Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comments come at a time of war raging along the front lines in southern and eastern Ukraine.
Transnistria is a breakaway republic of ethnic Russians in what is known internationally as Moldova. It forms most of the border between Moldova and Ukraine.
The origin of the breakaway republic came at the beginning of the 1990s, when it was feared that Moldova would declare independence from the Soviet Union or become part of Romania.
– Attack on Russia
Russia has a military presence in Transnistria, which it calls “peacekeeping forces”.
This is made up of Russian soldiers, who since 2006 have remained in Transnistria against the will of the Moldovan government.
– Moldova must understand that threats against Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria will be considered an attack on Russia, said Russian Foreign Minister on Thursday.
The move came in a speech to students at the elite MGIMO University in Moscow. MGIMO is the country’s leading educational institution in the field of diplomacy and intelligence, owned and operated by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, compares the rhetoric used by Russia just before the invasion of Ukraine.
– Lavrov says that Moscow will spare no effort to defend the Russian-speaking population of Moldova. This is exactly the same false excuse that Russia used to justify the invasion of Ukraine, Nikolenko wrote on Twitter.
Tom Røseth is the lead instructor for intelligence at the Norwegian Defense Research Institute, and in fact also a former student at MGIMO. He thinks Nikolenko has a point.
– There are obvious similarities with the situation in Donbass. Rosth tells Dagbladet that they already have troops in the area, and are using alleged abuses against Russian speakers to threaten military intervention.
Moscow has no evidence for these allegations.
He thinks the move comes unprovoked, and wonders why it came now.
– That’s surprising. He says Moscow has enough war in eastern and southern Ukraine, not the military capacity to expand itself further.
– There were sabotage attacks and explosions in Transnistria in February and April of this year, which are not linked to any party. This happened in parallel with Russia’s advance in the war in Ukraine.
He says that these incidents are suspected of being false operations on the part of Russia.
The destabilization of the situation in Transnistria could serve as a pretext for a possible military intervention by Russia.
However, he believes that the threats are empty and of primarily rhetorical value for Russia.
They want to show the West that they can also cause trouble elsewhere in Europe than Ukraine. They would also like to warn the Moldovan authorities. But he says there is a danger that he could give confidence to the so-called self-governing authorities of Transnistria, and that they might increase provocations towards the Moldovan authorities.
Moscow previously had a stated goal of building a land bridge between Russia’s border and Transnistria.
When asked if Moscow would practically want to incorporate Transnistria into the Russian Federation, as it did with Crimea in 2014, Rosth was ready.
– If the war was a successful military adventure for Moscow, it would probably be inclined to do something like this. But today it is completely unrealistic for Russia to be militarily strong enough to actually connect Transnistria with other Russian-controlled regions. Rosyth says the course of the war must change radically.
Instead, it appears to be going in the opposite direction, with Moscow struggling on the southern front.
Romanian is spoken by the majority of the population of Moldova, and they have very close relations with the neighboring country in the south. The country’s authorities also want to link Moldova more closely to the West and the European Union.
Moldova is the poorest and most backward country in Europe, even worse in Transnistria.
Traveling to Transnistria is like stepping back into the communist era. It is a sad picture of the Soviet Union in the 80s. He says there have been no private investments there since the dissolution of the union.
The Russian presence has become a nuisance to Moldova, which, along with Ukraine and Georgia, has applied for membership in the European Union.
What the three countries have in common is that parts of their internationally recognized territories are in fact under the rule of Russia. This makes it virtually impossible for countries to become part of NATO.
What do the Russians really want from Transnistria?
It is in Russia’s interest to keep its immediate areas as far away from NATO as possible. He also says that it might also prevent them from becoming part of the European Union, and also from becoming part of Romania.
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