Heading west despite ties to Russia: Moldova looks alarmingly like Ukraine

Westward despite ties to Russia
Moldova looks suspiciously like Ukraine

Russia’s desire for a land connection with the breakaway region of Transnistria, reports of battle preparations there: Many fear that the war in Ukraine will also spread to Moldova. Certain parallels between the two countries reinforce this concern.

With his visit to the Republic of Moldova on Monday and Tuesday, UN Secretary General António Guterres sends an important signal. Fears that the war in Ukraine will spill over into neighboring Moldova have recently increased. The breakaway region of Transnistria in the east of the country is seen as a potential hot spot. There are also historical parallels between Ukraine and Moldova. An overview:

Former Soviet republic heavily dependent on Russia

The former Soviet Republic of Moldova is located between Romania and Ukraine. Only a path separates the country from the city of Odessa, which was hit by Russian bombing, as Moldovan Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita pointed out at a donors’ conference in Berlin in early April.

Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Last year, the country’s gross domestic product with a population of 2.6 million was around $13.7 billion.

Especially in the energy sector, Moldova’s dependence on Russia is enormous. “We are completely dependent on Russian gas. It’s even more dramatic when it comes to electricity,” President Maia Sandu said in an interview with “FAZ” in April. Moldova gets up to 80% of its electricity from the Cuciurgan gas-fired power station in Transnistria, which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Between European periphery and proximity to Russia

Moldova’s 32 years of existence have been marked by a back and forth between Western orientation and rapprochement with Russia. At the moment, however, Moldova is more pro-Western than ever: President Sandu, Prime Minister Gavrilita and the majority in parliament belong to the camp of pro-Western reformers. Like kyiv, Chisinau is aiming for EU membership.

Successful separatist efforts

The predominantly Russian-speaking region of Transnistria, with around 465,000 inhabitants, broke away from Moldova following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1992, separatists, backed by the Russian military, went to war against the pro-Western Moldovan government, killing hundreds of people. About 1,500 Russian soldiers are still stationed in Transnistria.

In an internationally unrecognized referendum in 2006, 97.1% of voters in Transnistria voted in favor of independence from Moldova and union with Russia. The government in Chisinau rejects secession and demands the withdrawal of Russian soldiers stationed on the border between the part of the country under Moldovan control and Transnistria.

fear of provocation

At the end of April, authorities in Transnistria reported a series of explosions that they blamed on Ukraine. The Kremlin was “alarmed” by the incidents. Statements by Russian General-in-Chief Rustam Minneyakev that the Russian military wants to establish a land link between eastern Ukraine and Transnistria have caused further unrest.

The “fake terrorist attacks” in Transnistria have increased tensions in Moldova, says Valeriu Pasa, president of the Moldovan political institute WatchDog.MD. New “provocations” are also to be expected in the part of Moldova controlled by Chisinau.

However, Pasa considers a Russian invasion of Transnistria, as in Ukraine, to be unlikely. Transnistria’s economic elites have a strong interest in maintaining the “status quo”, he stresses. Because most of Transnistria’s exports don’t go to Russia – but to the EU.

Region under the influence of the oligarchs

Transnistria’s most important society is the Sheriff’s Group, founded by two former Soviet policemen, which has a firm grip on the region. Sheriff owns supermarkets, gas stations, a cognac distillery and a caviar farm. The founders of Sheriff also own the internationally renowned football club FC Sheriff Tiraspol. A third of the Transdniestrian family end up in sheriff’s coffers, investigative news group Rise Moldova reported in 2015.

The sheriff’s founder, Victor Gusan, is one of many Transnistrians who also have Ukrainian citizenship, says expert Pasa. Most residents of Transnistria have at least dual citizenship plus a Moldovan, Russian or Ukrainian passport. According to Moldovan media, many Transnistrians have had their Moldovan documents renewed in recent weeks.

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