Is this the next country on Putin's hit list?

Fear is spreading across Eastern Europe that Russian president Vladimir Putin will extend his invasion of Ukraine into Moldova.  Like Ukraine, Moldova is a previous state of the Soviet Union that is not a part of NATO.  Moldova and Ukraine share a border with Transnistria, Moldovan territory in which Russian-backed separatists hold power.  The international community does not consider Transnistria an independent state.

On April 25, explosions were reported in Transnistria.  Transinstrian officials in the capital of Tiraspol claimed that the attack was directed at the state's security headquarters and radio stations used to broadcast Russian transmissions.  Although no responsibility has been taken for the attacks, pro-Russian separatists claim Ukraine's involvement.  At the same time, the governments of Moldova blame the separatists in Transnistria for destabilization.

Russian military commander Rustam Minnekayev recently stated that taking over southern Ukraine would give Russia access to Transnistria.  This statement reveals Russia's military objectives to seize more land as it continues its battle in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.  Vladimir Ashurkov, an aide to Putin opposition leader Alexi Navalny and director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, told Business Insider, "To think whether Putin is capable of pushing the attacks over to Transnistria and Moldova, etc. — if he can he probably will."  "It's not off the table that things like that can happen."

Moldova's President Maia Sandu issued a statement after the recent attacks: "We condemn any challenges and attempts to lure the Republic of Moldova into actions that could jeopardize peace in the country."  Moldova has been a destination for Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of the war.  The Moldovan government has criticized Russia's invasion of Ukraine while also submitting a proposal to enter the European Union but has declined to join NATO.

The Royal United Services Institute released a report detailing Russian spy programs working toward overthrowing Moldova's government and bringing Ukrainian forces on the southern border to a halt.  "Russia's aim is to create tension," said Valeriu Pasa of the Moldovian think-tank Watchdog.

Moldova has 2.5 million people and continues to face setbacks from mass emigration.  The country relies heavily on Russia to supply its energy needs, particularly gas.  The war has cut off the Black Sea's port of Odesa, which is vital for trade in Moldova.

The annexation of Crimea in 2014 shifted Moldova's economy away from Russia and toward Western Europe, where at least 70% of exports go.  Moldova has had a free trade agreement in place with the E.U. since 2014.  Despite Russia's economic impact, Moldova continues to receive growing support from Western Europe.

Leaders in Western Europe and the U.S. have begun to notice Russia's threat to Moldova.  Britain's foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said, "We must ensure that, alongside Ukraine, the Western Balkans and countries like Moldova and Georgia have the resilience and the capabilities to maintain their sovereignty and freedom.  This is a time for courage, not for caution."  Former NATO supreme allied commander Gen. Wesley Clark told CNN, "I think it's always been Mr. Putin's intent to take over Moldova and Georgia, and the Baltic states.  He is certainly capable of horizontal escalation ... if he thinks he can deter the West."

Russian state news agency Ria reported that Putin warned Transnistria to stay out of the war with Ukraine; otherwise, Russia would be forced to attack.  However, Russia appears unable to make such a bold move.  Instead, it continues to struggle offensively in southern Ukraine and the Donbas.

Russian aggression is not new to Moldova, which has been occupied by Russians and Soviets numerous times in the past three hundred years.  The times have changed, but the Kremlin remains the same.  Moldova's deputy prime minister said Moldova is dealing with "a very dangerous new moment."

Image: jerono via Pixabay, Pixabay License.

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