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ISW: – Warns of imminent Moldova crisis

ISW: – Warns of imminent Moldova crisis

The pro-Russian breakaway republic of Transnistria may try to organize a referendum on its annexation to Russia in a parliamentary session on February 28.

This was reported by the famous think tank Institute for the study of war (ISO).

This comes after the think tank claimed last week that Moldova would become a target of Russian hybrid operations, and appears to be the next country on the Kremlin's list, after Ukraine.

Transnistria declared its independence from Moldova in 1990, but has not achieved international recognition as an independent state.

The pretext for the referendum may be the alleged need to protect Russian citizens in Transnistria from threats from Moldova or NATO, ISW writes.

Warns of a hybrid attack: – It may happen soon

– A clear escalation

One of the reasons for this announcement is likely to be Moldova's new candidate status in the European Union, believes the Russian expert on the Norwegian Armed Forces, Tormod Heyer.

– This has probably been in the cards for a long time. Moldova gradually began to shift more clearly towards the West, leaving the Russian sphere of influence. To prevent this, the Kremlin is carrying out a number of so-called hybrid influence operations. Examples of this, he says, could be disinformation from Russian-controlled media in Moldova, corruption of Moldovan leaders and the like.

In recent years, Moldova has made several attempts to move closer to the EU, granting the country candidate status in June 2022. European Council President Charles Michel announced in December 2023 that EU leaders had agreed to start talks with the EU. Moldova regarding the country's accession to the Union.

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– It is certainly an escalation of the conflict with the West, and another confirmation that Russia is now trying to bring the old Russian empire together again, Russia expert at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute and Russia expert Ever Neumann tell Dagbladet.

'severely aggravated'

The Transnistrian government unexpectedly announced on Wednesday that the situation in Transnistria “has deteriorated sharply since January 1, 2024.”

They have now decided to call an unscheduled meeting in the lower house of the Transnistrian Parliament on February 28.

Confirmation: President of the self-declared Republic of Transnistria, Vadim Krasnoselsky, confirmed that Transnistria will continue its push to become part of Russia in January.  Photo: Reuters/Vladislav Bashev/NTB

Confirmation: President of the self-declared Republic of Transnistria, Vadim Krasnoselsky, confirmed that Transnistria will continue its push to become part of Russia in January. Photo: Reuters/Vladislav Bashev/NTB
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The Transnistrian government accused Moldova of “destroying the Transnistrian economy” and “violating human rights and freedoms in Transnistria.”

Transnistria's lower house of parliament rarely meets, and last met in March 2006, the Institute for War Studies wrote. Then the government decided to hold a referendum to join Russia.

Transnistria's lower house of parliament is likely to either initiate a new referendum seeking to annex Russia, or demand action on the 2006 referendum, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

Transnistria's president, Vadim Krasnoselsky, confirmed that the region will continue to seek to become part of Russia in January 2023, according to the think tank.

– Divide and conquer

Russian President Vladimir Putin will deliver his annual State of the Nation address to the Russian Federal Assembly on February 29, and may use the occasion to talk about any announcements from the Transnistrian government, ISW reported.

Haier believes the timing of the announcement may not have been accidental.

– I think the reason this conference is scheduled now is because Putin will speak the next day, which will give him an opportunity to make a statement. But as much as this enclave might want to, Putin can only do so much. He has enough to keep his head above water with the war in Ukraine right now. In purely geopolitical terms, Russia is in a somewhat awkward position at the moment.

Newman believes the situation in Transnistria could eventually be similar to what we saw in Ukraine's breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, which declared their independence in 2014 and were then recognized as part of Russia in 2022.

– The Kremlin will undoubtedly say that this is something Transnistria is doing on its own, without interference from Russia. It will likely be similar to what we saw in Donetsk and Luhansk. This has been Russia's way of doing it for years, and it has always been about divide and rule.

– Military request

Russia is unlikely to intervene directly in the situation, because Russian military intervention would be very difficult, the Russian expert says.

– If you look at the map, you can see that it will be difficult for Russia to get there militarily, as Transnistria is located on the other side of Ukraine. Newman says this means they may be relying on the local army in Transnistria to be able to stand up against Moldova on their own.

Russia has had a limited military presence in Transnistria since 1992, consisting of two Russian motorized rifle battalions, the Institute for the Study of War writes.

Tankismiya says that they have not yet noticed any clear signs that the Russian army is preparing to intervene in Transnistria.