Transnistria's former leader, Igor Smirmnov, in a fetching short-sleeve suit
Putin's dream of a post-Soviet Russian super-state is coming true. After Crimea, some people are saying, will be Transnistria. That's why over the coming weeks, there's a good chance you'll be hearing lot about this place. Transnistria is a thin strip of land awkwardly wedged between Moldova and Ukraine. Technically, it’s part of Moldova but according to a number of plebiscites, it doesn’t want to be and is sort of half way to being its own state. It’s not recognised by any member of the United Nations, but it has its own government and parliament. Today, that parliament asked Moscow if it would consider letting it become part of the Russian Federation, please.
Russia currently has an estimated 1,500 soldiers stationed there. Like Crimea, it’s one of those parts of the world that found itself in an awkward position after the collapse of the Soviet Union – still with heavy ties to Russia, a country that seemingly most other people in the region were pleased to get shot of. After Crimea’s referendum at the weekend, obvious parallels are being drawn between the two territories.
Transnistria held its own referendum in 2006, in which 97 percent of the population voted to join Russia, but that hasn’t happened – yet. Transnistria sounds like a fake country – a generic sounding catchall part of Eastern Europe that someone would make up. Well, it is real, and even though it's small, it might be about to tell us something very important about the future of geopolitics. So we thought we’d tell you about it before the world passes you by.
Click through the links below to read of our adventures in the country that doesn't exist.
Out on the fringes of the former USSR, in one little pocket of Eastern Europe, the trauma of the Soviet Empire's collapse has never quite been shaken off. Its Soviet credentials are impeccable: It's being run as a corrupt leader-cult led by an elite of weapons smuggling crooks who'll sooner gut your face than quote Marx. Yet its sovereignty is recognised by no one and therefore, it isn’t a real country. Its name is Transnistria, but in the eyes of the world, it simply isn't there.
We headed out to Transnistria in September 2010 to celebrate its twentieth anniversary with a military parade, recoil in fear at the sight of the Transnistrian Zorro (pictured) and go clubbing with babes.
After the comradeship and Slavic booze frenzy that was Transnistria's twentieth birthday parade, we stepped into the office of one of the nation’s most cutthroat and corrupt: powerbroker Dmitry Soin (pictured).
Soin is close to the heart of the state's organised crime structure and wanted by Interpol for personally carrying out the murders of a hitchhiker and a moneylender, as well as plotting at least 25 other assassinations. In 2006 he was exposed by a Sunday Times journalist as a weapons dealer. I was told numerous times by every source I approached that it would be impossible to track down and meet Soin. Most believed him to be hiding away somewhere deep in Ukraine.
He wasn't. He was sitting in Proriv HQ, waiting for me with a warm handshake and a pot of tea.
Jeremy Suyker and Nicolas Leblanc are two French photographers whose work took them to the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol, where they spent their days and nights photographing the country's most beautiful women. They found them everywhere, from weird street ceremonies, foam parties and even walking their horses.
The country's currency and passports may not be recognised abroad, but even the haughtiest international political dignitaries would have to concede that the women of Transnistria are total knockouts.