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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Policy Shift That Could Echo at Home

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Finding the right balance in its reaction to Sunday's referendum in Transdnestr must have been tricky for the Foreign Ministry. For years, Russia has pledged to respect Moldova's territorial integrity. But Russian diplomats have recently asserted publicly that the right to self-determination should be a factor in the resolution of frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union. Ahead of the Transdnestr referendum, this translated into significant unofficial support for the separatist regime.

This balancing act is not only tricky but also hypocritical and potentially dangerous. The hypocrisy stems from the fact that even tacit involvement in Transdnestr's campaign for independence clashes with Russia's promise to respect territorial integrity. This is the argument that the Russian side has regularly advanced in opposing individual statehood in places such as Kosovo.

But it is hard to reconcile the territorial integrity defense of Serbia's position on Kosovo with activities in support of national self-determination in Transdnestr.

To be fair, the European Union and the United States appear to suffer from the same kind of schizophrenia, but in a mirror image of the Russian condition. Backing Moldova and Georgia in the cases of South Ossetia and Abkhazia hardly jibes with Western support for Kosovar independence.

Neither the United States nor Europe, however, stands to loose as much as Russia if its support backfires. Russia has fought two wars to ensure that Chechnya remains within Russia, but its ultimate presence as a stable part of the federation is still far from guaranteed. An outflow of ethnic Russians as a result of the fighting has left the republic's population almost homogeneously Chechen. The situation is much the same with the Ingush population in neighboring Ingushetia. This population trend continues to provide fertile ground for possible independence movements.

The Kremlin has steadfastly rejected the notion of any region leaving the federation. The message is simple: The country will continue to exist within its current borders. Period.

But abandoning the principle of integrity when it comes to other countries will make this position a much harder sell at home. And therein lies the problem: Regardless of how quietly you tell the people of Transdnestr, South Ossetia and Abkhazia that national self-determination is in their interests, there's always the danger that the Chechens and Ingush will overhear.