By William Tucker
On the rare occasions that Trans-Dniester — a separatist region and self-proclaimed state on the eastern side of Moldova – makes international news, that is rarely a good thing. At the end of April, the Trans-Dniester government claimed that two radio broadcast towers and a building that housed separatist government offices in Tiraspol were damaged by explosions caused by unknown attackers.
In neighboring Ukraine, the government blamed this attack on provocateurs backed by Moscow as an excuse to expand Russia’s war into Moldova. The Moldovan government blamed the incident on “pro-war factions” who seek to raise tensions between it and Trans-Dniester.
Trans-Dniester hosts around 2,000 Russian troops, and Moldova itself has a significant population of pro-Russian citizens. Consequently, any military standoff between Moldova and Trans-Dniester would have international implications.
Moldova Seeks to Retain Its Independence and Has Applied to Join the European Union
Russia’s war on Ukraine has changed the thinking within Europe, and Moldova has taken measures to ensure it will not be the next nation to suffer Moscow’s “liberation.”
As a small nation in the middle of a strategically important landscape, Moldovan independence has been hard to come by. For millennia, competing empires have fought for this valuable piece of real estate. Although those empires have fallen long ago, their successors retain the same strategic outlook as their predecessors.
Though nominally independent, Moldova has struggled to remove Russian influence from its borders, while some political parties in Romania would like to reunite Moldova and Romania. Moldova definitely does not suffer from a lack of suitors, and consequently, Moldova has moved to join the European Union.
Divided Political Loyalties in Moldova
Moldova already has internal divisions. Ethnically, the country is about three-quarters Romanian, while Trans-Dniester remains loyal to Moscow. There is also the special administrative region of Gagauzia, home of the Moldovan Gagauz people who often discuss the prospect of their independence and who could provide a potential lever against the homogeny of the Moldovan state.
These divisions are significant for a small nation like Moldova. However, they are clearly influenced by the different rulers who have claimed suzerainty of this country in the past and left their mark.
With Moldova requesting EU membership, the European Union Council President Charles Michel paid a visit to discuss supplying the nation with military aid in the event of Russian aggression. The challenge is to provide Moldova with military aid that will help the country defend itself, but also prevent Russia from using the appeal for aid as a pretext for an attack.
Russia Has Used Subversion in an Attempt to Gain Control of Other Countries
Russia may have its hands full with the war in Ukraine now, but Moscow has used methods such as subversion to remove hostile governments in former Soviet states. A good example would be the failed 2016 coup in Montenegro.
Russia was accused of orchestrating a coup during parliamentary elections to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO. Though the attempt failed, the case is a reminder of Russia’s ability to conduct such subversive activities.
Moldova Is Vulnerable to Russia Due to Its Economy
Moldova also has economic problems that leave it vulnerable to Russia. Most of Moldova’s energy comes from Russia, and most Moldovan wine – a top export – goes to Russia. However, Romania may have the ability to replace Russia as Moldova’s energy exporter of choice.
Though Romanian energy production is not quite there, its energy exports to Moldova would increase Moldova’s ability to maneuver but would not completely remove the Russian threat of invasion. As long as Russia has an interest in moving westward and so long as the West moves to counter Russian expansionism, small nations in strategic areas will find themselves stuck in the middle.