Moscow “Rushing” Moldova too?

In early May (01 May), sources of the Ukrainian intelligence told the British newspaper The Times that the Russians have a plan to invade Moldova, because the Kremlin has decided to attack the country.

This could have fatal consequences: recognising the separatist enclave of Transnistria, which is not under Chisinau’s control, in line with the algorithm of recognising the “republics” of Donbas and Luhansk (for a start), would make Ukraine more vulnerable in a military point of view.

Moscow would also violate the territorial integrity of Moldova “along the way”, which is already a “geopolitical routine” for the Kremlin.

I should recalled that the “Transnistrian Moldovan Republic”, which is lying between Moldova and Ukraine and is not recognised by anyone in the world, was formed in 1992, when it separated from Moldova after an armed conflict, not without “involvement” of Russia. Since then, the Russians have maintained a military contingent in the enclave and the number of troops varies between 1,500 and 2,000.

The Times speakers have also pointed out that the Kremlin would (also for a start) begin to supply Transnistria with large quantities of weapons, with the strategic prospect of the enclave joining Russia, for example by exploiting and necessarily inciting discontent of locals with rising prices in Moldova that would lead to rebellion.

The article noted increased activity at the airport of Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, with the possible aim of landing (in parallel with the riots) a Russian airborne force from the Russian annexed Crimea by Il-76 transport planes and helicopters.

The Times acknowledged that the theses of its sources were at odds with Western intelligence analyses, according to which the Russians do not have a reasonable chance of flying from Crimea in the direction of Moldova over the Odessa region of Ukraine, which is on the way.

Moreover, a massive supply of arms still requires a land “corridor” through Odessa and Mykolaiv regions, which the Russians have categorically failed to repel from Ukraine and will not be able to do so in the foreseeable future, if at all.

Major-General Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Central Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, pointed out on 3 May, after the article of the British newspaper that Transnistria does not pose a major threat to Ukraine because it is living in a geopolitically schizophrenic state – while Moscow controls the enclave, it cannot physically reach it.

Unless Transnistria is a destabilising factor for the whole region.

However, there has been no shortage of narratives about a possible operation by Moscow. As military analysts Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Operations Research in London have pointed out, its instigators may have been seeking to draw some of Armed Forces of Ukraine away from the frontline, sabotage Chisinau’s course of integration into the structures of the democratic world, and frighten the West with the “argument” that support for Ukraine in terms of weapons and money threatened to turn into regional crises in, for example, the Balkans.

There is no smoke without fire, according to a well-known saying. The talk of Moscow’s operation in Transnistria and Moldova has been given substance and fuel by a number of terrorist “movements”, as yet impersonalised but demonstrative, which have had a fairly wide resonance.

On 25 April (Sunday, a non-working day), unidentified persons fired grenade launchers at the building of the Transnistrian Ministry of Security in Tiraspol. The next morning (6:40 and 7:05 AM), explosions toppled the towers of the radio centre broadcasting Russian radio. The explosions then “moved” to Tiraspol airport.

On the morning of 27 April, according to a statement by the „Ministry of Security”, the Transnistrian village of Kolbasna where the largest ammunition and explosives depot in Europe is situated was shelled from the Ukrainian side. The explosives, estimated at between 19,000 and 21,500 tonnes, were brought here after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe following the disbanding of the Warsaw Pact military organisation. Most of them have reached the end of their useful life and cannot be used or transported.

After the incidents, the “Minister of Foreign Affairs” of Transnistria Vitaly Ignatiev told the Russian state TV channel Rossia-24 about the footprint of Ukraine.

In an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, he said that it was appropriate for Chisinau and Tiraspol to come to an agreement and part ways peacefully, just as the Czech Republic and Slovakia did in their time (1993 – A.S.). Integration of the enclave with Moldova is also impossible because Chisinau has decided on a strategic geopolitical vector towards the European Union (EU) and has completely ignored the opinion of Transnistria.

The „President“of Transnistria Vadim Krasnoselsky has also pointed to the footprint of Ukraine, saying that neighbouring Ukraine is seeking to involve the enclave in a military conflict.

The Central Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has drawn attention to the fact that while the terrorist “movements” were taking place here, Transnistrians started receiving mobile phone messages from the Ukrainian Security Service urging them to go to safer regions because/when the remaining Ukrainians would be treated as saboteurs and liquidated without warning. Military facilities in the enclave will be attacked with rockets and artillery at a specific hour (e.g. 7 PM).

To be fair, the “warnings” were followed by long queues of cars from Transnistria to Moldova, just like the terrorist “movements”.

Based on forged messages, the Ukrainian intelligence delegated the authorship of the „movements“to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). W is war.

On 26 April, Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian President’s Office, noted on Twitter that Moscow was both seeking to destabilise the situation in Transnistria and hinting to Moldova that it would expect “guests”.

The bad news in this context is that if Ukraine does not stand up to war with Russia, it will. The good news is that Ukraine will be able to ensure strategic stability in the region. Mikhailo Podolyak concluded that Ukraine and Moldova must work as a team in the current circumstances.

Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the National Security Council of Ukraine, also recalled on 26 April the recent statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergei Lavrov that Moldova and Kazakhstan are brotherly countries to Russia. In this context, he warned that it would not be a bad idea for them to be shaken up, as Moscow might want to strengthen “fraternal relations”.

According to Oleksiy Arestovich, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, the incidents in Transnistria could leave Moldova in a difficult situation, and the best it can do in the current circumstances is to turn to Ukraine and Romania for help.

On 26 April, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Andrei Rudenko stated that the situation in Transnistria was a matter of concern for Moscow, but that it would like to avoid a scenario where it would have to intervene in the events on the territory of Moldova.

It is a relatively moderate statement, but not without a context. On 22 April Major-General Rustam Minnekayev, acting commander of the Central Military District of Russia, stated that the aim of the Russian army’s new offensive in the east of Ukraine is to seek a land „corridor“ linking not only the Donbas with the Crimea, but also to provide a land passage to Transnistria, where violations of the rights of the Russian-speaking population have also been recorded.

The Ukrainian intelligence has learned plans of the FSB General Dmitry Milyutin to exploit Soviet symbols, such as the Georgian band, banned at local protests in Moldova.

„As if by accident“, the people’s assembly of the also pro-Moscow Gagauz autonomy in the south of Moldova voted unanimously in favour of allowing the production, possession and wearing of the Georgian Band and the red flags, symbols of the Great Victory of 9 May 1945, without any obstacles, on 15 April, when the ribbon of Saint George and the red flags had been banned by the Moldovan Parliament.

At the end of January, separatists in Transnistria held a military exercise with Russian troops. On the very eve of the war, another military exercise was organised there on 18-19 February, to test the combat readiness of local motorised units.

In the context of the terrorist „movements“ mentioned here, a special newspaper was planned to be published in Transnistria with an appeal from the population of the region to the President of Russia to save them from the Ukrainian armed forces. The publication of the front page of the newspaper “before the fact” by Ukrainian intelligence has rendered the campaign meaningless.

President of Moldova Maia Sandu said that the diversions in Transnistria were carried out by local forces seeking destabilisation and war.

On 28 April, a meeting took place between delegations led by Deputy Prime Minister of Moldova Oleg Serebrian, who is in charge of reintegration, and the “president” of Transnistria, Vadim Krasnoselski.

The representation of the official Moldova in the negotiations with the separatists has been described in the mass media as unprecedented. Not from a good life.

On the same day, President Maia Sandu offered Ukraine the humanitarian aid and assistance in demining the territories liberated from the Russians. “This is what we can do,” – the President said of a country that is forced to make a particularly dramatic choice between integration into the democratic world and the pressure of the murderous Kremlin regime.

It must have been depressingly difficult for the President of Moldova to state publicly in an interview with Radio Europa Liberă on 1 April that her country would strive to maintain neutrality and would not impose sanctions on Moscow with the entire democratic world: “Can we or can we not leave the country today without natural gas and electricity? No, we cannot, for the sake of our own people and for the sake of 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, including 50,000 children.”

On the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of the creation of the Moldovan General Staff and the National Flag Day, the President acknowledged the absence of a full-fledged army, as Moldova was left without equipment, military hardware and units capable of fighting.

According to Mykhailo Podolyak, the involvement of Transnistria in the war will, however, mean the end of the enclave’s existence, and Tiraspol is aware of this. In the current circumstances, it is more a question of informational pressure on Ukraine.

The adviser repeats the words of Anatol Șalaru, former Minister of Defence of Moldova (2015-2016), who noted in an interview with currenttime.tv on 27 April that Transnistria is not interested in tensions, let alone in military action. The Enclave authorities even appealed to Chisinau not to react to the diversions on 25-27 April.

Transnistria is making good use of Moldova’s growing ties with the EU and its participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme. Over 60% of the enclave’s exports go to Europe, and very little to Russia, with which it shares an ‘umbilical cord’ of natural gas in return to demonstration of political loyalty. Transnistria has repeatedly declared its neutrality.

According to Anatol Șalaru, neither Moldova nor Transnistria wants tensions, and Ukraine simply does not need them. Moscow can attack only if it occupies Odessa, which Ukraine will be able to prevent. That is why the Russians want “at least” chaos, disorder. Perhaps to provoke Ukraine to respond in the region.

The former Minister of Defence of Moldova also points out that it is not worth expecting NATO member Romania to intervene in the defence of Moldova, as it will follow the Alliance’s well-known policy of not being officially involved in the war in Ukraine, although it fully supports it.

It is a categorical conviction of Anatol Șalaru that not only Moldova, but the hope of the entire civilised world lies in Ukraine, which is the only country that is sacrificing its troops for the sake of the European prosperity.

In conclusion, Transnistria has created only the appearance of statehood, forced to pay the price for its emphatic loyalty to Moscow by manoeuvring, with the possibility of the dead end. Even if the enclave’s inhabitants are pro-Russian because of the Russian propaganda.

The population is not blind and willingly sees how Russia is „exposing itself“in the current aggression.

In the context of the current war, Oleg Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military expert and army officer, has recalled the Russian generals’ saying “…let’s get Moldova on the same page”.

Moldovan society is deeply polarised also for geopolitical reasons. The pro-Kremlin lobby feels comfortable in the republic; Moscow knows this and is taking advantage of it by sabotaging the country’s movement towards the West.

Even in this context, while the voices in Russia were shouting ‘we must defend the Russians in Transnistria immediately’ and rehearsals for the victory parade were taking place the parade in Tiraspol, that was planned on 9 May was quietly cancelled.

Arūnas Spraunius

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