Most people couldn't find the nation of Transnistria (or Trans-Dniester) on a map, and most maps show it as part of the tiny former Soviet nation of Moldova. However, Transnistria is a very real place run by a very real government -- it merely lacks any international diplomatic recognition. The Russian-speaking region separated from Moldova in the Transnistrian War of the early 1990s, and it has been relatively quiet since. However, after developments this week, we may all soon know a little more about Transnistria.
Igor Smirnov, who has run the unrecognized nation since its inception, offered to host Russian missiles to counter America's missile defense plans in nearby Romania. Now, it is improbable that the Russians will accept Smirnov's rather rash offer -- but not impossible. After all, Transnistria already hosts over 1,000 Russian troops as a result of the peace agreement in the Transnistrian War. Furthermore, the "front line" between Russia's sphere of influence and the West has shifted to the Transnistrian area. Moldova has installed a new government seeking closer ties with Romania and the E.U., while neighboring Ukraine has just elected a pro-Moscow president. This leaves Smirnov and his self-declared nation sitting right on the dividing line -- and it would not be without precedent for Moscow to support unrecognized breakaway governments, as they did with the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Hopefully, the Russians will not be in the mood for a Cold War style staredown in the Romanian region. However, if the mood changes, Russia has a willing partner in Igor Smirnov. This man already fought one war over his objection to Romanian influence in Moldova, and he runs one of the few places where you can still find Soviet imagery displayed on every street corner. If anyone still sees the world through the lens of the Cold War, it's Igor Smirnov -- and with a new missile crisis looming, he sees his chance play the role of Fidel Castro.