Intel from the Ukrainian military says that Russia intends to open a new front in its invasion of Ukraine through Moldova, a former Soviet State.
“We believe the Kremlin has already taken the decision to attack Moldova. The fate of Moldova is very crucial. If the Russians start to take control, we will, militarily, be an easier target, and the threat to Ukraine will be existential,” said the source.
One of the sources said there were a “number of indicators” that led to a conclusion that an attack on Moldova is likely – a country that only has 3,250 fighters in its forces.
Tensions have been rising in Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova. After a string of explosions hit state buildings in the separatist capital. No one got hurt, and nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks. Transnistrian authorities accused Ukraine of the attacks, while Ukraine blamed Russia’s security service, and Moldova pointed to pro-war groups in Transnistria.
The region of Transnistria shares a border with Ukraine, specifically the southwest region of Ukraine. A successful takeover of the region will open an opportunity for Russian troops to encircle Ukrainians fighting in the east. Western experts believe it is likely that Russia wants to create a land bridge from Transnistria to Crimea, which will cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea.
Some sources from the Royal United Services Institute go as far as believing that Russia could exploit the troubled population of Moldova to destabilize the country and allow for a complete takeover. The destabilization effort, as sources claim, would involve exploitation of the cost of living in Moldova, which had been suffering from an economic fallout as a result of the Russo-Ukrainian war. These claims, however, have not yet been confirmed.
Sources say that there are already around 1,500 Russian soldiers in Transnistria serving as “peace-keepers” and that observed activities in the airfield of Tiraspol, the region’s capital, suggest a build-up of forces preceding a possible Russian attack.
“That means they are preparing an airborne landing operation, and there is a high probability the airborne troops will be delivered from Crimea,” the source said, who mentioned the possibility of Soviet transport aircraft and helicopters being brought in.
A Divided Country
The region of Transnistria houses 470,000 Russian-speaking people in a sliver of territory squeezed in between the Nistru River and the Ukrainian border.
Transnistria broke away from Moldova a year after the latter declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1992. The separation led to a five-month war wherein Russian forces provided support to the separatists.
To this day, no sovereign nation, even Russia itself, has recognized the independence of Transnistria. However, the unresolved conflict has ‘frozen’ and kept Moldova in a state of defacto partition for 30 years.
Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. It is currently struggling from an influx of Ukrainian refugees and export troubles brought by the Russo-Ukrainian war. Notably, it has opted to stay out of NATO. These circumstances have made it increasingly difficult to maintain a neutral stance on the wider European conflict right on the country’s doorstep.
“I think this delicate balance is harder and harder to maintain,” Moldovan Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita said. “And there are risks, significant risks for Moldova’s security, for Moldova’s economy, for social cohesion and the stability of the government.”
Moscow has long used the Transnistrian separatist region to wrestle for influence in Moldova. As mentioned, the Kremlin has a surmountable force stationed in the region, as well as over 20,000 tons of ammunition stored in Cobasna, the largest ammo depot in Eastern Europe.
The Transnistrian elite, whose conglomerates benefit from free gas from Russia, is also heavily tied to Moscow. As a result, separatist authorities have been lukewarm regarding the invasion of Ukraine.
“They are not cheering on the war, but nor are they criticizing Russia’s military aggression,” Moldovan journalist Alina Radu said.
“Transnistrian leaders are under a lot of pressure. For the first time, they are isolated. Both Moldova and Ukraine have governments that are not pro-Russian. Transnistrian elites have two options: to follow the orders of Putin, the most terrible dictator today, or to have a prosperous future with Europe.”
Another Donbas in Moldova and Transnistria
Russian authorities have hinted at the possibility of Moscow recognizing the independence of Transnistria soon. This will bring another Donbas scenario where Russia, recognizing the breakaway territories, will allow the country to use the areas as deployment grounds for their military.
“If Russia recognizes the independence of Transnistria, this would directly threaten the territorial integrity of Moldova. It would be the Donbas scenario. That means they would provide military assistance, and that means they might recognize it as a part of Russia and so on,” the Ukrainian source said.
However, western observers doubt Russia’s capability to create a land bridge to Transnistria given its current state, adding that it may “overextend Russian supply lines and their capabilities once again.”
“The chances of them breaking out and fighting through to Odessa and Transnistria are slim,” military analyst from UK-based think tank, Royal United Services Institute, Sam Cranny-Evans said, “They’d probably all die if they tried.”