Transnistria Throws in with Russia, Raising Fears of New War Front

Transnistria Appeals to Russia for Military and Economic Support.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Shortly after obtaining independence, Moldova was thrust into a territorial conflict in 1991 when Transnistria, one of its largely Russian-speaking districts bordering Ukraine, seceded. The battle stopped a year later, thanks to Russian mediation.

However, in exchange for Russia’s “neutrality” in the dispute, Chisinau pledged to allow the breakaway territory substantial autonomy while refraining from rapprochement with Romania. Transnistria has since evolved into the “Moldovan Republic of Dniester,” declaring independence but remaining close to Moscow. 

Russia’s 14th Army maintains its presence in the region, providing military support and leverage. About 1,500 troops are stationed there as peacekeepers. Russia is far from Zaporizhzhia. Completing the objective can enable the Russians to take over Mykolaiv (Nikolaev), giving it access to Transnistria while keeping an eye on Moldova and Romania.

Transnistria is bordered to the West by Moldova and to the southeast by Ukraine. Except for the city of Bendery and a portion of the Slabodzeya district, the majority of the territory is situated on the left bank of the Dniester River. Transitoristria encompasses 4,163 square kilometres in area. The municipality of Tiraspol serves as the administrative hub. 

Based on the 2015 census data, the region had a total population of 475,373 individuals, of which 29.1% were Russian, 28.6% were Moldovan, and 22.9% were Ukrainian.

Despite a strongly pro-Russian popular attitude, Moldova has maintained links with NATO and achieved EU candidate status. Obviously, such a stance does not sit well in Moscow.

Indeed, a year after initiating hostilities in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin reversed an order recognising Chisinau’s authority over Transnistria. He explained that this decision was made to protect Russia’s national interests in light of the significant developments taking place in international relations.

Regardless, Russia has been putting pressure on Moldova since the start of the war in Ukraine (or even before) through destabilisation operations, intervention, and intimidation (for example, Russian missile flights in its airspace). Furthermore, Russian political and military authorities have stated on multiple occasions that Moldova will be the Kremlin’s next target.

Control over southern Ukraine also serves as a conduit to Transnistria, where Russian-speaking populations are oppressed, according to a Russian general in April 2022. However, Russia’s invasion has not yet allowed it to establish a foothold in Odessa, paving the path for the Moldovan Republic of Dniester. 

However, a few months later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov became blunter. Moldova, after Ukraine, is now destined to be the next victim of the West’s hybrid war against Russia, he alleged.

In any case, in January, when ties between Chisinau and Tiraspol (capital and largest city of Transnistria) deteriorated, the president of the Moldovan Republic of Dniester directed his ministries of State Security and Defence to “prepare their provisions” in the event of a confrontation. An eventuality that may become a certainty.

On February 28, deputies from all levels of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic addressed the State Duma and the Federation Council of Russia, demanding protection and economic help. The Congress of Deputies’ appeal includes a request “to implement measures to protect Transnistria in the context of increasing pressure from Moldova, taking into account the fact that more than 220,000 Russian citizens permanently reside on the territory of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic and the unique positive experience of Russian peacekeeping on the Dniester, as well as the status of a guarantor and mediator in the negotiation process.”

They also asked the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations, and the European Union for protection against violations by Chisinau.

In 2006, a referendum on merging Transnistria into Russia received 97% support. Even Moscow thought the outcome was a little too flattering. Thus, the Kremlin did not respond to this request. However, the situation has shifted, with Russian diplomacy signalling that the security of the residents of the Moldovan Republic of Dniester will be prioritised and emphasised that competent Russian authorities thoroughly review all demands.

Russian Dagger into NATO

Transnistria acts as a buffer zone between Russia and NATO expansion, allowing Russia to remain in Ukraine and the Balkans. Its uncertain political status provides Russia with the clout to influence regional stability. This provides Russia a footing on NATO’s outskirts and in territories it considers part of its sphere of influence. Control over Transnistria further extends Russian authority to the Black Sea and neighbouring NATO countries Romania and Bulgaria.

Transnistria is seen by Ukraine as a possible second front, prompting them to fortify their border. Moldova is a country that Romania backs and has cultural links to. Many nations in Eastern Europe and the Balkans are concerned about the current scenario. The US and the West seem helpless against Russia and did what they could do: apply sanctions.

Overall, Transnistria’s status remains unsettled, and it is one hotspot to keep an eye on in Eastern Europe’s volatile security situation. However, several circumstances must coincide for it to become a significant new front in Russia’s foreign strategy. The situation requires continuous observation, but making firm predictions is difficult at this moment.


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