Rumors have it that Transnistria, a Russian-controlled enclave in Moldova, might be voting to join Russia on Wednesday – the first referendum of its kind since 2006.

At present, Russia’s limited troops deployment in Transnistria would not pose immediate risks to Ukraine during Moscow’s ongoing invasion, but it could instigate further instability in Europe and hamper Moldova’s chance of joining the EU.

The change of narratives within Transnistria in recent months could also indicate outside forces at play.

What Is Happening Now?

Pro-Russian rebel officials in Moldova's breakaway region of Transnistria appealed to Russia for "protection" on Wednesday, amid fears the territory could become a new flashpoint in Moscow's conflict with neighboring Ukraine.

At a special congress in the region – only the seventh in its history – lawmakers passed a resolution asking Russia's parliament to "protect" Transnistria from mounting Moldovan pressure.

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They said the Moldovan government in Chisinau had unleashed an "economic war" against Transnistria, blocking vital imports with the aim of turning it into a "ghetto."

"The decisions of the current congress cannot be ignored by the international community," the breakaway republic's foreign policy chief Vitaly Ignatiev told the meeting.

The resolution comes just a day before President Vladimir Putin was set to make an annual address before Russian lawmakers and as Ukraine suffers setbacks on the battlefield.

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On Feb. 22, reports began surfacing that Transnistria – a Russian-controlled separatist region in Moldova – would hold a special congress on Wednesday amid debates with Chișinău over customs duties.

Local opposition politician Gennady Chorba said it was “most likely” that deputies would ask to join Russia, a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to deliver his annual address to Russian lawmakers, as reported by AFP.

The last such referendum in Transnistria took place in 2006 with overwhelming support to join Russia, but Moscow has never recognized the referendum.

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What Is Transnistria?

Transnistria, also known as ​​Pridnestrovie, is a Moscow-aligned separatist region in Moldova lying on a thin strip of land bordering Ukraine.

Founded with Moscow’s assistance, the predominantly Russian-speaking region declared independence from Moldova in 1990 following the collapse of the USSR, citing the lack of protection for Russian speakers as Moldova sought closer integration with Romania in the 1990s due to close cultural and historical ties between the two.

The separatist movement in Transnistria eventually led to a brief but bloody conflict with Moldovan forces, with Tiraspol – through the help of Russian troops – emerging victorious and maintaining its autonomy. However, no UN member state has recognized its independence, and the UN continues to consider it part of Moldova.

Since the conflict, the Kremlin also has around 1,500 soldiers permanently stationed in the region on what it has called a “peacekeeping” mission.

The region, which continued to use the socialist flag of the Moldovian SSR, is also known for its continued use of Soviet symbols, with hammers and sickles on prevalent display throughout the region despite no longer being a socialist state.

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Most of its estimated 465,000 residents have dual or triple Moldovan, Russian or Ukrainian nationality.

Despite the prevalence of Russian influence in Transnistria’s creation, Moscow never recognized its independence.

Why Now?

Moscow has long voiced its opposition to Moldova’s growing pro-Western stance, but the ramping up of its narratives in recent months could be indicative of a pretext to destabilize the country.

Meanwhile, Chișinău claimed in January that Moscow is attempting to destabilize Moldova through Transnistria.

On Feb. 22, the Insitute for the Study of War (ISW) released a detailed report on the recent developments, including meetings between Russian and Transnistrian officials and the resulting statements that called for more Russian interference in the region, similar to the pretext Russia used in Ukraine before the full-scale invasion.

As to the timing of the developments, one potential explanation would be to shore up support for Putin before the March presidential election in Russia, as Putin is due to address the nation tomorrow, one day after the meeting.

Another explanation would be for Moscow to consolidate its grip on Transnistria before it’s too late, as Moldova is now slowly progressing to join the EU, potentially bringing Transnistria into the bloc as well.

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The Implication of Transnistria's Potential Accession to Russia

The potential accession will not pose an immediate risk for Ukraine, but it will create a dilemma for Moldova on its way to the EU and potentially – though unlikely – drag Chișinău into the war.

Due to the limited Russian troop deployments in Transnistria – consisting of only two motorized rifle battalions – it is unlikely that Russia will attack Ukraine or Moldova from the region.

It would also be difficult for Moscow to reinforce the troops in Transnistria, as that would require a corridor through Romania or the Ukrainian region of Odesa, neither of which are accessible to Russia.

If Russia is to follow its playbook on Donbas, the annexation could be a pretext for military actions against Moldova, though most speculate that that would be unlikely at present due to Moscow’s limited resources and sub-par performance in Ukraine.

But Moldova remains within striking distance of Russian missiles if the Kremlin decides to go down that path, so the possibility remains, however slim.

Military escalations aside, there’s also the diplomatic and political front.

Stability is key for Moldova if it is to join the EU, and territorial disputes with Russia would likely disrupt the progress it has made so far. For Europe, geographical instability could also create a new refugee crisis that could be weaponized by the Kremlin.

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The ISW offered its assessment “as a warning for a high-impact event of indetermined probability,” and according to its worst-case scenario:

“Russian President Vladimir Putin could, in the most dangerous course of action, declare Russia’s annexation of Transnistria during his planned address to the Russian Federal Assembly on Feb. 29, although that appears unlikely. Putin will more likely welcome whatever action the Transnistrian Congress of Deputies takes and offer observations on the situation.”

With that, Tranistria’s potential accession could simply be a pretext for future pretexts.

“The most likely course of action, therefore, is that the Transnistrian Congress of Deputies and Putin’s speech will mark an inflection in Russian preparations for hybrid warfare against Moldova, possibly intended to set conditions for an imminent political crisis,” reads the ISW report.

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Comments (4)

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Thomas
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I hope that the Е58/М16 is well guarded and Mr. Macron is serious about his promise to guarantee the sovereignty of Moldovan airspace. The 1500 Russians can’t hold for long when their unarmed evacuation will me accompanied by french ground troops. Something, the brake-pullers in Berlin will never understand. A map could help these administrative lawyers. - Better to avoid any
ZZ operation, than to have the need to chase them back.

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Ukrainske
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Moldova should ask for or invite a multi EU military force 2 brigades big to protect it from this sinistre trans land

Ukrainske
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@Ukrainske, i thought that moscow was against trans people, so why wants it this sinistre trans land with

John
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@Ukrainske, LOL...good one!

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ron
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Whenever someone states "sovereign nation," remember that the so called nation" in which they reside one day stole lands from somewhere else to become sovereign. At which date in history, did the "woke" Westerners decide borders matter? Because looking at USA and the EU, it appears to me that the West admit borders no longer exist, unless it involves Russia.

John
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@ron, Going far enough back in history what remains of russia's deminishing state (as all who can flee), mostly belongs to the Mongolians or in some parts the Chinese.

My guess is China will make the first move.

In the absence of russia sending in its military, forcing out its prior residents and relocating its own serfs, name one former nation that ever asked to be part the USSR / Russia. Its despot leaders are well known internationally or their criminal deeds, murderous thug rulership and oppression of the common folk over its entire history

I wonder what the next iteration of the failed russian state will be called...Maybe it will just be divided up by those nations the Russians previously stole from:



* China: About 910,000 sq/hms of Qing and Siberian territories since 1860. 


* Finland: Lost ~11% of territory in 1939 Russia ‘Winter War'.


* Poland: Kaliningrad Oblast stolen in WWII.


* Japan: Four southernmost Kuril Islands.stolen in WWII.


* Moldova: Transnistria portion stolen in 1992


* Georgia: Abkhazia and South Ossetia portions stolen in 2008.

* Ukraine: Currently 20% of land mass.

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John
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The fact that russia send soldiers into the sovereign nation of Moldova against its wishes makes this another repeat and rinse colonization attempt by putin. He still keeps >1500 soldiers there against Moldova's wishes. Any so called 'russian referendum' in fictional transinista is a putin coup attempt.

There is no such place as 'transinistra". Its is simply a fictional place as in Tolkien's fictional evil land of "Mordor".

Dissect this fictional name and its a cobbled together string of "Trans" (original meaning 'on the far side'), "sin" (meaning 'transgression against divine law', and "Sinistra" (meaning 'with the left hand') ....albeit in syntax its awfully close to putin trait of being "sinister' (meaning something harmful or evil"). So obviously not a national name any citizen would want to be categorized by anyway.

So here's how these fake russian referendum attempts should be handled. UN (excluding russian sympathizers) or NATO (excluding russian sympathizers) force Russian forces and anyone with Kremlin affiliation out of said territory. Displaced citizens are allowed to return and reclaim their property. Schools are allowed to return to factual curriculums. Then say 2-3 decades post all that, perhaps a referendum can be held. In the meantime, russia has reverted to full on cesspool status and Modova prospers from its EU inclusion.

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