Moldova’s conflict over the Russian-backed breakaway region of Transnistria, which seeks to join Russia, has been frozen since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Meanwhile, the country’s momentum for greater integration with the EU has been undermined by continuing corruption and the election of pro-Russia president Igor Dodon. Crisis Group monitors developments related to the Transnistrian conflict, Russia’s increasing involvement in Moldovan politics and the fallout of conflict in eastern Ukraine. As we engage Moldovan officials and policymakers in Brussels, we produce analysis and recommendations to contain the risk of escalation and further the resolution of Moldova’s separatist conflict.
Govt resigned, and tensions with Russia escalated over alleged coup attempt, violation of Moldova’s airspace and Russian accusations of provocation in Transnistria.
Govt resigned over economic pressures and war in Ukraine. Pro-European govt 10 Feb resigned after turbulent 18 months in power marked by economic turmoil and spillover of Russia’s war in Ukraine. President Maia Sandu same day nominated pro-European National Security Adviser Dorin Recean to lead new govt, who vowed to advance on European Union integration and said govt should continue efforts for withdrawal of Russian troops from separatist Transnistria region; parliament 16 Feb approved nomination.
Allegations of Russian destabilisation efforts in Moldova mounted. Govt’s resignation announcement came amid escalation of tensions with Russia, on the rise for months over latter’s suspected role in anti-govt protests and threats to gas supplies in former Soviet republic. Ukrainian President Zelenksyy 9 Feb warned of Russian plan to “destroy” Moldova; Sandu 13 Feb provided further details of alleged plan to topple govt using Russian and Belarusian operatives. Zelenskyy 20 Feb accused Moscow of plans to seize airport in capital Chișinău for transport of soldiers and equipment to Ukraine. Further aggravating tensions, defence ministry 10 Feb announced Russian missile headed for Ukraine had violated Moldova’s airspace, prompting FM Popescu to summon Russian ambassador, Oleg Vasnetsov. Meanwhile, several thousand protesters in Chișinău 19 Feb took part in anti-govt rally organised by opposition Shor party, which has strong ties with Russia and is under investigation for illegal financing; more anti-govt protests took place 28 Feb.
Tensions over Transnistria escalated. Kremlin 20 Feb said “anti-Russian hysteria” had worsened bilateral relations and urged Moldovan authorities to be “very, very careful” regarding calls to demilitarise Transnistria. Russian President Putin next day revoked 2012 decree which, among many other things, underpins Moldova’s sovereignty in resolving future of Transnistria. Russia 23 Feb warned Kyiv could carry out “armed provocation” in Transnistria, next day said it would view any actions that threatened Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria as “an attack on the Russian Federation”. Kremlin 27 Feb accused Ukraine and other European countries of “provoking” situation in Transnistria.
The threat of coronavirus looms large in six self-declared republics that have broken away from post-Soviet states. War and isolation have corroded health care infrastructure, while obstructing the inflow of assistance. International actors should work with local and regional leaders to let life-saving aid through.
Unresolved conflicts and breakaway territories divide five out of six of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership countries, most of them directly backed by the Russian Federation. But a policy of isolating the people living in these conflict regions narrows the road to peace.
With Romania’s expected entry into the European Union in 2007, the EU will share a border with Moldova, a weak state divided by conflict and plagued by corruption and organised crime. Moldova’s leadership has declared its desire to join the EU, but its commitment to European values is suspect, and efforts to resolve its dispute with the breakaway region of Transdniestria have failed to end a damaging stalemate that has persisted for fifteen years.
Resolving the Trandniestrian secessionist dispute in Moldova is vital to remove a potential source of chaos on the periphery of the expanding European Union, to implement an important part of the post-Cold War settlement, and to make Moldova itself a more viable state.
The conflict in the Transdniestrian region of the Republic of Moldova is not as charged with ethnic hatred and ancient grievances as others in the area of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and it is more conducive to a sustainable settlement.
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