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Moldova: Breakaway Transnistria asks Russia for 'protection'

February 28, 2024

Pro-Moscow separatist officials in Moldova's breakaway Transnistria region have appealed to Russia for "protection." Moscow called aiding residents of Transnistria a "priority."

A huge coat of arms of Transnistria
Transnistrian officials said they would address deepening row with the Moldovan government over customs dutiesImage: Sergei Gapon/AFP

Pro-Russian officials in the Moldovan region of Transnistria on Thursday called for help from Moscow "in the face of increased pressure."

The call follows fears that tensions over the territory could open a new flashpoint in Moscow's conflict with neighboring Ukraine.

Why was the appeal made?

A special congress of the region is understood to have passed a resolution on the issue on Wednesday.

Officials are set to ask Russia's Federation Council and the State Duma "to implement measures to protect Transnistria in the face of increased pressure from Moldova," local media reported the resolution as saying. 

Transnistria had been secretive about the reason for holding a special congress, only the seventh in its history and the first since 2006. That congress saw deputies announce a referendum on integrating with Russia, a vote that resulted in an overwhelming majority in favor.

However, it did say that officials would address the deepening row over customs duties with the government in Moldova's capital, Chisinau.

"The decisions of the current congress cannot be ignored by the international community," the "foreign policy chief" of the self-styled republic, Vitaly Ignatiev, told the meeting. Ignatiev did not indicate what those decisions would be.

The congress said the Moldovan government had unleashed an "economic war" on the region, blocking crucial imports and seeking to turn it into a "ghetto." Moldova introduced customs regulations this year that require companies in Transnistria to pay import duties into the Moldovan budget.

Anastasia Pociumban of the German Council on Foreign Relations told DW that Transnistria's demands were "moderate" and most likely related to the difficult economic situation in the region.

Moldova's border villages fear Russian invasion

How did Moscow and Chisinau respond?

Russia said that it viewed Transnistria and the protection of its residents as important.

"Protecting the interests of the residents of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of our priorities," Russian state news agencies cited the Foreign Ministry as saying.

Meanwhile, Moldova's Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian posted that Moldova rejected "the propaganda statements coming from Tiraspol [Transnistria's nominal capital]."

Earlier, a Moldovan government spokesman said there was "no danger of escalation and destabilization of the situation in the Transnistrian region. This is another campaign to create hysteria."

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry warned against any Russian interference in Transnistria. It called "for a peaceful resolution of economic, social and humanitarian issues between Chisinau and Tiraspol without any destructive external interference." 

For its part, the United States said it "firmly supports Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders."

"Given Russia's increasingly aggressive and destabilizing role in Europe, we are watching Russia's actions in Transnistria and the broader situation there very closely," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

What is Transnistria?

The small and mainly Russian-speaking sliver of land is sandwiched between the Dniester River and the Ukraine border.

Transnistria unilaterally broke away from Moldova following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Separatists fought a war with Moldova's pro-Western government in 1992, ending with hundreds of deaths and the Russian army's intervention on the side of the separatists.

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Moldova has feared that Russia could use Transnistria to force open a new front in the southwest, toward Odesa.

Moscow is accused of seeking to destabilize Moldova, which gained official candidate status for European Union membership in June 2022.

Meanwhile, the territory's pro-Russian leadership accuses Kyiv of plotting to attack it. 

rc/sms (AFP, Reuters)