Moldovan leaders, who have been expressing fear of invasion since Russia occupied and annexed Crimea this month, have called out to Europe, the U.S., and Russia to prevent Russia from invading Moldova’s pro-Russian Transdniestria region, and the Moldovan president, Nicolae Timofti, warned Russia that it would be making a mistake to invade the small nation.
Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca said Friday that he was in “active contact” with the leaders of Western countries and made an appeal that “[t]he Europeans, the Americans and the Russians must make every effort to avert the scenario of destabilization.” In an interview with Reuters, Leanca urged the EU to make guarantees that Moldova would be protected from a situation like that in Crimea, referring to Moldova’s contended Transdniestria region and its capital, Tirasopol. Leanca warned that the annexation of Crimea could “raise expectations” in Transdniestria.
Earlier this month, the prime minister had expressed similar concern about separatism, likening the sentiment to a “sickness” which, if a solution was not found, would “become dangerous and contagious.” Crimea, Leanca stated, was a “threat to the security of the whole region” and would create direct and indirect problems for Moldova, which, the prime minister said, had the same problem 20 years ago.
The prime minister’s most recent comments came, however, one day after Transdniestria’s separatist parliament speaker Mikhail Burla visited Moscow to urge Russia to consider requests Transdniestria has been making this month for Russia to incorporate Transdniestria into the Russian Federation–a request the region also made in 2006. Russian media quoted Burla as claiming that Transdniestria’s already very difficult situation would be made worse if Moldova signed the EU trade agreement that country is pursuing. Burla cited “restrictive economic measures,” which, the leader said, Moldova would adopt.
Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti addressed Transdniestrians requests publicly earlier this month when he warned Russia that it “will be making a mistake” if Moscow agreed to Burla’s requests. Any such act would be “counter-productive,” Timofti said, as Transdniestria was “an illegal body.” Russia, the president asserted, had repeatedly stood by the territorial integrity of Moldova in regard to Transdniestria, and he expected Russia would continue to observe international norms.
Moldova, an ex-Soviet state, is one of Europe’s poorest countries. Wedged between Romania and Ukraine, the 4-million person country, which has been governed by pro-Western leaders for the past five years, is aggressively pursuing closer ties with the European Union. Moldova initiated an association agreement–the same type of agreement former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich dropped shortly before the Maidan protests–in October. One month earlier, Russia suspended imports of a main Moldovan produce–wine–and a Russian official made ominous comments about Moldova’s dependence on Russian energy–“I hope you won’t freeze.”
Transdniestria, which split away from greater Moldova in 1990 amid fears that Moldova would soon join Romania, a country with which it shares a language, has a population of about half a million mostly-Russian speakers. Sixty percent of Transdniestria’s 500,000 people speak Russian, and 30 percent are ethnic Russians–40 percent in the capital city, Tirasopol. In 1992 Transdniestrians fought a short war against the Moldovan government and declared themselves independent. Their declaration has not been recognized by any other nations, including Russia. Russia plays a supportive, patron-like role in Transdniestria, however. Russia stationed a 1,200-strong military contingent in Transdniestria in 1992 and has not removed the force, despite signed agreements. This month, Russia added 800 troops to the force.
Although Moldova does not share a border with Russia, it does share a border with the Russian speaking areas of Southern Ukraine, and lies 360 kilometers (225 miles) from Crimea along the Black Sea coast, where Russia has built its military presence up to 25,000 troops, including special forces, and is creating a southern military beachhead.
Like Crimea, which held a referendum to validate joining the Russian Federation March 16, Transdniestria held a referendum to join in 2006, with the same result: 97 percent of the vote was found to be pro-Russia. Another minority people in Moldova, the Turkic Gagauz–of which there are around 200,000 in a region in southwestern Moldova–voted Feb. 2 for closer ties with Russia, also with an overwhelming majority wanting to join the Russian Federation.
By Day Blakely Donaldson