Russian forces are likely to target Moldova if they succeed in invading Ukraine – or even sooner, an expert says.
Russia continues to focus most of its military power on taking control of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, which has been at the center of the war from the start. Following the failed capture of the capital Kyiv, Russian forces increasingly focused on fighting in the east.
But the prospect of launching a similar invasion of Moldova, the small country south of Ukraine, has been feared for months. Like its beleaguered neighbor, Moldova was Soviet territory before 1991. It also has a breakaway region along its border with Ukraine, Transnistria, which is recognized by Moscow but no other United Nations member.
Many speculated that Russian forces would take control of Moldova after a hypothetical victory in Ukraine. But Yuri Felshtinsky, an author, historian and expert on Russia’s geopolitical history, told Express UK an invasion of Moldova could begin much sooner.
“Even before they are done with Ukraine, if they reach Transnistria in the process, they will start having a war there,” he explained. “Moldova would be in danger the moment Russia moves into Transnistria. If the Ukrainians are not able to hold them back, then they will reach Transnistria and they will start the war in Moldova. And Moldova, of course, will not is not a member of NATO.
Felshtinsky asserted that Putin would never be content with merely securing control of Ukraine’s breakaway Donbass region, which was the pretext for the current invasion, or any other region his troops currently control. The foundations in Moldova, he explained, have already been laid. About 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have remained stationed in Transnistria since the fall of the Soviet Union, and in the past decade they have begun issuing Russian passports to the Russian-speaking population.
“In Moldova, in Transnistria, there are about 220,000 Russian speakers to whom the Russian government has started issuing Russian passports,” Felshtinsky added. “They started doing this in 2014.”
Russian officials have in the past rejected the idea of invading Moldova, with Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko saying in April that they “would like to avoid such a scenario”.
Moldovan Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita said in late July that she was “very worried” about the prospect of a Russian invasion, but also added that it was “a hypothetical scenario for now”. .
Newsweek contacted Russian officials for comment.