Transnistria * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Transnistria *

Freedom in the World 2016
Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Net Freedom Status: 

Legislative elections were held in the breakaway region of Transnistria in November 2015. The struggling economy and public mistrust of the government were determining factors in a landslide victory by opposition party Obnovleniye (Renewal). Transnistria’s economy worsened significantly during the year, due in part to the recession in Russia and less Russian financial support, though Transnistria blames its financial problems on an alleged blockade imposed by Moldova. Economic decline left the government unable to fully pay salaries and pensions.

Relations between Moldova and Transnistria worsened in 2015. Tensions had already increased after Moldova pursued closer ties with the European Union (EU) following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine. Political turmoil and a financial scandal in Moldova also contributed to the suspension of international talks involving the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Transnistria; the United States and the EU serve as observers in negotiations.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political Rights: 10 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 3 / 12

While Transnistria maintains its own legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, no country recognizes its independence. Both the president and the 43-seat, unicameral Supreme Council are elected to five-year terms. Constitutional amendments approved in 2011 created a relatively weak post of prime minister and set a two-term limit on the presidency. In 2014, the Supreme Council voted to hold the next local and legislative elections simultaneously in November 2015, instead of in March and December, respectively. The move was reportedly designed to conserve resources, though some critics ascribed political or corrupt financial motives to the change.

Presidential elections in 2011 featured increased competition and a broader choice for voters compared with previous polls. Yevgeny Shevchuk, a former parliament speaker running as an independent, led the first round with 39 percent, followed by Anatoly Kaminsky, who had Russia’s endorsement. Shevchuk won the runoff against Kaminsky, securing 74 percent of the vote. Kaminsky resigned as parliament speaker and head of Obnovleniye in 2012.

Obnovleniye won a landslide victory in November 2015 legislative elections, securing 31 seats. Poor economic conditions and dissatisfaction with Shevchuk’s government contributed to the upset. Vadim Krasnoselsky, former security chief of Sheriff Enterprises, a business conglomerate that dominates the Transnistrian economy, was elected parliament speaker, and Pavel Prokudin was appointed prime minister.

A small group of Shevchuk’s allies and supporters demonstrated against the results of the elections, claiming vote manipulation.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 5 / 16

Shevchuk, who had fallen out with President Igor Smirnov in 2009 and resigned from Obnovleniye leadership in 2010, formed the Vozrozhdeniye (Revival) movement to back his 2011 presidential bid. Obnovleniye, the majority party in the legislature, is associated with Transnistria’s monopolistic business conglomerate, Sheriff Enterprises, and maintains a close relationship with the ruling party in Russia. Despite internal political rivalry and infighting, Transnistria’s entire political establishment, including nominal opposition parties and civil society organizations, supports the separatist system and Russia’s role as patron.

Moscow’s political influence in Transnistria is undergirded by the presence of 1,500 Russian troops, who are stationed to guard a Soviet-era ammunition depot and uphold a 1992 cease-fire between Transnistria and Moldova. The Moldovan government periodically calls for Russia to withdraw its forces.

While Transnistria has three official languages—Russian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan—Russian is the de facto language used by the government. Authorities do not allow voting in Moldovan elections to take place in Transnistrian-controlled territory, but residents with Russian citizenship had access to two dozen polling stations during Russia’s tightly controlled 2012 presidential election.


C. Functioning of Government: 2 / 12

Corruption and organized crime are serious problems. The authorities are entrenched in the territory’s economic activities, which rely heavily on smuggling schemes. Since 2005, the EU has assisted Ukraine and Moldova in maintaining customs controls and seizing smuggled goods along their internationally recognized shared border.

Russia has a major stake in the Transnistrian economy and backs Transnistria through loans, direct subsidies, and natural gas supplies. The Transnistrian government routinely faces enormous budget deficits, and it holds a debt of about $4 billion for gas imports from state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom. Individuals associated with the former Smirnov administration have been accused of embezzling Russian aid and Transnistrian public assets.

Sheriff Enterprises backed Obnovleniye in the 2015 elections. In the months before, Shevchuk had initiated a campaign against oligarchs linked to Sheriff, urged the adoption of antitrust and tax legislation directed at reducing revenue from the business holding, and investigated Sheriff and an associated company for smuggling large amounts of foreign currency.


Civil Liberties: 14 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 5 / 16

The media environment is restrictive. Nearly all media are state owned or controlled and refrain from criticizing the authorities. The few independent print outlets have small circulation. Critical reporting draws harassment by the government, which also uses bureaucratic obstruction and the withholding of information to inhibit independent media. Sheriff Enterprises dominates the private broadcasting, cable television, and internet service markets.

Shevchuk issued a decree in 2014 that required government agencies, private organizations, and citizens to report instances of “extremist” material online. Journalist Sergey Ilchenko was detained from March to July 2015 on charges of sedition and extremism. After his initial arrest, the Transnistrian Committee for State Security (KGB) released a warning to internet users to keep Transnistrian “statehood” in mind when posting. In August, a Moldovan journalist was accused of extremism and temporarily detained. During the 2015 legislative election campaign, Shevchuk ordered the prosecutor general to enhance control over media to avoid “extremism” and ensure impartiality of information. Moldovan press cannot enter Transnistria without accreditation, and authorities sometimes deny entrance to or temporarily detain Moldovan journalists. Moldovan channels are blocked in Transnistria.

Religious freedom is limited. Orthodox Christianity is the dominant faith, and authorities have denied registration to several smaller religious groups. Unregistered groups face harassment by police and Orthodox opponents.

The eight schools that provide instruction in Romanian using the Latin alphabet, which is associated with support for reintegration with Moldova, face harassment by authorities and are forced to use substandard facilities. In February 2015, Transnistrian police temporarily detained the director of one of the schools.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 2 / 12

Authorities severely restrict freedom of assembly and rarely issue required permits for public protests. demonstrations The Central Electoral Commission opened an administrative case against the protesters for violating a law prohibiting protests within 100 feet of official buildings.

Freedom of association is similarly circumscribed. All nongovernmental activities must be coordinated with local authorities, and noncompliant groups face harassment, including surveillance and visits from security officials. Civil society organizations face increasing problems to work in Transnistria and international organizations need the approval of the authorities for their projects, visits and meetings with civil society and media.

The region’s trade unions are holdovers from the Soviet era, and the United Council of Labor Collectives works closely with the government.


F. Rule of Law: 2 / 16

The judiciary is subservient to the executive and generally implements the will of the authorities. Defendants do not receive fair trials, and the legal framework falls short of international standards. Politically motivated arrests and detentions are common. Several Moldovans are held illegally in Transnistrian prisons.

Human rights groups have received credible accounts of torture in custody, and prison conditions are harsh and unsanitary. A 2013 UN report found protracted pretrial detention, lengthy sentences for minor crimes, and an “alarming” health situation in prisons, including cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis. There is no separate juvenile justice system, and addicts face forced medical treatment. Suspicious deaths of military conscripts occur periodically amid reports of routine mistreatment. No improvements have been made since the publication of the UN report.

Despite constitutional guarantees of equality, authorities discriminate against the Romanian-speaking minority. Ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians together account for some 60 percent of the population. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people have also reported discrimination, and same-sex sexual activity is illegal.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 5 / 16

Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by Transnistrian authorities, who in some cases seize or demand money and goods. The majority of residents hold Russian, Ukrainian, or other passports besides Moldovan, though many are believed to have multiple citizenship. Between April 2014 and April 2015, about 75,000 Moldovan passport holders in Transnistria obtained biometric passports to benefit from Moldova’s new visa-free EU travel privileges.

Transnistria and Russia complained in May 2015 of increased border restrictions by Ukrainian and Moldovan authorities, claiming that an economic blockade was being imposed. Transnistrian–Russian trade declined by 50 percent in 2015. Moldova imposed a ban on cars with Transnistrian license plates crossing into Ukraine starting in August; the ban was temporarily lifted in October. In June 2015, Russia issued certificates to a list of companies allowing them to circumvent a Russian embargo on Moldovan products; all but two are located in Transnistria or Gagauzia, a pro-Russia region of Moldova.

The 2013 UN report found that many residents have lost their rights to housing and land following flawed privatizations of factories and collective farms. Others living along the cease-fire line between Moldova and Transnistria are hampered by jurisdictional disputes involving their farmland.

Women are typically underrepresented in positions of authority, making up less than 10 percent of the legislature, though Shevchuk’s government includes several women in high-ranking positions. Domestic violence is a widespread problem, affecting an estimated 36 percent of women, and many domestic violence incidents are not reported to police. Transnistria is a significant source for trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution and forced labor. Moldovan authorities offer resources to Transnistrian trafficking victims.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

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