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Russia warns Moldova over Transnistria troops

Vitalie Calugareanu
September 3, 2022

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned Moldova not to endanger its troops in Transnistria, or risk an attack. Russian forces have been stationed in the breakaway region in the Moldova's east since the 1990s.

Transnistria's coat of arms
Transnistria's coat of armsImage: Sergei Gapon/AFP

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week warned Moldova not to endanger Russian troops stationed in Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region in the country's east, saying doing so could spark military confrontation.

In a television interview with a Russian station this Thursday, Lavrov said "any action that would threaten the security of our troops would be considered under international law as an attack on Russia."

Several hours earlier, Lavrov had accused Moldova's pro-European President Maia Sandu of blocking talks to resolve the Transnistria conflict. "Transnistria and Russia support direct dialogue, but judging by statements made by President Maia Sandu and her team, they do not want such dialogue, as they are being directed by the US and EU to reject talks," Lavrov said. "Apparently, they are seeking a non-diplomatic solution to the Transnistria problem."

Sergey Lavrov looks into the camera
Sergey Lavrov warned Moldova a military confrontation could be on the cardsImage: Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/TASS/picture alliance

Disingenious reasoning

Several days earlier, Transnistria's separatist leader Vadim Krasnoselsky had sent a letter to President Sandu requesting talks over a peaceful political solution to the Transnistria conflict. Moldova, however, only communicates with Transnistria's pro-Russian breakaway government through its bureau of reintegration, a governmental body headed by Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian.

In the television interview, Lavrov also said Russia would defend Russian speakers in Moldova, reminding viewers that apart from Transnistria, the region of Gagauzia was also seeking special recognition in the country. He said he hoped "Molvoda's leadership would end the Western-dictated geopolitical games and instead think about the interests of the people, living side by side."

In July this year, Lavrov already accused Moldova of working to "annul everything Russian, just like in Ukraine."

That same month, Moldova and Ukraine were granted EU candidate status.

Moldova's firm stance

Moldova's bureau of reintegration was quick to respond to Lavrov's comments. In a public statement, it said the country was committed to a peaceful resolution of the Transnistria conflict.

This, it added, entails "identifying a sustainable and comprehensive solution that respects the unified, sovereign and indivisible character of Moldova." It further said that such a solution would aim to consolidate Moldovan statehood, restore its territorial integrity and complete reforms throughout the country.

The government body also vehemently rejects claims that the rights of Russian speakers are being infringed upon. Rather, it says, it's Romanian speakers with Moldovan passports who are having their rights curtailed in Transnistria, where they are allegedly being treated as foreigners.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu standing in front of a flag
Moldovan President Maia Sandu has urged Moldovans not to fall for Russian propagandaImage: Dursun Aydemir/AA/picture alliance


Speaking via video link at the Bled Strategic Forum in late August, President Sandu said she was aware of numerous inappropriate Russian comments towards her country, as well as statements disrespecting Moldovan sovereignty. She also said her country was in a delicate place, with war raging nearby.

In an interview with Moldovan television, Sandu warned her citizens not to let themselves be manipulated by statements originating "from Transnistria, Moscow or pro-Russian politicians in [the Moldovan capital] Chisinau."

She said she had received letters from Transnistria's separatist administration, yet stressed all communication must go through Moldova's bureau of reintegration. She said everything would be done to keep the peace.

Sandu said since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, both sides had begun communicating more frequently in a desire to avoid any kind of destabilization.

Russian speakers are not being discriminated against

This isn't the first time Russia is using the Russian language as a pretext to foment instability in Moldova. In March this year, Russia's Moldava embassy contacted Russians in the country, asking them to report any instances of "national, linguistic, cultural or religious" discrimination.

Scores of Russian speakers in Moldova responded by launching an online petition, urging Moscow to leave the country alone, saying they had experienced no discrimination whatsoever.

Tiraspol, the capital of Moldova's breakaway region Transnistria
Tiraspol, the capital of Moldova's breakaway region TransnistriaImage: DW/Cristian Stefanescu

Moldova's foreign ministry warned the Russian embassy not to stir unrest in the country with President Sandu stating all Moldovan citizens of the country can live in peace, regardless of their spoken language.

Following Lavrov's statements, Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu on Thursday summoned Moldova's Russian ambassador. His ministry also issued a statement underscoring Moldova's commitment to respect the rights of Russian, Ukrainian, Gagauzian, Bulgarian and other ethnic minorities.

Russia has kept what it calls peacekeeping troops stationed in Transnistria since the early 1990s, after pro-Russian separatists took control of the region following a violent struggle.

Moldova has demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops, which Moscow has previously committed to, as well as a UN monitoring mission dispatched to Transnistria.

This article was translated from German.