari.

On 5 April 1992, Vice-President Rutskoy of Russia, in a speech delivered to 5,000 people in Tiraspol, encouraged the Transnistrian people to obtain their independence.

Military conflict

The first fatalities in the emerging conflict took place on November 2, 1990, on the two-month anniversary of the PMR's September 2, 1990 declaration of independence. News agency New Region reported that Moldovan forces entered Dubăsari in order to separate Transnistria in two halves. They were stopped by the city's inhabitants who had blocked the bridge over Dniester, at Lunga village near Dubăsari and Moldovan forces opened fire in their attempt to proceed over the bridge. In the course of the confrontation, three Dubăsari locals, Oleg Geletiuk, Vladimir Gotkas and Valerie Mitsuls, were killed by the Moldovan forces and sixteen people wounded.

A second Moldovan attempt to cross the Lunga bridge took place on December 13, 1991. As a result of the fighting, 27 PMR troops were taken prisoner and 4 Moldovan troops (Ghenadie Iablocikin, Gheorghe Caşu, Valentin Mereniuk and Mihai Arnăut) were killed, without Moldova being able to cross the bridge. After this second failed attempt, there was a lull in military activity until March 2, 1992, considered the official start date of the War of Transnistria.

The armed conflict lasted from March 2 to July 21, 1992, in three areas along the Dniester river. The start date of the conflict, March 2, 1992, was the same day when Moldova was admitted as a member of the United Nations, i.e. got full international recognition of its August 27, 1991 declaration of independence.

In April Russian vice-president Alexander Rutskoy visited Transnistria and expressed the full support of Transnistrian separatists by Russia.

With the PMR's overwhelming military superiority, Moldova had little chance of achieving victory and the fighting was unpopular with the skeptical Moldovan population.

Cocieri-Dubăsari area

The first area of military action was on the left shore of the Dniester river, from north to south, the villages of Molovata Nouă, Cocieri (approx 6,000 inhabitants), Corjova and the city of Dubăsari (approx 30,000 inhabitants), together forming a contiguous mainly inhabited area 10-12 km along the shore. The only connection to the right bank from the three villages is either a ferry, or two bridges in Dubăsari.

On 1 March 1992 Igor Shipcenko, the PMR militia chief of Dubăsari, was killed by a teenager and Moldovan police were accused of the killing. Although minor, this incident was a sufficient spark for the already very tense situation to blow up and the events succeeded in a cascade.

In response, the Cossacks who came from Rostov on Don to support the PMR side stormed the police precinct in Dubăsari during the night. Moldovan president Mircea Snegur, afraid of starting an armed conflict, ordered the 26 policemen to surrender to the attacking Cossacks and PMR forces. They were later exchanged for Lieutenant-General Yakovlev. Moldovan policemen loyal to Chişinău from the Dubăsari raion (district), instead of returning to work in the occupied precinct in Dubăsari, now a milice precinct, gathered in Cocieri.

On 2 March 1992, locals from Cocieri, after hearing about the situation in Dubăsari, broke into the small local arms depot to arm themselves against the PMR side. 3 locals (Alexandru Luchianov from Cocieri, Alexandru Gazea from Molovata and Mihai Nour from Roghi) were killed, but the military unit from Cocieri was defeated by the Moldovans. The officers and their families were forced to leave the village. More policemen were ferried the following days from the right bank of the Dniester. They organized a defense line around the three villages, while PMR forces retained control of Dubăsari. In the following weeks both PMR and Moldovan forces amassed large numbers in the area and fought a trench war, with intermittent ceasefires.

Coşniţa area

A similar development occurred on March 13 in the villages of Coşniţa, Pîrîta, Pohrebea and Doroţcaia. A second "bridge-head" was formed on the left bank, now south of Dubăsari.

Bendery area

A ceasefire was in negotiation during June in the Bendery area. However, the full scale conflict re-erupted after regular Moldovan forces entered the city of Bendery in an attempt to reestablish the authority of Moldova there. It has been reported that this action was a response to the stand-off at the police station in Bendery on 19 June 1992. On the afternoon of that day, the Moldovan police in Bendery arrested the 14th Army's Major Yermakov on suspicion of a planned subversion. After his arrest, PMR guards opened fire on the police station. The Moldovan government ordered its troops to enter the city the following morning. Urban warfare ensued between the two sides in the densely populated city. In the course of combat actions in Bendery there were casualties among civilian population.

The news of the havoc in Bendery reached Tiraspol, only 11 km away, as Moldovan troops were approaching the crucial bridge over the Dniester. At this point, having the support of ROG's tanks, the Transnistrian Republican Guard and Cossack volunteers rushed to confront the Moldovan forces. The Vice-President Rutskoy of the Russian Federation, in a speech delivered on the main channel of the Russian (former Soviet) television, called for all Russian forces in Tiraspol to storm Bendery. In the course of the following days, parts of the city of Bendery, including the center, were retaken by PMR forces.

Ceasefire and Joint Control Commission

A ceasefire agreement was signed on 21 July. This official document whose broad lines was established by the Russian side, was signed by the presidents of Russia (Boris Yeltsin) and Moldova (Mircea Snegur). The agreement provided for peacekeeping forces charged with ensuring observance of the ceasefire and security arrangements, composed of five Russian battalions, three Moldovan battalions and two PMR battalions under the orders of a joint military command structure, the Joint Control Commission (JCC).

It is estimated that in total nearly one thousand people have been killed in the conflict, with the number of wounded approaching 3,000. Unlike many other post-Soviet conflicts, IDP's (internally displaced persons) did not reach large numbers in the war of Transnistria.

Days after the truce had been agreed upon, a military confrontation between a local self-defence unit and the Moldovan army, took place in Gîsca (Gyska), a village with an ethnic Russian majority near Bendery. At least three villagers were killed. During the combat, civil buildings were damaged or destroyed by artillery fire. Later reports of ceasefire violations have been brought under control with no known loss of human lives.

The Russian 14th Army's role in the area was crucial to the outcome of the war. The Moldovan army's position of inferiority prevented it from gaining control of Transnistria. Russia has since disbanded the 14th army and reduced troop strength in Transnistria to a corps of around 1,300 men who form part of the JCC.

Human rights abuses by both sides

According to eye-witnesses in Russian media, the Moldovan troops were firing at houses, courtyards and cars from heavy machine-guns mounted on armored vehicles. It was reported that in the daytime, June 20, Moldovan troopers were shooting at civilians who were hiding in their houses, trying to flee the city or help wounded (PMR) national guards. Eye-witnesses testified that, on that day, a group of unarmed men, having gathered in a downtown square on the call of the pro-PMR Executive Committee, were fired at from machine-guns. Eye-witnesses in Moldovan media testified and produced similar accusation directed at the other side.

On many occasions, fire was opened at ambulance cars. The sides accused each other of such actions. Doctors testified in Russian media that heavy fire from the positions of Moldovan forces, June 19-20, prevented them from giving help to the wounded.

Outside involvement

Involvement of the Russian Army

main article 14th Army involvement in Transnistria

Although the Russian army officially took the position of neutrality and non-involvement, many of its officers were sympathetic towards the fledgling Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) and some even defected in order to help the PMR side openly. ROG Parcani sapper battalion, under the orders of General Butkevich, went over to the PMR side. This battalion later destroyed the bridges at Dubăsari, Gura Bâcului-Bâcioc and Coşniţa. Moldovan forces used aircraft in the village of Parcani (Parkany) and shelled the ROG station there which meant engaging not just PMR but also Russian forces.

In 1991, paramilitary forces of the PMR have conducted forays into supply depots of the 14th Army appropriating an unknown, large, amount of armaments. With the commanding officer of the 14th Army, General G. I. Yakovlev, openly supporting the newly created PMR, these forays have usually met no resistance from Army guards, who later faced no punishment. Yakovlev eventually participated in the founding of the PMR, served in the PMR Supreme Soviet and accepted the position as the first chairman of the PMR Department of Defense on 3 December 1991, causing the Commander-in-Chief of the CIS armed forces, Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, to promptly relieve him of his rank and service in the Russian military. Yakovlev's successor, General Yuriy Netkachev has assumed a more neutral stance in the conflict. However, his attempts at mediation between Chişinău and Tiraspol were largely unsuccessful and the situation escalated to an open military engagement by June 1992. On 23 June, in the wake of a coordinated offensive by Moldovan forces, General Major Alexander Lebed arrived at the 14th Army headquarters with standing orders to inspect the army, prevent the theft of armaments from its depots, stop the ongoing conflict with any means available and ensure the unimpeded evacuation of armaments and Army personnel from Moldovan and through Ukrainian territory. After briefly assessing the situation, he assumed command of the army, relieving Netkachev and ordered his troops to enter the conflict directly. On 3 July at 03:00, a massive artillery strike from 14th Army formations stationed on left bank of the Dniester obliterated the Moldovan force concentrated in Gerbovetskii forest, near Bendery, effectively ending the military phase of the conflict. A quote attributed to Lebed demonstrates his support of the Transnistrian cause: "I am proud that we helped and armed Transnistrian guards against Moldovan fascists. However, he bore no goodwill towards the Transnistrian leadership and frequently denounced them as "criminals" and "bandits". Another quote attributed to him describes his stance as follows: "I told the hooligans [separatists] in Tiraspol and the fascists in Chişinău -- either you stop killing each other, or else I'll shoot the whole lot of you with my tanks.

Involvement of Russian and Ukrainian volunteers

Volunteers from Russia and Ukraine, including Don and Kuban Cossacks fought on Transnistria's side. There is no general consensus on the number of volunteers or the military role they played in the conflict. Estimates range from as low as 200 to as high as 3000..

According to Romanian sources, at least one inmate was released from Bendery prison to be enrolled in the Transnistrian Guard..

Involvement of Romania

Shortly before the escalation of the conflict in late June 1992, Romania provided limited military support to Moldova by supplying weaponry, ammunition and armed vehicles, possibly also sending military advisers and training Moldovan military and police forces. Volunteers from Romania fought on Moldova's side.

See also

References

External links

Further reading

  • Vlad Grecu, "O viziune din focarul conflictului de la Dubăsari”, Editura Prut International, Chişinău, 2005

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