There are almost 200 official countries in the world, but there are dozens more breakaway states which are determined to be separate and independent.
All of the breakaway states have declared independence after violent struggles with a neighbour. Some now survive peacefully, but others are a magnet for terrorists and weapons smuggling, and have armies ready for a fight.
In a two-part program titled “Holidays In The Danger Zone: Places That Don’t Exist ” BBC4’s Simon Reeve visited six such places: Somaliland, Trans-Dniester and Taiwan (part 1); and Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia (part 2).
This article was inspired by that series and a documentary broadcast recently (Tuesday August 1 2006) on SBS TV Australia’s “Cutting Edge” program titled “Transnistria: Trafficking Arms on Europe’s Doorstep”.
Iraq, the Caucasus and sub-Saharan Africa are all regions roiled by conflict that share one thing in common: many of the weapons in use there come from Transnistria.
Since the collapse of the USSR, Transnistria – a breakaway entity from Moldavia run by a neo-Communist dictatorship – has become a black hole on Europe’s doorstep. An internationally unrecognised ‘frozen conflict’ area, the enclave has become a lawless zone run by a tiny corrupt clique.
While only a 3-hour flight from Paris, the PMR is nearly as closed as North Korea. No serious investigations have ever been conducted in PMR, mainly because it is so difficult to get inside and with good reason, since tiny Transnistria has a great deal to gain from keeping out of the limelight: it is one of the world’s biggest arms stockpiles.
Thanks to the opening of the military airport in Tiraspol and direct access to the port of Odessa, Transnistria has become a major hub for trafficking cigarettes, alcohol and arms.
The Cutting Edge documentary: “Transnistria: Trafficking Arms on Europe’s Doorstep” shines a light on the obscure functioning of this highly secretive pseudo-state by investigating how Transnistria has become a base for arms dealers and a key player in international terrorism.
The following is a transcript of the introduction and conclusion to the documentary made by the narrator:
Narrator: This is the story of a country that dooes not exist … a country that has escaped all international countrol since it’s birth in 1990: The Republic of Transnistria. A tiny strip of land half the size of Corsica to the East Romania, between Moldova and the Ukraine. It’s said that behind this border [Narrator’s car approaches Transnistrian border checkpoint] which cannot be found on any map … you can buy any kind of weapon you like.
Weapons the international community says will wind their way with complete impunity into the hands of rebel groups and terrorists operating in the Caucases and Africa, and more recently Iraq.
Narrator: At present the international community is not in any position to take action in Transnistria, a land that recognises only one judge and master, Russia. The post-soviet regimes in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgystan collapsed before Russia could do anything about it. An unthinkable scenario in Tiraspol [capital of Transnistria].
The republic of Transnistria:
– A country that doesn’t exist but still regards Stalin as one of mankind’s greatest heroes
– A country that can raise an army of 17,000 troops in a matter of weeks and has several thousand tonnes of arms and munitions at it’s disposal.
– A country that let 100 nuclear suitcase bombs disappear from its munitions depots and owned 38 radioactive rockets whose current location no one knows.
– A country that is strongly suspected of illegally traficking arms on the international market that continues to sidestep all control.
In September 2005 The Republic of Transnistria celebrated the 15th anniversary of it’s independence