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

With Frédéric Mérand


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.


Dembinska, M., Mérand, F. (2018). «The role of international brokers in frozen conflicts: the case of Transnistria», Asia Europe Journal, vol, 17, no 1, p. 15-30.

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