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Russia steps up threats against Republic of Moldova

Vitalie Calugareanu | Robert Schwartz
February 4, 2023

Russia's foreign minister has warned that Moldova could meet the same fate as Ukraine. He says that the West is stirring up anti-Russian sentiment. Moldova has rejected his comments as propaganda.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made threatening remarks about MoldovaImage: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has suggested that Moldova is the West's new "anti-Russian project." In an interview for Russian state television, he declared that the West had now "set its sights on the Republic of Moldova to have the role of the next Ukraine."

Russia's more or less direct threats against Moldova have intensified since it began the war of aggression against Ukraine almost a year ago.

In the interview, which was banned from broadcast in Moldova because of accusations of propaganda, Lavrov also stated that pro-European Moldovan President Maia Sandu had been appointed with methods that were "far from being freely democratic" and that she was pursuing a deeply anti-Russian approach. He added that she was "a president who wants to join NATO, has Romanian citizenship, is ready to unite with Romania and, in general, is ready for almost anything."

"This is one of the countries that the West wants to turn into another anti-Russia," he said.

Is Moldova's port a Russian target?

Debate over Transnistria conflict

The foreign minister continued by criticizing the Moldovan government in Chisinau for refusing to resume the 5+2 negotiations on resolving the Transnistria conflict. Russia and the separatist regime in Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region that split from Moldova in the early 1990s after a bloody war, insist that talks should continue, especially considering the setbacks of the Russian army in Ukraine.

Lavrov said that "hand in hand with the pro-NATO, pro-EU drive," the fact that Moldova refused to resume the negotiations spoke "volumes." He added that Moldova was even planning to expel Russian "peacekeepers" from Transnistria.

There are some 2,000 Russian soldiers stationed in Transnistria, which is a narrow strip of land in eastern Moldova. Many of them are there to guard a former Soviet ammunition depot in the village of Cobasna that contains up to 20,000 tons of Soviet-era weapons. It is the largest such depot in Europe. In 1999, Russia committed to withdrawing troops and weapons, but it has not fulfilled this promise.

Russia accuses Moldovan president of anti-Russian stance

At the end of January, the Moldovan president said that there was a "serious discussion" about her country's capacity to defend itself and whether it should be part of a "larger alliance" in an interview with the US magazine Politico. She added: "And if we come, at some point, to the conclusion as a nation that we need to change neutrality, this should happen through a democratic process."

Moldova's President Maia Sandu
Moldova's President Maia Sandu hopes to bring her country into the EUImage: Dursun Aydemir/AA/picture alliance

Moldova's neutrality, which is enshrined in the constitution, has become the subject of more intense debate since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. However, there would currently not be enough support in parliament for a constitutional amendment.

Veiled threats and warnings against Moldova

But in the wake of President Sandu's remarks, there have been several veiled warnings from Russian politicians close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, that joining NATO would be a sure way of destroying the state of Moldova.

Moreover, in a video conference with Russian politicians, Vitali Ignatiev, the so-called foreign minister of Transnistria, complained about "increased pressure" on the unrecognized republic due to the fact that the Moldovan army had expanded its defense capacities. He also said that there was increasing "repression of everything Russian" in Moldova. This is an argument typically used by Russian propagandists to justify military aggression against independent states, including Ukraine and Georgia.

The Moldovan Foreign Ministry was quick to react to the latest threats by Lavrov. It said that the remarks did not correspond to the truth and continued "the already well-known threatening rhetoric of Russian diplomacy."

Nicu Popescu, the foreign minister and deputy prime minister of Moldova, said that his country categorically rejected this tone in bilateral relations with Russia. He reminded the government in Moscow that Moldovan citizens wanted peace, prosperity and democracy, and that they wanted to join the European Union.

A map of Moldova and Transnistria

Solidarity with Ukraine

Moldova declared solidarity with its neighbor Ukraine immediately after the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, and simplified measures for refugees crossing the border. The country has consistently condemned Russia's attacks on Ukraine's population and critical infrastructure. At every international meeting, Moldovan politicians have issued warnings about the increased security risks for their country.

Gunther Krichbaum, the former head of the Bundestag EU affairs committee and an expert in Eastern and Southeast European politics, said in a DW interview that Russia's threats against Moldova showed once again how aggressive Russia was and that it was important to put it in its place now. "This war must not be worth it for Russia, Ukraine must win the war," he said.

He added that all politicians advocating appeasement should finally understand that Russia would not stop at a victory over Ukraine and would keep on with its invasions. He said that Moldova would be the next victim and would not be able to stand up to Russia. Then, according to Krichbaum, it would go on with Georgia and then the Baltic states would have to worry. "Therefore, Russia must be stopped now."

This article was translated from German.