TIRASPOL, September 18 (RIA Novosti) - The vast majority of the population of Transdnestr, a self-proclaimed republic in Moldova, voted Sunday for independence and future accession to Russia, the central election committee said Monday.
Transdnestr held a referendum to decide whether it should continue seeking independence and union with Russia. No public disturbances were registered at the polls, a Transdnestr government official earlier said.
More than 389,000 registered voters were asked to answer two questions -- whether they want the Transdnestr Region's independence from Moldova and its subsequent union with Russia, or whether they believe the region should become part of Moldova.
The election committee said 78.6% of voters participated in the referendum. According to preliminary results, 97.1% of voters cast their ballots in favor of independence and union with Russia.
More than 130 international observers participated in monitoring the Sunday referendum in the breakaway republic. They said they did not register any procedural violations during the secret balloting.
Commenting on the preliminary results of the Transdnestr referendum, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament said Monday that the population of the self-proclaimed republic voted for future union with Russia in hopes of resolving the long-running conflict with Moldova as soon as possible.
"The referendum in Transdnestr, conducted in conditions of political instability and economic blockade, became a form of expression of public will, which reflects the desire of the population to live in stability and predictability," Sergei Mironov said.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said September 15 that the referendum in Transdnestr was a response to a de facto blockade that was damaging the region's economy.
"The referendum is a reaction to the blockade that has been effectively imposed on Transdnestr, an economic blockade that is hurting the region's economy and, needless to say, hurting its people," he said.
Moldova's breakaway Transdnestr region lost more than $300 million after Ukraine imposed new customs regulations in March, the economics minister of the self-proclaimed republic reported earlier.
Ukraine toughened its customs regulations for exports from Transdnestr March 3, requiring that they pass preliminary clearance in Moldova - a move interpreted in Tiraspol as an economic blockade.
"The losses totaled $301 million as of September 5," Yelena Chernenko told a news conference.
Transdnestr, which has a predominantly Russian-speaking population, proclaimed its independence from Moldova in the early 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Armed clashes between Moldova and Transdnestr ensued, and Russia has retained a military presence in the breakaway region ever since. Russia has also provided generous financial aid for the impoverished region.
The West has consistently refused to legally recognize Transdnestr's independence. In response, Russia claims that recognizing the sovereignty of Kosovo -- actively sought by the predominant Albanian population in the historically Serbian region -- would serve as a precedent for legalizing the status of other separatist regions in former Soviet republics.
Valery Kinyaikin, the Russian Foreign Ministry's envoy to the breakaway region said September 7 that the outcome of a referendum in Transdnestr will have to be recognized.
"The issue is not about the official or unofficial participation [of observers], the recognition or non-recognition of the referendum, but it's all about a fact of political life, which will have to be recognized," he said.
Kinyaikin also said the parties to the conflict should reach agreement to work out a model for the future state with the assistance of international mediators, but that they first should resolve the troubled situation caused by Moldova's and Ukraine's imposition of new customs regulations in March, which resulted in an economic blockade of the breakaway republic.
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Any response would likely boomerang on Russia – the partnership between Rosneft and ExxonMobil is a case in point. The United States has hit Russia with a third round of sanctions. This time the Americans went with a higher caliber weapon, targeting Russia’s biggest energy companies (Rosneft and Novatek) and banks (VEB and Gazprombank).