The 350,000-or-so people living in political limbo in Transniestria, the private fiefdom of a Russian businessman on the EU's eastern fringe, want to integrate with Russia despite a new wave of euro-optimism on the other side of its unofficial border with Moldova. But their views are shaped by decades of repression.

Ever since it split from Moldova in the early 1990s, the official policy of the "Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic" is that it wants to be recognised as an independent country and then to become part of Russia.

The revolution in Moldova in April 2009, which paved the way for liberal Prime Minister Vlad Filat and his Alliance for European Integration to later take power from the Communist Party, has boosted the country's prospects of EU integration and released a burst of optimism about Moldova's future among young people, the intellectual elite and entrepreneurs.

The changes in Moldova have had little impact in Transniestria however, with ordinary people in the region as well as its leadership clan still banking on Russia for their well-being.

Speaking to EUobserver in Transniestria's main city, Tiraspol, on [22 January], Sergey Shirokov, a former official in the Transniestrian "foreign ministry," who now runs a semi-independent NGO, Mediator, said the Russia option is deeply rooted in people's hearts and minds.

"Historical memory somehow has an impact on how the region is developing," he said. "Transniestria has always been under Russia's rule and such a big history has an impact on today's situation."

The panoply of Soviet-era symbols in Tiraspol's main street, including a big statue of Lenin, are not seen as signs of Russian oppression, he added: "I am a child of the Soviet Union, even if it wasn't democratic, I respect its symbols. These are not symbols of Stalinism, they are symbols of a country which existed before Stalin and after Stalin, these symbols represent the life of my parents and my grandparents. For them, this is their whole life."

Transniestria's "President" Igor Smirnov, a Soviet-lieutenant-turned-factory-manager, came to Tiraspol in 1987 and a few years later led the region in a war of separation from Moldova, itself a former Soviet republic.

The Siberian-born 70-year-old now lives behind militarised borders with Moldova and Ukraine. He likes morning swims, hunting and driving fast in his car. He controls Sheriff, a company responsible for almost all the economic activity in Transniestria, including supermarkets, TV and internet cables and the local football club. His intelligence boss, a former Soviet police chief in Latvia, Vladimir Antufeyev, keeps a choke-hold on dissent. Read full article in EUobserver...