NewsExperts weigh Russia's possibility of destabilizing Moldova over invasion

Experts weigh Russia's possibility of destabilizing Moldova over invasion

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin
Images source: © Getty Images | Contributor#8523328
4:13 AM EDT, March 20, 2024

The looming potential conflict between Russia and NATO has experts deeply concerned, especially in the wake of Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Amidst this tense backdrop, some reports suggest that Putin's gaze might turn not towards a member of the alliance but towards Moldova, a small republic neighboring Ukraine, where Russian forces are already present in the separatist region of Transnistria.

Is an attack on Moldova by Russia a plausible scenario? To shed light on this question, Fakt consulted various experts about the possible fate of this small country, nestled between the Prut and the Dniester. Moldova's recent bid to align more closely with Europe, aiming to join the European Union and NATO, has not sat well with the Kremlin. Especially critical is the situation in Transnistria, where Russian troops are stationed, and where some Moldovans have shown support for Russia. In a notable move, on February 28, Transnistria reached out to the Kremlin for help in an economic dispute. This raises the question: Could Russia be poised to invade?

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In exploring this dilemma, Fakt turned to experts for insight. Jakub Pieńkowski, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs specializing in Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova, points out a necessary precursor: a significant shift in the conflict within Ukraine.

For now, Russian forces are stationed beyond the Dniester. Before any move on Moldova, they would need to take strategic locations like Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Odessa. Therefore, while Russia might attempt to destabilize the country, an outright invasion seems unlikely, according to Pieńkowski.

Comparatively, Dr. Robert Rajczyk from the University of Silesia highlights the region's distribution of military forces. Transnistria hosts approximately 1,500 Russian soldiers, supported by 9,000 local military personnel and several thousand reservists. Moldova, on the other hand, can count on 7,000 soldiers and 12,000 reservists. Yet, this numerical assessment doesn't capture the full picture, as the Russian contingent in Transnistria is isolated by Ukrainian territory and unable to rotate troops or secure supplies. "These forces possess only a handful of outdated tanks, lack an air force or heavy artillery, and don't have access to a functional airport, nor the possibility to repair one," Pieńkowski clarifies.

The wait for Russia's move

In Moldova, the presence of a Russian minority and Kremlin-friendly political parties adds another layer of complexity. - With presidential elections on the horizon and a significant segment of the populace favoring Russia, the landscape is politically charged, acknowledges Dr. Robert Rajczyk. However, he notes President Maia Sandu's pro-European direction and Moldova's efforts to combat Russian disinformation, indicating possible Kremlin attempts to sway the upcoming electoral outcomes.

Indeed, some within Moldova long for Russian dominion. "Areas like Gagauzia exhibit stronger pro-Russian sentiments, harboring hopes that Russia might one day return," Pieńkowski adds.

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