On July 27, the Russian peacekeepers stationed in Transnistria, along with Transnistrian troops, crossed the Dniester River into Moldova as part of a military exercise. The exercise in and of itself was supposedly based on Russian and Transnistrian troops responding to a terrorist attack at a water purification plant, and in pursuit of the terrorists, they crossed the river and landed on Moldovan territory. Russian and Transnistrian troops crossing a border that had been in dispute since the civil war of 1992 was enough the sound the alarm in the capital of the official Moldovan state, Chisinau, as it was interpreted, not unjustifiably, as a rehearsal of an invasion of Moldovan territory.
This specific incident follows a series of Russian microaggressions in the area. Also, it is in line with Putin’s wider interference, as he has long advocated the independence of the Russian-speaking Transnistrian state that has only been recognized by Russia.
If any of this sounds familiar, it is because it follows the same tactical pattern that Putin has used in other areas of his immediate neighborhood, the most telling of which was the annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin’s support of Russian-speaking separatists in East Ukraine. All of that makes the West anxious, and especially Europe, which seeks to approach former USSR states that Putin considers his sphere of influence.
Despite the fact that this specific incident was of a small scale and entailed a degree of deniability, one cannot but wonder how much Mr. Putin can push his luck with such tactics before it has consequences. Sanctions have already been imposed on him by the West. Of course, the Russian president has proven time and again that he places greater priority on his geopolitical dominance than any possible economic hardship in his country, even if the latter affects his own cronies. Thus, it is debatable if harsher economic sanctions will create any desirable effect. Russia has already suffered in that area and Putin seems undeterred, using those very sanctions as a scapegoat in order to convince his electorate of the economic war waged against them by the West.