NATO’s top military commander Philip Breedlove commented Sunday that Russian troops, amassing on Ukraine’s eastern border are perfectly positioned to invade Moldova on the perfect pretext of “protecting” ethnic Russians. Breedlove, who is also a U.S. Air Force General, referred to the current illegal annexation of Crimea by Russian President Vladimir Putin which began late February when Russian forces moved into Crimea on the same pretext.
Breedlove stated that there was “absolutely sufficient force” to “run to Transdniester” from Ukraine’s eastern border. Transdneister is an enclave of Moldova, a small country on Ukraine’s southern border. The people of Transdneister have long aspired to incorporation into Russia. Breedlove stated that he felt the situation was “very worrisome.”
The force that has been building over the past month across Ukraine’s eastern border is reportedly composed of some 80,000 Russian troops and hundreds of pieces of each tanks, artillery, warplanes, and warships. Breedlove called the force “very, very sizeable and very, very ready.” The buildup was concerning enough to the U.S. military that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Russia’s defense ministry last week to ask them directly about the troop Movements.
Trandniester and Moldova bear marked similarity to Crimea and Ukraine. Like Crimea, a considerable Russian force is already stationed in Transdniester. Around 1,000 Russian troops are maintained in the region as a “peacekeeping” garrison. The force was established after Transdniester fought a short separatist war in 1991, when it broke away from Moldova. Like Ukraine, Moldova aspires to join the European Union and is currently negotiating the same free trade agreement that Ukraine was working on before Ukraine’s President, Victor Yanukovich, moved to abandon EU prospects, instead accepting aid from Russia, sparking the Maidan protests.
Also like Crimea, almost no government in the world recognizes Transdneister as an independent state. However, the region has since 1991 governed itself, issuing its own stamps, passports, and manning its own border posts.
Again like Crimea, Transdneister voted in a 2007 referendum in which 97 percent of voters were reported to have voted in favor of joining Russia. At that time, Moldovan nationalists made comments such as Institute of Public Policy Oazu Nantoi’s. “It’s an authoritarian regime under Russian occupation, and the referendum is meaningless because people are afraid to express themselves,” Nantoi said.
And again like Crimea, Transdniester serves Russian interests as a disincentive and obstacle to allowing Moldova to join the EU, which is wary, reportedly, of taking on another “divided state” like Cyprus.
Moldova warned Russia against entering Transdniester Tuesday. This warning was made in response to a call to Moscow made by a speaker at Transdniester’s parliament for Russia to do just that. The speaker had urged the Russian government to incorporate Transdniester.
Transdneister Moldovans have been making high-profile (for Transdneister) statements about wanting closer ties with Russia, existing with such an expectation, and doing so in the face of Moldovan aggression.”
In greater Moldova, too, Putin is very popular. In the weeks since tensions in Crimea began, many Moldovans have switched television channels to watch Russian news, reportedly. The Moldovan prime minister has accused his opponents (the Moldovan communist party is still very popular) of propaganda.
Prime Minster Iurie Leanca is aiming for a 2019 entry into the EU–an optimistically near date considering the challenges. Leanca considers speed to be important in light of Moldova’s political situation. Leanca also wants to join NATO as an ally, despite Moldova’s official neutrality policy.
Breedlove did not elaborate on how Russia would be likely to reach Transdniester, which lies landlocked on the other side of Ukraine from Russia. However, analysts have noted that such an invasion would most likely entail crossing Ukraine or flying in air convoys from Crimea and Russian territory on the east coast of the Black Sea.
By Day Blakey Donaldson