In the midst of the Russian offensive on the Donbas, a new problem is emerging: Moscow may soon increase its presence in the separatist province of Transnistria in Moldova. For Putin, this would be another gateway into Ukraine – and another threat to NATO countries.
While Berlin is bickering over the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine, the war may soon take on a whole new dimension: as of this week, there is every indication that Moscow is also moving closer to Moldova, an EU partner country, as well as to NATO country Romania. Thus, Russia is trying to destabilize the situation in the region. Further actions would bring the war even closer to the EU and NATO.
Why is this happening? The Republic of Moldova also includes the separatist territory of Transnistria, controlled by pro-Russian separatists. About 2,000 Russian soldiers are stationed in the region, which is home to about 470,000 people. It’s also where 20,000 tons of Russian munitions are stored. And more importantly, it’s an area that wants to become independent from Moldova.
Transnistria is a powder keg
Transnistria is a powder keg – and at the same time a bridge to the West. Moscow may soon want to use this fact to increase pressure on the EU and NATO. In the near future, Moscow could not only announce the sending of additional reinforcements to Transnistria, but also threaten to deploy missiles there that could be equipped with nuclear weapons.
The prelude to these actions should begin this week. Three explosions are said to have occurred in the region, with a military unit, a ministry building and two Russian-language transmitter masts officially affected. Moscow is already signaling that it may soon be forced to intervene. This pattern exactly matches the hybrid war that Moscow has been practicing for years.
Creating uncertainty and unrest, smuggling in rebels, carrying out assassinations – this is how the drama in Crimea and Donbas began in 2014. With the de facto annexation of Transnistria – after the possible capture of Odessa – the area of Russian military operations in southern Ukraine could also be expanded. Transnistria has a 450-kilometer border with Ukraine and would be an ideal place for Russia to launch a further attack on northern Ukraine.
NATO should now quickly issue security guarantees to Moldova and give the country the protection it needs. This would not be without risk. But if that doesn’t happen quickly, Moldova risks chaos, which will likely lead to huge waves of refugees heading to the EU. This is how Putin’s war is approaching.