Transnistria: the breakaway republic in the Kremlin’s sights

Russian general says Moscow aims to create a ‘corridor’ across southern Ukraine to Transnistria

Transnistria has been described as ‘a land lost to time’
(Image credit: Andrea Mancini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Trouble is stirring in the “invisible republic” of Transnistria, said Tonia Mastrobuoni in La Repubblica (Rome).

Transnistria was created during the collapse of the USSR, when a largely Russian-speaking enclave in eastern Moldova, between the Dniester River and the Ukrainian border, declared itself independent from the young Moldovan republic. Russia sent in troops to back the separatists. A brief war ended in deadlock, which left the territory and its 500,000 or so people in limbo.

Transnistria, which no UN member recognises, is “a land lost to time”, said Rob Picheta on CNN – a Soviet-style mini-state propped up by Russian subsidies. In Ukraine and Georgia, protecting such puppet regimes provided the pretext for Russian invasions.

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And last week, a Russian general, Rustam Minnekaev, said that Russia aimed to create a “corridor” across southern Ukraine to Transnistria, “where the Russian-speaking population is oppressed”. At the same time, ominously, there were “unexplained explosions” in Transnistria. Moscow and Kyiv blamed each other for the blasts.

Russia is preparing to invade Moldova, said Stefan Vlaston in Adevarul (Bucharest). “There are too many signals to be considered mere coincidences.” Moldova is, like Ukraine, Western-leaning (it has requested to join the EU), but unlike Ukraine, it has a particularly small army, “and therefore cannot be defended”. Vladimir Putin desperately needs a “trophy” for the 9 May Victory Day parade. Moldova is “a safe victim”. There are already 1,500 Russian troops in Transnistria; an invasion would also allow Russian forces to “lay siege to Ukraine’s western flank”.

Moldova is careful to maintain its neutrality, said Ion Stoica in Vedomosti (Chisinau). It has good relations with both the EU and Russia; it has no designs to join Nato. But it is “sitting on a powder keg”, not just “figuratively, but literally”. The largest arms depot in eastern Europe is in Transnistria, full of ammunition left by Soviet troops. An explosion there would be comparable to the Hiroshima bomb.

A Russian offensive towards Moldova would be “very risky”, said Jedrzej Winiecki in Polityka (Warsaw). The Kremlin’s push west to Odesa has largely ground to a halt. Since the sinking of the cruiser Moskva, it has withdrawn its navy to a safe distance from Odesa, and it doesn’t have full air superiority. For now, at least, such an operation is most unlikely. Russia’s recent statements and actions are probably designed simply to distract Ukraine’s military from the main theatre of war, in the east.

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