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Why the Moldovan region of Transnistria could be drawn into Putin’s war

The explosions in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria have raised fears that the country could soon be drawn into Putin’s war in Ukraine.

The first blasts were reported on Monday when several blasts hit the Ministry of State Security in Tiraspol, the biggest city and capital of the separatist region. According to local officials, the attack was carried out using rocket-propelled grenades. Authorities did not name the source of the attack.

Ukrainian and Moldovan authorities have warned that the blasts are part of Russia’s alleged plan to destabilize the pro-EU and pro-Western Moldovan government led by President Maia Sandu through a series of hybrid attacks in the breakaway region of Transnistria. .

Further explosions followed the day after the Tiraspol incident. According to local police quoted by the Associated Press, a radio installation in the town of Maiac in Transnistria, 11 km west of the Ukrainian border, was hit by two explosions on Tuesday, which destroyed two broadcast antennas. Again, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack and its source has not been identified.

Police in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria said multiple explosions believed to be caused by rocket-propelled grenades hit the State Security Ministry on Monday. Above is a view of the damaged Ministry of State Security, in Tiraspol on April 25, 2022.
Ministry of Internal Affairs of Transnistria via AP

Another explosion hit a military unit in the village of Parcani on the same day, according to the Transnistrian Security Council. No further details of the incidents were provided by local authorities.

On Wednesday, the Transnistrian Interior Ministry said shots were fired overnight at an ammunition depot in Cobasna with drones which the ministry said were launched from Ukraine. The claim has not been independently verified and Ukrainian officials have yet to comment on the incident.

What is Transnistria?

Transnistria, a 249-mile-long strip of land on the border with Ukraine inhabited by some 470,000 people, is internationally recognized as part of Moldova but has been under separatist control since 1992.

The region declared its independence from Chișinău in 1990, which led to a war with Moldova in March 1992. The fighting did not stop until July of the same year, when a ceasefire was agreed. agreed between the two parties.

As part of the ceasefire agreement, Russian troops were stationed in the breakaway region for “peacekeeping”. Some 1,500 Russian soldiers are currently in the territory of Transnistria, according to the AP.

Transnistria has not seen fighting since 1992, and it is considered one of the post-Soviet areas of “frozen conflicts” – areas where active conflict has died down and turned into a long period of stability, but where no formal peace treaty or political framework has resolved the issues between the two previously warring parties.

Most residents of the breakaway region speak Russian, but they identify as Moldovans, Russians and Ukrainians.

How could Moldova be drawn into Putin’s war?

The explosions in Transnistria have raised fears that Moldova could be drawn into the war in Ukraine, with intelligence officials now saying the incidents could be an attempt by Moscow to destabilize Moldova.

Moldova’s foreign ministry said in a statement it was “concerned” by the incident reported Monday in Tiraspol, citing concerns that the attack could be used “to create pretexts to strain the security situation in the region of Transnistria, which is not controlled by constitutional authorities”.

After a meeting of Moldova’s Security Council was convened on Tuesday following reports of the explosions, President Sandu said the attacks were the action of “factions” in the Transnistria region who are “pro-war forces” interested in destabilizing the region.

“This makes the Transnistrian region vulnerable and presents risks for the Republic of Moldova,” she told reporters after the meeting.

Moldova Maia Sandu
Moldovan President Maia Sandu said the recent attacks in Transnistria are an attempt to destabilize the region. Above, Sandu speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Chisinau, Moldova, March 6, 2022.
OLIVIER DOULIERY/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Fears that Russia might be after Transnistria are not completely unfounded but were fueled by a statement made last week by acting commander of Russia’s Central Military District Rustam Minnekayev.

Minnekayev reportedly said that Russia was seeking to create a passage through Crimea to Transnistria, “where there are also facts indicating the oppression of the Russian-speaking population”.

His claims have not been confirmed by the Kremlin.

Russia has, in fact, officially denied that Moscow intends to start war in Transnistria or Moldova, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the accusation “looks like another fake”.

Peskov previously said that Moscow is watching the situation in Transnistria “very closely” and is concerned about what is happening in the region, as RIA Novosti reports.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said the attacks were “a provocation or terrorism”, as reported by state media quoted by the FinancialTimes. He said he hoped the situation would not escalate to the point where Russian troops would be forced to intervene.

But sources outside Russia contradict the Kremlin’s attempts to reassure Moldova and the Western world. A Ukrainian intelligence official quoted by the FinancialTimes said surveillance of Russian spy agency FSB agents operating in the country shows that “they have a plan to destabilize Moldova”. According to the same source, the destabilization operation could culminate on May 9.

Why would Russia want to involve Moldova?

Expanding the war in Ukraine to the breakaway region of Transnistria would potentially suit the same ideology that drove Putin to order his troops into Ukraine, said David Rivera, visiting professor of government at Hamilton College, Clinton (NY). Newsweek Last week.

“Some of the Kremlin’s stated concerns and justifications for its invasion of Ukraine – namely, protecting ethnic Russians and Russian speakers from cultural and linguistic oppression, as well as physical repression – could easily apply as well. to the Transnistrian region of Moldova,” he said.

A possible invasion of Moldova “would also dovetail with Putin’s strategy to reconstitute the former Soviet Union as much as possible as a Russian sphere of influence as a basis for Russia’s great power status”, he said. Stefan Wolff, professor of international security at the University of Birmingham. Newsweek.

“For this to work in Moldova, Putin needs a land connection which he could now seek to establish.”

Sandu Putin
The Moldovan authorities fear that the country could be dragged into Putin’s war. Above is a composite image of Moldovan President Maia Sandu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Alexey DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP; Sean Gallup via Getty Images and Canva

But ideology aside, expanding the war in Transnistria would potentially be a strategic move that could bring Moscow closer to the victory in Ukraine it has been seeking for weeks.

The Ukrainian intelligence official quoted by the FinancialTimes said capturing Moldova would give Russian troops the opportunity “to immediately invade [Ukraine] in the south and create territory from which they could mount an offensive on Odessa.”

A conflict in Moldova would also prevent the currently neutral country from drawing closer to NATO in the future, in addition to bringing the war to the doorstep of NATO and the European Union.

Moldova is not officially a member of the transatlantic alliance – its potential candidacy risks being refused to avoid a conflict with Russia precisely because of the presence of the “frozen conflict” zone of Transnistria – but drag the country in the war would bring the conflict to order. on the border with Romania, a member of NATO and the EU.

A conflict would also likely destabilize the pro-Western, pro-EU and pro-NATO government of President Sandu, who is well aware of the risk this would entail for the whole country, which is already one of the poorest in Europe. .

“We condemn all challenges and attempts to lure the Republic of Moldova into actions that could jeopardize peace in the country,” Sandu said on Tuesday after addressing the incidents in Transnistria. “Chisinau continues to insist on a peaceful settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict.

Sandu said his government was taking “all necessary measures to prevent escalation, strengthen state security and protect our citizens”, and remained “open to continue dialogue” in the region peacefully.


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