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TIRASPOL, Moldova — Think of the end of the Soviet Union as the Big Bang of recent politics. The successor states are the new planets — large or small, and subject to varying amounts of gravitational pull from Russia. And then there are the asteroids, in this case composed of breakaway republics, autonomous regions and disputed territories. Fragmentary relics of a derelict empire, they seem vaguely distant until they threaten to collide with larger bodies.

One such asteroid, bordering the Ukraine, calls itself the Pridnestrovian-Moldovan Republic. Elsewhere, this somewhat unwieldy name is shortened and anglicized to Transnistria or similar variations, meaning “across the Dnestr River.” Transnistria has its own capital, Tiraspol, as well as a national flag, army, police force, currency and parliament. However, it isn’t recognized by a single sovereign state. In fact, the international community recognizes the territory as part of Moldova, one of the Soviet successor states.

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