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Is Transnistria on the verge of Russian annexation?



There is currently intense international discussion surrounding the potential scenario of Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region in eastern Moldova known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), organizing a referendum for annexation by Russia. This move is seen as part of a Russian hybrid operation aimed at destabilizing Moldova and justifying potential future Russian actions in the region. 


Reports highlight warnings from Western officials and security experts about a possible Russian hybrid operation against Moldova, including the spread of disinformation and so-called psychological operations (psyops) from Transnistria. Concerns are raised about escalating tensions in the region and the potential impact of Transnistria's annexation by Russia on Moldova and the broader geopolitical landscape. 


Moldova, a former Soviet state located between Romania and Ukraine with a population of approximately 2.6 million people, has a pro-Western majority in parliament, and President Maia Sandu aims for Moldova to join the European Union. Since Sandu took office in 2020, her government has advanced Moldova's relations with the EU. Brussels granted Moldova candidate status in June 2022 and announced the start of accession talks in December 2023, with full  membership targeted for 2030. This timeline provides the Russian leadership with ample time to employ hybrid and potentially military means of warfare to disrupt the presidential elections scheduled for late 2024 and establish a Kremlin-friendly political leadership. 


The political landscape in Moldova is characterized by a pro-Western PAS Alliance party led by Sandu and an oppositional pro-Russian coalition consisting of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) and the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) led by former President Igor Dodon. The incumbent pro-Western President Sandu, if re-elected, would continue Moldova's European integration course, which directly opposes Russian interests. 


As Moldova  progresses in EU integration processes and talks, Transnistria, the breakaway region to the left of  the Dniester River, increasingly attracts the attention of EU-diplomats and representatives. Moldova seeks full European integration, including Transnistria, which has been a point of contention with approximately 220,000 "Russians" residing in Transnistria who view this integration as a violation of their right to self-determination and an existential threat. 


Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region in eastern Moldova with a population of about  470,000 people, illegally seceded from the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1990. The Russian military has maintained a presence in Transnistria since 1992. While no UN member state recognizes Transnistria's sovereignty, considering it part of Moldova, the region is not acknowledged as an independent state even by Russia. Transnistria has sought annexation by Russia since 2006, with President Vadim Krasnoselsky reaffirming this commitment in January 2023. 


The region's affiliation with Russia under the actual circumstances would pose significant legal complexities, as it is not internationally recognized as an independent state. Transnistria is a member of the community of  unrecognized states, including Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the Republic of Artsakh, maintaining  diplomatic relations among themselves. Although a military escalation of the conflict is rather unlikely, we should refer to the difficulties of  implementation and the probability of occurrence of an annexation to the realm of fairy tales. 


The justification for such a move would be the alleged necessity to safeguard Russian citizens and  "compatriots" in Transnistria from perceived threats originating from Moldova or NATO, or both. Russian President Vladimir Putin might, in the most extreme scenario, announce Russia's annexation of Transnistria during his scheduled speech to the Russian Federal Assembly on February 29, although this scenario seems improbable. It is more probable that Putin will endorse any actions taken by the Transnistrian Congress of Deputies and provide insights on the situation. 


Image: CEPA





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