The Zalozhniy Quartet
Transnistria isn’t an internationally recognized country. It’s a strip of land on the eastern side of Moldova that declared independence in 1990. The Ukraine doesn’t recognize it either, which means crossing the border into Transnistria is a harrowing experience for most visitors. Armed guards demand bribes and tolls, and if they let you cross, you enter a bureaucratic twilight zone, a state of indeterminacy where you are and are not in Moldova.The confusion and danger means that most travellers avoid Transnistria; rail routes take absurd detours to avoid the breakaway state.
Transnistria’s population has plummeted since independence. The economy is calcified, so most young people of working age have emigrated to seek employment abroad.
The only real industry in Transnistria is weapons. The country was home to the Russian 14th Army, and when Transnistria broke away, they stayed as a “peacekeeping force” to prop up the local oligarchs. Transnistria is also home to several weapons factories. The country is run by a golden circle of army officers, ex-KGB, and business oligarchs, all of whom profit hugely from the country’s massive trade in illegal weapons. If you want to buy an anti-aircraft missile, or explosives, or want an army’s worth of assault rifles, Transnistria’s the place to be. Staggering amounts of money pour into this tiny strip of land.
You also know that Transnistria’s oligarchs are doggedly independent – they permit other criminal syndicates to trade, but they’ve resisted any takeover attempts with lethal force. Transnistria is (probably) not under the thumb of the Lisky Bratva or their mysterious superiors. Even better, Transnistria does not officially co-operate with the Ukrainian authorities. Once the agents are across the border, the militsiya cannot follow them. Crossing the border means bribery.