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Astatue of Vladimir Lenin seen in front of Presidential Palace in Tiraspol, Transnistria. Alamy Stock Photo
Soviet Union legacy

Breakaway Moldovan region's call for Russian 'protection' prompts fears of new Ukraine war front

Transnistria is a primarily Russian-speaking region that has long depended on Moscow for support.

PRO-RUSSIAN OFFICIALS IN Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria have appealed to Russia for “protection”, prompting fears that the territory could become a new flashpoint in Moscow’s conflict with neighbouring Ukraine.

Russia said it was a priority to protect the sliver of land, which has been de facto controlled by pro-Russian forces since the collapse of the Soviet Union but is internationally recognised as part of Moldova.

Moldova’s government rejected “propaganda statements” from pro-Russian separatists, adding that the region “benefits from the policies of peace, security and economic integration with the European Union”.

moldova-and-transnistria-political-map-republic-of-moldova-with-capital-chisinau-and-the-pridnestrovian-moldavian-republic-pmr Map of Moldova Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The United States said it “firmly supports” the Moldovan government’s sovereignty.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he discussed “Russia’s efforts to destabilise the region” with Moldova’s leader Maia Sandu at a regional conference.

The Moldovan government played down the move from Transnistria. 

“From Chisinau, things look calm… There is no danger of escalation and destabilisation of the situation in the Transnistrian region. This is another campaign to create hysteria,” a government spokesman said in a Telegram post.

Transnistria is a primarily Russian-speaking region that has long depended on Moscow for support.

At a rare special congress in the region, lawmakers passed a resolution asking Russia’s parliament to “protect” Transnistria from mounting Moldovan pressure.

They said the Moldovan government in Chisinau had unleashed an “economic war” against Transnistria, blocking vital imports with the aim of turning it into a “ghetto”.

“The decisions of the current congress cannot be ignored by the international community,” the breakaway republic’s foreign policy chief Vitaly Ignatiev told the meeting.

“We are talking about an appeal for diplomatic support,” he later told Russian state television.

The resolution came a day before President Vladimir Putin makes his annual address to Russian lawmakers and as Ukraine suffers setbacks on the battlefield.

The call for help from Moscow has fuelled comparisons with February 2022, when Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine called for protection against what they said was relentless attacks and shelling by Kyiv’s forces.

Russia’s foreign ministry said after the resolution was passed that it considered “all requests” for help.

“Protecting the interests of the residents of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of our priorities,” the ministry told Russian news agencies.

Moldova has accused the Kremlin of stoking tensions in Transnistria.

Since Moscow began its full-scale assault on Ukraine, Chisinau has been concerned the Kremlin could use Transnistria to open a new front in the southwest, in the direction of Odesa.

The tiny territory was rocked by unexplained blasts in 2022 that military analysts believe may have been a Russian attempt to drag the region into the conflict.

Then, in March 2023, Transnistria’s pro-Russian leadership accused Kyiv of an assassination attempt on its leader, an accusation that Ukraine rejected.

The Kremlin has around 1,500 soldiers permanently stationed in the region, and has warned Ukraine and Moldova against attacking them.

In 2006 the separatist territory’s deputies announced a referendum on integrating with Russia that resulted in an overwhelming majority in favour.

 - © AFP 2024