Breakaway Moldovan region asks Russia for ‘protection’

0
552
FILES - A woman arrives from Ukraine through Kuchurgan-Pervomaisc, Ukraine-Moldova border point, April 15, 2014. Pro-Russian rebels in breakaway region of Transnistria appeals to Russia for protection, Feb. 28, 2024. AFP

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

Russia said it was a priority to protect the sliver of land, which has been de facto controlled by pro-Russian forces since the collapse of the Soviet Union but is internationally recognised as part of Moldova.

Moldova’s government rejected “propaganda statements” from pro-Russian separatists, adding that the region “benefits from the policies of peace, security and economic integration with the European Union”.

The United States said it “firmly supports” the Moldovan government’s sovereignty and urged both parties to work together to address common concerns.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry warned against “any destructive external interference” in Transnistria, while President Volodymyr Zelensky said he discussed “Russia’s efforts to destabilise the region” with Moldova’s leader Maia Sandu at a regional conference.

Transnistria is a primarily Russian-speaking region that has long depended on Moscow for support.

At a rare special congress in the region, lawmakers passed a resolution asking Russia’s parliament to “protect” Transnistria from mounting Moldovan pressure.

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.

“We are talking about an appeal for diplomatic support,” he later told Russian state television.

The resolution came a day before President Vladimir Putin makes his annual address to Russian lawmakers and as Ukraine suffers setbacks on the battlefield.

– ‘Things look calm’ –

In 2006 the separatist territory’s deputies announced a referendum on integrating with Russia that resulted in an overwhelming majority in favour.

The call for help from Moscow has fuelled comparisons with February 2022, when Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine called for protection against what they said was relentless attacks and shelling by Kyiv’s forces.

“Our country knows… the price of peace better than anyone else,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.

Russia’s foreign ministry said after the resolution was passed that it considered “all requests” for help.

“Protecting the interests of the residents of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of our priorities,” the ministry told Russian news agencies.

Delegates at the conference made little mention of Ukraine, according to accounts of the session in state-run media. They instead targeted Moldova, whom they blamed for the territory’s economic woes.

Moldova downplayed concerns ahead of the meeting.

“From Chisinau, things look calm… There is no danger of escalation and destabilisation of the situation in the Transnistrian region. This is another campaign to create hysteria,” a government spokesman said in a Telegram post.

– Stoking tensions –

Moldova has accused the Kremlin of stoking tensions in Transnistria.

Since Moscow began its full-scale assault on Ukraine, Chisinau has been concerned that the Kremlin could use Transnistria to open a new front in southwestern Ukraine, in the direction of Odesa.

The tiny territory was rocked by unexplained blasts in 2022 that military analysts believe may have been a Russian attempt to drag the region into the conflict.

Then, in March 2023, Transnistria’s pro-Russian leadership accused Kyiv of an assassination attempt on its leader, an accusation that Ukraine rejected.

The Kremlin has around 1,500 soldiers permanently stationed in the region, and has warned Ukraine and Moldova against attacking them.

Russia props up Transnistria’s economy with free natural gas, but the breakaway republic has found itself increasingly isolated from Moscow since the conflict in Ukraine broke out.

The gathering of Transnistrian officials comes as Ukraine faces intense pressure on the front lines, where it has recently lost ground to Russia amid mounting ammunition shortages.

Zelensky visited Albania on Wednesday for a summit of southeast European nations, where he renewed calls for aid.

  • AFP, TOE
[do_widget_area inner_adsbar]

Leave a reply