A young politician and businessman has won the presidential runoff in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, bringing renewed hope of progress in one of Europe's last "frozen conflicts."
Central Election Commission Chairman Pyotr Denisenko said on December 26 that former parliament speaker Yevgeny Shevchuk had defeated his opponent -- Moscow-backed Anatoly Kaminsky, the current speaker of the unrecognized territory's parliament.
Shevchuk, a 43-year-old businessman and politician, campaigned on a platform of improving ties with Moldova to ensure freedom of movement for Transdniester's 500,000 residents.
He said his first move would be "to work with our neighbors [Moldova and Ukraine] to ensure free movement of people and goods."
Shevchuk told journalists that his victory also signalled a growing desire for economic and political change in one of Europe's poorest regions.
"People are tired of their low standard of living, of the difficulties they face, and they expect real decisions and actions which will impact on our economy, our social and political situation, so people want a real, positive changes," Shevchuk said.
"The level of trust [they placed in me] shows this has to happen as soon as possible."
Transdniester, a strip of land along Moldova's eastern border with Ukraine, declared independence from then-Soviet Moldova in 1990.
Romanian-speaking Moldova and Moscow-backed Transdniester fought a brief but bloody war in 1992, which was curbed by the intervention of Russian troops stationed in the breakaway region.
Shevchuk told the breakaway region's official news agency, Olvia Press, that his first move as president would be to simplify the border-crossing procedure between Transdniester and Moldova.
Igor Smirnov, the strongman who ruled Transdniester for more than two decades, unexpectedly failed to make it to the runoff in the first round, after apparently falling out of Moscow's favor.
The Kremlin had indicated that it favored former speaker Kaminsky over both Smirnov and Shevchuk. Kaminsky, however, has indicated that he is ready to work together with Shevchuk despite his defeat.
There are renewed hopes that Shevchuk's victory could help resolve the "frozen conflict." Shevchuk said he was open to negotiations with Moldova to kick-start the stalled talks.
However, he said he would not give up the region's declaration of independence. In a 2006 referendum Transdniester voted overwhelmingly to maintain independence from Moldova and seek to join Russia.
Shevchuk said Russia would remain Transdniester's main "strategic partner" and Moscow will be the first foreign capital he will visit. Not recognized internationally, Transdniester relies on Russian financial and political support.
Moscow still has about 1,500 troops in Transdniester.
Shevchuk told local media he will be inaugurated on December 30.
written by Eugen Tomiuc, with agency material