Sheriff Republic

The Sheriff has enjoyed playing against Real Madrid in the Champions League, but the Sheriff Republic is gambling its future on a much bloodier battlefield where it is very difficult to keep a clean sheet.  EFE / IÑAKI ORTEGA
The Sheriff has enjoyed playing against Real Madrid in the Champions League, but the Sheriff Republic is gambling its future on a much bloodier battlefield where it is very difficult to keep a clean sheet. EFE / IÑAKI ORTEGA

Tiráspol (Moldova), Nov 26 (EFE) .- They call it the Sheriff Republic. And it is that in Transnistria, a strip of territory embedded between Moldova and Ukraine, everything is decided by a single man, Victor Gushán, the owner of the corporation and the Sheriff football club (Tiráspol).
The history of Transnistria is closely linked to the star that accompanies Gushan since the fall of the USSR in 1991. Star in the literal and figurative sense. Star because as a police officer he became the most powerful man in the pro-Russian enclave and because a five-pointed star is the symbol of the empire he has amassed for the last 30 years.
Gushan’s story is a true ‘wild east’ odyssey, in which gunmen made the law in the first years after the post-Soviet disintegration. Transnistrian bandits killed numerous businessmen during the 1990s, but not Sheriff Gushan. Without competitors or rivals, it controls everything from the economy to Parliament, the internet and telephone operator, the bread factories, supermarkets, tobacco and alcohol, clothing and even gas stations.
Every self-respecting oligarch has to have a football team, but Gushan lacks the glamor of Roman Abramóvich, the owner of Chelsea and former treasurer of the Kremlin who agreed to emigrate to ‘Londongrad’ with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Nor can he be compared to the owner of the Shakhtar Donetsk and the richest man in Ukraine, Rinat Akhmetov, who has survived the war in the Donbas.
Local authorities dismiss the smuggling accusations as “old legend” to discredit Transnistria. Moldovan deputies accuse Gushan of using criminal methods to forge his empire, while people who know him well commented to Efe in Tiraspol that, “although it is true that the inhabitants of Transnistria themselves resent the Sheriff corporation for its monopoly of the economy national, Gushan has also done good things like financing the two orphanages in the city ”.
Without smuggling there would be no Transnistria, but without Transnistria, there would be no smuggling either. According to the press, the scheme is very simple. Sheriff acquires all kinds of items in Russia, Ukraine or China. It imports them without paying any duty and then formalizes them in Moldova and sells them to the European Union at much higher prices.
This is mainly the case with cars and tobacco, the Gushan gold mine. According to customs statistics, Transnistria produces so much tobacco that every inhabitant of the breakaway republic, including children, could smoke several packs of cigarettes daily. The same goes for the rest of the articles. Sheriff is the only corporation that can import tobacco and alcohol, to which we must add that it is exempt from tariffs. The business is round.
As Transnistrian volunteers fought in the Donbas in 2014-15, Ukraine has in recent years changed its attitude towards Transnistria. Last September, Kiev banned private cars with Transnistrian license plates from crossing its border, a severe setback for the enclave’s economy.
However, the president of Moldova, Maia Sandu, believes that cigarette smuggling continues to be a buoyant business. Recently, he estimated the annual volume of smuggling between Transnistria and the EU at 250 million packages. And the multimillion-dollar profits don’t stay in Chisinau, but in Tiráspol.
RUSSIAN PROTECTORATE
“If we ignore the Russian military component, the real strong man in Transnistria is Gushan,” Oazy Nantoi, a veteran Moldovan deputy, told EFE.
Russia is present in every aspect of Transnistrian life. To begin with, more than half of its population has Russian citizenship, Russian is the lingua franca, and Russian law is also law in this territory.
The Kremlin subsidizes the economy of the self-proclaimed Moldovan Republic of Transnistria (Pridnestrovie in Russian). Some estimate the annual aid at more than a billion dollars, if interest-free credits to companies in the territory are also taken into account.
The best proof that without Moscow the enclave would not survive is the $ 7 billion that Transnistria owes the gas giant Gazprom for gas. That debt makes him a hostage to the Kremlin forever and ever. Being free, gas allows Transnistria to have an advantage when it comes to exporting.
Security is handled by Russian soldiers, whose base is in the middle of the city. For the local authorities, their presence is the guarantee of peace since the war between Moldovans and Transnistria that between 1990 and 1992 left more than a thousand dead. Russia pledged in 1999 to withdraw troops within three years. They are still here.
Another factor of stress is the more than 20,000 tons of weapons and ammunition found in the town of Kolbasna, 20 kilometers from the Moldovan border since Soviet troops left East Germany and the former Czechoslovakia.
In addition to the danger of an explosion, although the Government insists that Russian specialists guarantee their safety, Ukraine and Moldova denounce the risk that such weapons fall into the hands of terrorists or could be used by pro-Russian militias in the Ukrainian Donbas.
The Sheriff has enjoyed playing against Real Madrid in the Champions League, but the Sheriff Republic is gambling its future on a much bloodier battlefield where it is very difficult to keep a clean sheet.
Ignacio Ortega

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