Home MarketsEurope & Middle East Russia can't easily reach Transnistria in Moldova, but it can cause problems

Russia can't easily reach Transnistria in Moldova, but it can cause problems

by SuperiorInvest

Vladimir Putin at a rally on Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin on March 18, 2018.

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Moscow continues its saber-rattling over the pro-Russian region of Transnistria in Moldova, and analysts say that while Russian authorities would find it difficult to physically reach the breakaway region to annex it, there are still ways to agitate the pro-Russians. unrest and problems for Moldova.

Since Transnistria's self-proclaimed separatist authorities requested Moscow's “protection” against Moldovan authorities last week – a move that was widely seen as coordinated with the Kremlin and a possible precursor to Russia bolstering its military presence there, or even annexing the territory region: The West has been closely watching the rhetoric coming from Moscow.

For its part, Russia's Foreign Ministry said last week that it would carefully consider the request of Transnistria and its people, whom it called its “compatriots.”

Transnistria is located in eastern Moldova and lies on the western border of Ukraine. No UN country, not even Russia, recognizes the sovereignty of Transnistria. All UN members consider the region to be part of Moldova, which has expressed a desire to reintegrate it. However, Russia has had a small military presence in Transnistria since 1992 and says it is conducting a “peacekeeping operation” there, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Like Ukraine, Moldova has a pro-Western government and wants to join the European Union. He also wants to reintegrate Transnistria, which makes relations between Moldova and Russia very tense.

Troublemaking Russia?

One problem for Russia is that Moldova and Transnistria have no access to the sea and are located between Romania and Ukraine. That would mean reinforcing its troops in the region would be a challenge.

But Russia could still cause problems, especially since a presidential election is due to take place in Moldova later this year, a vote that could be held alongside a referendum on EU membership.

“Invasion is not likely: Russia has a military base there, but it is not well equipped, and without a border with Russia (or with Russian-occupied Ukraine) there is no easy way for the Russians to physically take control. Still So, there are other ways the Russians can cause problems,” Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group, said in emailed comments Tuesday.

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“They could disrupt the energy supply from Transnistria to the rest of Moldova (which already happened at one point last year). Furthermore, the transit of gas from Russia to Transnistria via Ukraine is up in the air because there is a good chance that “No transit agreement is reached between Gazprom and Naftogaz. “It will not be renewed when it expires at the end of the year,” he added.

“So there are reasons to keep pushing. With pro-Western Moldovan President Maia Sandu facing re-election later this year, Putin sees an opportunity to make the regime as uncomfortable as possible.”

CNBC has asked the Kremlin to comment on concerns that Moscow may try to destabilize Moldova and is awaiting a response.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint press conference with Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Abdoulaye Diop (not pictured) following their talks in Moscow, Russia, February 28, 2024.

Maxim Shipenkov | Reuters

Russia commented further on the issue this week, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov making unsubstantiated claims that the West was trying to take control of the Moldovan leadership as it did with Ukraine.

“Since the beginning of the post-Soviet era, the West began to intervene in relations between Russia and its neighbors. They still follow the same policy,” Lavrov said, the RIA Novosti news agency reported, with the comments translated by Google. .

“This is also visible in Central Asia, in the Transcaucasus. This is also visible in the European part of the former USSR: Ukraine, Moldova, who are simply openly preparing to become the successor of Ukraine from the point of view of taking over power. all his leadership,” Lavrov said during a speech at the World Youth Festival in Sochi, Russia.

Possible courses of action

Lavrov's comments likely surprised Western observers who already fear that Moscow could use the request of pro-Russian separatists in Transnistria in Moldova as an excuse to claim it as part of the Russian Federation, saying it is doing so to protect Russian citizens in the region, which according to Transnistria authorities number about 220,000 people.

Russia used the same tactics and justifications for its support of pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine (before announcing its recognition of their “independence” on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine, and then unilaterally annexing them) and in the case of the Russian-backed breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. Both cases led to or involved war.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War noted in an analysis last week that the Transnistria call was likely intended to “provide the Kremlin with justifications for a wide range of possible escalated actions against Moldova: actions that the Kremlin can carry out.” both immediately and over time.” long-term.”

Moldova's President Maia Sandu has accused Russia of plotting a coup to overthrow her pro-EU government.

Bogdan Tudor | afp | fake images

“The Kremlin can use the results of the Transnistrian Congress of Deputies to justify a number of possible courses of action that are not mutually exclusive. The most likely course of action is for the Kremlin to use the Congress as a springboard to intensify hybrid operations aimed at Destabilizing and further polarizing Moldova ahead of Moldova's accession negotiations to the European Union and Moldova's upcoming presidential elections in June and November 2024, respectively,” the ISW said.

“The most dangerous course of action is for the Kremlin to decide to formally annex Transnistria in the future to justify a long-term military intervention against Moldova,” he said.

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