Expert on Transnistria: “The request for protection from Russia is nothing new”

Expert on Transnistria
“The request to protect Russia is nothing new”

What is Russia planning to do in Transnistria? The region, which actually belongs to the Republic of Moldova, is now officially asking for Moscow’s protection. Are Kremlin troops about to invade? Brigitta Triebel, who heads the office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Moldova, does not think so. It is therefore too early for alarmism. Ms. Triebel, the separatist leadership asked Russia for protection after a congress, Russian media is picking up on this. That raises fears. Is what we know from Ukraine repeated here? Is there a threat of a Russian invasion?

Brigitta Triebel heads the office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova.

Brigitta Triebel heads the office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova.

(Photo: private)

Brigitta Triebel: First of all, it is nothing new that the leadership in Transnistria is asking Russia for protection. They have done this several times before and the final communiqué of the special separatist congress has no new quality. I don’t see that Russia is capable of invading at the moment. Transnistria is located west of Ukraine. If they sent troops there by plane, it could be shot down. Transnistria also has no coast on the Black Sea. They couldn’t go through Romania either, because they would have to go through NATO territory. That is impossible. In order to advance into Transnistria, the Russians would first have to control the entire Black Sea coast.

So what exactly happened? What do the separatists say?

Their leadership has asked for protection from Russia because they feel threatened by the Moldovan government. But they did not ask to be admitted to the Russian Federation. So this is not a new dimension. This is all somewhat reminiscent of the situation in eastern Ukraine two years ago. In Transnistria, too, the Russians generously issued passports and set up a pseudo-republic. However, they have not yet officially recognized them. The fact that this conflict is now becoming an issue again is a bad sign. In recent years it has been rather quiet. The exciting question now is what the Russians will make of it.

In what way?

This Thursday Vladimir Putin will give a state of the nation speech. The big question is whether he will take it up. It’s worth listening carefully.

Why does Transnistria feel threatened by Moldova?

Transnistria is officially part of the Republic of Moldova, but with the help of Russia it is resisting the grip of the state authorities. The pro-Western government in Chisinau is now trying to change that. President Maja Sandu is taking action against corruption there and is now trying to collect taxes for the first time. The local elites don’t like that much. They are in a difficult situation anyway.

Who are those people?

In short, they are criminal oligarchs. For a long time, Transnistria was called “the black hole of Europe” because organized crime flourished there. But Ukraine has closed the border for several years. Since the Russian invasion two years ago, the situation has become increasingly difficult for them because Russia is finding it harder to maintain its aid.

There are also 1,500 Russian soldiers in Transnistria. Do they have military significance?

Only as a protective force for the regime there. Although there are now fears in Moldova, this force does not pose any increased danger. These are no longer exclusively soldiers from Russia, as Moscow is no longer in a position to exchange soldiers. These are now Transnistrians with Russian passports. In principle, Transnistria is still a potential threat to Ukraine if the Russians manage to advance there.

Do Transnistrians want to become part of Russia?

So far they have not asked to become part of the Russian Federation. And it doesn’t look like that either. The elites must fear that they will quickly lose their power if the Russians are in charge. To put it bluntly: you are at risk of car accidents and falling out of the window. We saw something similar in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces are now in command. Neither in Ukraine nor in Transnistria is there an ethnic conflict.

There will be presidential elections in the Republic of Moldova at the end of this year. Does this matter for Russia?

For sure. The popular President Maia Sandu is trying to consistently bring her country closer to the EU. Russia wants to prevent this and is waging an information war. To do this, Moscow temporarily turned off the gas. This is definitely successful. I still expect Sandu to win the elections because she is very popular. But there are parliamentary elections next year. Russia-friendly forces could prevail there. The dissatisfaction is great. The government can hardly show any quick successes that are noticeable to the population; the economic situation is still miserable and corruption has not disappeared.

Volker Petersen spoke to Brigitta Triebel

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