Andrey Devyatkov: Electoral dialectics and balance of power in Transnistria

Despite vacation time August has brought some political news in the context of the presidential election campaign in Transnistria. Firstly, Evgeny Shevchouk has announced that he will run for the second term. Actually this decision is not surprising. The socio-economic crisis in the region has dramatically undermined the popularity of the current head of state. But on the other side the campaign, initiated against him by his political opponents und led partially with dubious methods, can give him a good chance to play an anti-oligarchic card again and stay in power.

It is more interesting that two other famous representatives of Transnistrian elite announced their wishes to run for the presidency. On August, 2 the former head of the Transnistrian Customs Committee and former Minister of Internal Affairs Gennady Kuzmichev presented his political organization “Russian outpost”. He did it in Moscow in the press-center “Argumenty i Fakty”. In a month Kuzmichev gathered the first convention of “Russian outpost” in Tiraspol. It is remarkable that both events were organized with the participation of prominent Russian spin doctors and experts – Sergey Markov, representatives of Institute of CIS countries etc. So Kuzmichev seems to realize his plans to participate in the presidential race which he made public in spring, shortly after he was dismissed from the Ministry of Internal Affairs in December 2015.

Gennady Kuzmichev has been a close associate of Evgeny Shevchouk for many years. After Shevchouk had been elected in December 2011, Kuzmichev was appointed to the head of his security service and in some weeks to the chair of Transnistrian Customs Committee. So his initiative to run for the presidency does not seem to be an autonomous political act. He obviously is going to support Shevchouk in these elections collecting the votes of those citizens who are not in favour of the current president, but on the other side do not want to vote for any representative of the Party Obnovlenie.                 

At the same time, the role of Kuzmichev goes far beyond walking part. He openly recognizes that he enjoys some support in Moscow and experts from Russia surrounding him at his events are the best evidence of that. It could be argued that such assistance to one of the candidates can have a double meaning. Firstly, Russia is still dedicated to its politics of keeping balance in the Transnistrian politics. After Party Obnovlenie overwhelmingly won the parliamentary elections last year, it is obviously aimed at conquering presidential power too. All possible causes are used for quite aggressive campaign: currency crisis, “economic blockade” of Transnistrian fuel import from Ukraine, impediments in social payments etc. It became clear that the president is a defensive side in this struggle and his power is greatly undermined. For example, Shevchouk is enforced to constantly replace key figures in his government.   The support of “Russian outpost” from Moscow’s side can hardly be interpreted as exclusive, so it does not mean that now Kuzmichev gets all resources from official Russia to win the elections. It is more a signal to the Transnistrian elites that elections should be fair and should not lead to political and economic destabilization of the republic. Not coincidentally the new political force is trying to refer to the ultra-patriotic pro-Russian discourse in Transnistria, demonstrating that neither executive nor legislative power can monopolize it. Practically the same message was delivered by Dmitry Rogozin during his last visit to Tiraspol in July.      

Secondly, for Russia it is of a great importance to have good relations with the presidential candidate who can get the third result in the elections. As the last campaign in 2011 demonstrated, the clash between two most popular politicians running for the presidency can be unpredictable and lead to the defeat of both. Kuzmichev would be able to provide a safe transition of power both for Shevchouk and Moscow. Russian model of tandem is in this case a realistic option.       

The second giant of Transnistrian politics who recently announced his plans for the coming presidential elections was Grigory Marakutza, the former speaker of the Supreme Soviet till 2005. At the same time he stressed that he will run only if both political camps (Shevchouk and Supreme Soviet) will not come to a consensus. Nevertheless it is hardly possible that such a consensus is achievable at all.

It is highly questionable whether Marakutza is acting independently or just representing the interests of one of political camps or Moscow. At his press-conference he also referred to the fact that he had worked last years in “Russian political circles” in Moscow, so his initiative seems not to be a pensioner’s fancy. But the fact that his statements appeared one week after Kuzmichev’s press-conference in Moscow brings to the conclusion that it was a reaction to the nomination of the former Minister of Internal Affairs. Marakutza had been a close associate of the former president Igor Smirnov who and whose team-mates are now occasionally supporting the Party Obnovlenie. So it cannot be excluded that the representative of the “old guard” will remain within the current dialectics of Transnistrian politics.

It is doubtful that this dialectics can be surmounted at all. New faces coming not from established systemic groups of interests are not awaited. The only one dilemma is whether “cohabitation” will be preserved and who will soon represent the Transnistrian dualism of power.