Where Is Transnistria?

The future may hold a lot of vehement arguing over insignificant bits of territory.


As Russian troops reportedly mass on the border with Ukraine and in the interest of subject enrichment, I thought it might be worthwhile to talk about Transnistria a little. In the map above (of Romania and the Moldovian ASSR) Transnistria is a fraction of the little tail part in the south of the dark orange Moldovian ASSR. It’s about 4,000 square kilometers in size, roughly the size of Cook County. That map is historic: it was only good from 1924 to 1940 but I use it to give some perspective on the matter.

Transnistria or Pridnestrovie as it’s known in Russian (the name means roughly “that place on the banks of the Dniester”) is, along with Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, what’s referred to as a “breakaway state”. They have their own little club called the “Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations”. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Transnistria refused to federate with Moldova and became a nominally sovereign state on its own.

About a half million people people live there, many of them ethnic Russians. Many Transnistrians have double or even triple citizenship (Moldovan, Russian, Ukrainian) and that doesn’t even include Transnistrian citizenship.

Other than, perhaps, the Russians nobody recognizes Transnistria’s independence. There’s a contingent of Russian military stationed there. It has a good deal of emotional significance for the Russians but not much strategic, economic, or, frankly, any other kind of significance for them.

The reason I bring up Transnistria is that, after eastern Ukraine, if Putin is, indeed, expansion-minded Transnistria is a very likely next move. Like Crimea its population is mostly Russian and Russians, essentially, consider it rightfully theirs. Unlike Crimea it’s not really that important.


Here’s an even better map of where Transnistria is:


As you can see it’s a small strip of land sandwiched between Ukraine and Moldova.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Europe, World Politics, , , , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Mu says:

    I don’t think it’s the importance that makes that area dangerous. It’s not connected by any corridor to the rest of Russia, or even majority Russian populations. So to get there the Russians would have to march through either Ukraine or Romania.

  2. DC Loser says:

    Take a look at Kaliningrad.

  3. Guarneri says:

    I’m drawing a red line. The Ruskies invade Transnistria………..vaporize them.

    Seriously, one does have to wonder how much of this is serious and strategic (eg Crimea) and how much is just Putin poking around.

  4. Dave Schuler says:


    That’s basically my point, Mu. It’s something it has in common with Crimea.

  5. Franklin says:

    Interesting, never heard of it. And of course it could become more interesting.

    Other than, perhaps, the Russians nobody recognizes Transnistria’s independence.

    This sentence confuses me considering a later comment that Russians consider it theirs. Who recognizes Transnistria’s independence?

  6. Dave Schuler says:


    Officially, nobody. By virtue of the Russian troops stationed there Moldova exerts no infliuence over them so they are de facto autonomous relative to Moldova.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    @Dave, is your next update going to feature a map of Alaska?

  8. Mu says:

    Dave, the Crimea is 1.5 miles of shallow sea away from Russia. My guess is they have a bridge within a couple years.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I hadn;t thought of that but I had thought about a post on the three Caucasian “breakaway states” since they’re also candidates.

  10. PD Shaw says:

    @Mu, I think Dave is suggesting that Transnitria might be next “after Eastern Ukraine.”

    Russia has previously suggested that it now needs a several kilometer corridor to connect Crimea to Russia by land. A bridge btw/ Crimea and Russia has been suggested more recently, and I think Crimeans would like better direct access to Russia to improve tourism and commercial ties. Previous bridges across the straits have not survived (from ice flows IIRC), and Russia has a comparative advantage in military resources, why build things? I think Russia takes the three or four Oblosts in SouthEast Ukraine next to provide land access to Crimea and the Russian-rich Donets Basin.

  11. Brian says:

    Your first map is terribly out of date, probably Cold War era. What is labeled Romania is actually Romania and Moldavia.

  12. PD Shaw says:

    More background on Transnitria via Wikipedia:

    Transnistria’s economy is frequently described as dependent on contraband and gunrunning,[ with some labelling it a mafia state. These allegations are denied by the Transnistrian government, and sometimes downplayed by the officials of Russia and Ukraine.

    This is somewhat predictable for a state that is not recognized by the international community. Most people don’t want to go, trade or invest in places that don’t exist, mostly.

  13. Dave Schuler says:


    I mentioned that in the body of the post, Brian:

    That map is historic: it was only good from 1924 to 1940 but I use it to give some perspective on the matter.

  14. wr says:

    We are all Transnistrians now!!!

  15. Dave D says:

    @PD Shaw: The Alaska’s next talk coming out of Russia is absolutely hilarious in how insane it is. That said it has caused me to go back and reread Yiddish Policeman’s Union.

  16. DC Loser says:

    They can have Alaska as long as they take Sarah Palin too.

  17. RR says:

    The importance of Transnistria is that it can be used by Russia as a thorn in the side of Ukraine and/or NATO. If Russia does invade Ukraine, they won’t stop with just Eastern Ukraine, but will want all the Black Sea coast, including Odessa (which like Crimea, has mostly Russians or Russian-speaking Ukrainians), which is only 30-40 miles from the tip of Transnistria, so why not grab Transnistria too while Putin is at it?

    If Putin sees Russia as threatened by NATO, he will justify that landgrab as a “defensive” move. I guess we will all see in the next 2-3 weeks if Crimea is enough for him or not. The only way Ukraine could defend itself is with minefields and deep trenches, but those take time to build.

  18. Xenos says:

    All these black sea ports are pretty useless with Nato and Turkish control of the Dardenelles.

    Is this all just about securing relatively decent spots for Russia’s elderly to retire to?

  19. Ari Rusila says:

    It easy to say that incorporating Transdniestria – as well Gagauzia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Crimea – into Russia (and Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia) is against international law (whatever it is) or some international agreements. However in my opinion these actions are more legitimate or justified than U.S.expansionism, secret wars and interventions around the globe. More e.g. in Confrontation Between Transnistria and Moldova Deepening.

  20. Ari Rusila says:

    More about background of Transdniestria in Transdniestria in Context of Ukraine