Tag Archives: Yevgeny Shevchuk

Former Transnistrian Leader Finds Refuge in Moldova Amid Growing Tension in the Region

Yevgeny Shevchuk, the former “president” of the separatist region of Transnistria, escaped prosecution by the current Transnistrian leadership on June 28, finding refuge in Moldova of all places. Despite speculation of his departure to Malta, Shevchuk appears to be living comfortably with his family in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau (Newsmaker.md, July 11). As the new leadership in Transnistria consolidates power in what is an intra-elite power struggle, the Russian State Duma approved a declaration on what it views as negative developments around Transnistria. Specifically, the Duma resolution blames Moldova and Ukraine for allegedly jeopardizing the security and stability of the region by introducing joint checkpoints on the Transnistrian segment of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border and by obstructing Russia’s regional military presence (Duma.gov.ru, July 7). Soon after, reports revealed that Ukrainian counter-intelligence arrested Russian Army Colonel Valeri Gratov, who had been training separatists in Donbas and was about to be appointed to a leadership position in the Transnistrian security sector (Obozrevatel.com, July 9). All these developments point to growing volatility in the Transnistrian region.

After winning the “presidential” race in Transnistria last December (see EDM, December 16, 2016), Vadim Krasnoselski—who is backed by the most powerful local oligarch, the head of Sheriff Company, Victor Gusan—has been seeking to do away with any potential challengers. Despite losing the election to Krasnoselski, former “president” Shevchuk has retained some popular support and remains the leader of the weak but vocal political opposition in Transnistria. Shevchuk has a long and acrimonious history with Sheriff, having served as the company’s deputy director and then leader of its political wing, Obnovlenie (Renewal Party). Shevchuk was once a young and promising politician who brought Sheriff its first major political success in the “national legislative” elections of 2005. However, Shevchuk later fell out of favor with Gusan. Nonetheless, Shevchuk was able to win the 2011 “presidential” election as an anti-system independent against Gusan’s candidate, Anatolii Kaminski, who was also backed by the Kremlin’s United Russia Party.

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Once in power, Shevchuk challenged Gusan’s economic grip over the separatist region, but fell short of significantly weakening his opponent. Instead, Gusan was able to undermine Shevchuk’s own power by employing his vast wealth, control over the Transnistrian “legislature,” and capitalizing on Shevchuk’s own failures, particularly when it came to improving the worsening economic conditions in Transnistria. Yet, pulling Transnistria out of the downward economic spiral is a tall order, given the structure of its economy and the adverse regional context.  Thus, blaming Shevchuk for all of Transnistria’s woes, along with Moldova and Ukraine, is their default option. Still, the fact that Gusan and Krasnoselski allowed Shevchuk to flee Transnistria after stripping him of his “parliamentary” immunity most likely indicates Moscow’s reluctance to see Shevchuk convicted. Some of the charges levied against him cast a dark shadow over Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who serves as Putin’s special envoy for Transnistria and has been, in effect, overseeing Shevchuk’s alleged criminal activities, including the embezzlement of Russian assistance (Europaibera.org, July 2).

Against this background, the timing of the Russian Duma declaration comes as no surprise. The strong rhetoric against Moldova and Ukraine is, at least in part, aimed at deflecting attention from the intra-elite power struggle in Transnistria as well as from Russia’s own failed record in maintaining the pretense of political stability and economic prosperity in this separatist territory. After the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the Russian accusations of a “blockade” of Transnistria  (Mfa.gov.md, July 7), backed by an equally strong message from Ukraine calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the region (Mfa.gov.ua, July 11), Moldova’s pro-Russian President Igor Dodon predictably tried to have it both ways when reacting to the declaration of the Russian parliament. Dodon faced domestic ridicule after telling an insistent journalist to read between the lines of his rather vague statement (Newsmaker.md, July 7). Dodon’s Russian benefactors are not making his life any easier when Russian lawmakers threaten a Donbas-like scenario in Moldova (Newsmaker.md, July 7). Moreover, taking into account the latest incident of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) sending a seasoned Donbas operative to take a leading role in the Transnistrian security apparatus (see above), the threats coming from Russian lawmakers no longer seem empty.

Neither Moldovan politicians, be it Speaker Andrian Candu or President Dodon, nor the country’s Prosecutor General (Independent.mdZiarulnational.md, June 30; Agora.md, July 10), have shown any interest in Shevchuk. Despite enjoying immunity from criminal charges of separatism based on the standing agreements in the Transnistrian conflict settlement negotiations, Shevchuk could, nonetheless, be prosecuted in Chisinau for economic crimes and other offenses. However, it is widely known that each former Transnistrian leader has only been able to accumulate and siphon off large amounts of money due to cooperation with either Moldovan or Ukrainian authorities. It is, in part, thanks to this “support network” that Shevchuk was granted refuge in Moldova. He is reported to reside in a luxury apartment complex in central Chisinau under heavy protection, thought it remains unclear whether the unmarked guards are protecting a high-value asset or holding a high-priced hostage. Meanwhile, speculation is mounting about Shevchuk’s future not just in Transnistrian politics, but also in Moldova proper: he may run for parliament if Moldova’s de facto ruler, billionaire Vlad Plahotniuc, is successful in pushing the controversial electoral system reform introducing single-member districts. Finally, the handling of Shevchuk’s case potentially sends a powerful signal to Transnistrian elites that they are increasingly at the mercy of the Moldovan leadership. In reaction, Moscow is likely to increase direct control over the region, which can only lead to escalation of an already precarious situation.

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Photo: Moldovan Prime Minister Vladimir Filat and Transdniestrian leader Yevgeny Shevchuk met on 20 June 2012 on the margins of an OSCE conference on confidence-building measures held by the OSCE Mission to Moldova, with the support of the German Government, in the German town of Rottach-Egern.

 

Note: The article was written for the Jamestown Foundation and can be accessed here.

Transnistria: Change of Leadership, But Not Policy

On December 11, Moldova’s secessionist region of Transnistria held presidential elections. After a heated campaign, mutual accusations and even prison threats, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet (Transnistria’s parliament), Vadim Krasnoselski, defeated the incumbent President, Yevgeny Shevchuk, by a landslide (62 percent to 24 percent) in the first round (Dniester.ru, December 12). Krasnoselski will now control both the executive and the legislative branches. The Renewal party, which is the political arm of the Sheriff Company, holds 33 of the 43 seats in the Supreme Soviet. The Sheriff conglomerate is Transnistria’s wealthiest and most powerful business group—the largest employer and taxpayer in the separatist region (Rise.md, June 30).

Shevchuk’s reliance on administrative resources and partial control over the state bureaucracy and law enforcement have proved insufficient, perhaps because the judiciary and the local electoral commission are heavily influenced by the legislative majority, controlled by the Sheriff Company via its representative Krasnoselski. Yet, more importantly, it was Russia that intervened on several occasions to calm the spirits of the two opposing sides, thus ensuring a peaceful transition of power in the region that is de facto under its protectorate. The Kremlin did not openly support any candidate (Kommersant.ru, October 10). Instead, Shevchuk appeared to have better ties with the Russian government, including with the Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Kremlin’s envoy for the Transnistrian conflict, Dmitry Rogozin, while Krasnoselski had the backing of the ruling United Russia Party (Adevarul.ro, December 9).

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Shevchuk meets Rogozin in Moscow (Source: novostipmr.com)

The president, elected for a five-year term, is a central figure in the Transnistrian power structure and holds extensive executive powers, controlling the government and law enforcement forces. Unlike Shevchuk, who had strong opposition, Krasnoselski will have complete control over the self-proclaimed Transnistrian Republic. This presents some risks as well as opportunities for Moldova in the conflict settlement negotiations. Krasnoselski will enjoy a strong bargaining position, particularly as Moldova’s political system is highly polarized and a relatively strong opposition vocally objects to both the newly elected President Igor Dodon and the actual power broker in Moldova—Vlad Plahotniuc. Chisinau will find it difficult to reach consensus on a potential settlement proposal, despite the efforts by the OSCE to give new impetus to the negotiation talks (Moldnova.md, October 11).

Moldova’s President-elect Igor Dodon, despite having extremely limited prerogatives on setting domestic and foreign policy, proposed during the campaign a federal solution to the quarter-century-long frozen conflict. However, not only was his proposal rejected by Krasnoselski and Shevchuk (Radiochisinau.md, November 19), something to be expected during an election campaign in Transnistria, but it was also rebuked by the Moldovan center-right opposition as well as the ruling Democratic Party (Agora.md, November 19). Still, no solution to the conflict will ever materialize without Kremlin’s approval. Moscow’s influence was clearly manifested as Dmitry Rogozin personally intervened during the campaign to avoid further escalation of political tensions between the two opposing camps (Newsmaker.md, October 11). Furthermore, after the election results were announced, Shevchuk was summoned to Moscow to ensure a peaceful transition of power (Vestipmr.info, December 13).

Nonetheless, holding the political and economic power in the breakaway region, Krasnoselski and the two pragmatic and non-ideological businessmen behind Sheriff—Victor Gusan and Ilya Kazmali—could potentially become sensible partners in the reintegration talks with Chisinau (Politrussia.com, November 12; Rise.md, December 12). It is noteworthy that, in the first nine months of 2016, Transnistria exported 57 percent of its products to the European Union (benefiting from Moldova’s free trade agreement with the EU) and only 38 percent to the Russia-driven Eurasian Economic Union (Realitatea.md, September 18), which makes the region and its business elite increasingly westward-looking. The Association Agreement between the European Union and Moldova signed in 2014 and enacted fully in July 2016, particularly its economic component, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, to which Transnistria also signed on, albeit with some caveats, makes the region increasingly dependent on the EU market. This, along with decreasing Russian assistance, which only exacerbates the already dire economic conditions in the region, could prompt the new Transnistrian leadership to become more lenient toward a mutually feasible settlement. Still, this remains a long-term prospect. In the short run, the region will continue to get on the Russian bandwagon.

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Krasnoselski meets Rogozin in Moscow (Source: vestipmr.info)

Russian Foreign Minister Serghei Lavrov stated during the OSCE ministerial meeting in Hamburg that Russia counts on further progress in the settlement negotiations over Transnistria (RIA.ru, December 9). However, all stakeholders in the conflict have long become accustomed to Russian diplomatic formalism and have very low expectations in this regard. Until Russia fulfills its 1999 OSCE Summit commitments to withdraw its military forces and equipment from Transnistria, Moscow will have little credibility when it declares support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova. This becomes all the more evident as Moscow rejected yet again Ukraine’s offer to provide a corridor for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin responded that the Russian peacekeepers would stay in Transnistria for as long as they are necessary for the preservation of peace (TASS.ru, November 11). Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was even less diplomatic, ridiculing the proposal altogether (TASS.ru, November 7). Thus, the only feasible approach to conflict settlement in the foreseeable future is supporting Transnistria’s further integration into the EU market, and encouraging local grassroots confidence-building initiatives. Hence, the status quo is here to stay.

Note: The article was written for the Jamestown Foundation and can be accessed here.