Russia accuses Ukraine of planning an ‘invasion’ in Transnistria
This accusation comes a few days after Moscow reneged on its commitment to respect the territorial integrity of Moldova.
The fire of war in Ukraine is fanning the embers of conflict in Transnistria. Thursday, February 23, a year after the launch of the Russian “military operation” in Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defense accused on his Telegram channel “the kyiv regime“to foment”an armed provocation against the Dniester Moldavian Republic [la Transnistrie, NDLR] in the near future“. The Kremlin claims that a “staged attack (…) from the territory of Transnistria” by “Ukrainian Armed Forces units, including the Nationalist Azov Regiment“disguised as Russian soldiers”will serve as a pretext for the invasion“. The Russian ministry claims to be “ready to respond to any changes in the situation“. A few days earlier, Vladimir Putin had repealed the decree by which Russia notably recognized the territorial integrity of Moldova.
“State authorities do not confirm the information released this morning by the Russian Ministry of Defense, reacted the Moldovan government. We call for calm“. For Florent Parmentier, associate researcher at the HEC Geopolitics Center and author of Moldova at the crossroads of the worlds (Éditions Non Lieu, 2019, with Josette Durrieu), the statements of the Russian Ministry of Defense are more like war propaganda. “As war rages on the Russian border, Ukraine’s priority is surely not to settle the Transnistria problem», Analyzes the researcher who sees in these allegations an attempt by the Kremlin to «destabilize Moldova to prevent it from getting too close to Westerners“.
Putin’s revocation of the 2012 decree with a section on Transnistria that Russia pledged to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Moldova “is more disturbing», for the researcher. This decree also developed a more global vision of Russian foreign policy, involving a rapprochement of Moscow with the European Union and the United States. “In this way, Russia got out of the negotiations that had framed Transnistria for thirty years», stresses Florent Parmentier.
The war in Ukraine reactivates the conflict
Thus, if the hypothesis of a conflict in Transnistria in the short or medium term therefore seems to be ruled out, the increase in tensions in the region is undeniable. “These tensions are almost unprecedented in the last thirty years.analyzes the researcher. Since the agreements of July 1992 which grant autonomy to Transnistria where Moscow maintains around 1,500 armed soldiers, there has not been a single death, not a single stray bullet.But Moldova is now the scene of recurring incidents, collateral damage from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict which rekindles local tensions. From March 2022, strikes targeted the separatist authorities of Transnistria and the radio antennas broadcasting Russian programs. A resurgence of tension has especially occurred in recent weeks. On February 10, the Moldovan government summons the Russian ambassador after a Russian cruise missile, fired from the Black Sea, flew over Moldovan airspace, passing just 35 kilometers from the Romanian border, before hitting the Ukraine.
Three days later, on the basis of documents intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence, Moldovan President Miai Sandu claims that Moscow is fomenting a coup in Moldova with the aim of installing a pro-Russian government in Chisinau. Maia Sandu announces a legislative project to strengthen national security, citing plans to “hostage taking» and «saboteurs“Russian”camouflaged in civilian clothes», with the help of «internal forceslike the party of pro-Russian oligarch Ilan Sor. The next day, despite the Kremlin’s denial, Moldova even closed its airspace for several hours, citing security reasons. A new stage on February 16: during a session in the Moldovan Parliament, Prime Minister Dorin Recean aroused the ire of the Kremlin, by asserting that he was “important to continue our efforts for the Russian troops to withdrawfrom Transnistria. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, then recommended to the Moldovan authorities, in a threatening tone to say the least, to be “extremely cautious“.
“If Moldova asks, Ukraine will take Transnistria in 3 days”
For their part, the declarations of Ukrainian officials hardly reflect a desire for relaxation. In an interview with the German newspaper Welt on February 20, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asserts that if “Maia Sandu never asked me for help, (…) Ukraine will always be ready to help Moldova“. In a much more provocative tone, Volodymyr Zelensky’s former presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, bluntly asserts that “if Moldova asks Ukraine then Ukrainian Armed Forces will take Transnistria in 3 days» in an interview withOdessa Newspaper .
Moldova is a former Soviet republic. After its independence, following the fall of the USSR, a war broke out with Transnistria, a predominantly Slavic-speaking eastern region which also wanted its independence. Autonomy was finally granted to the region under the rule of Moscow, which kept 1,500 soldiers there, notably responsible for guarding one of the largest ammunition warehouses in Europe. Moldova is neither a member of the European Union, although it is a candidate for its integration, nor a member of NATO.