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Transnistria's Bid to Russia: Concerns Over Potential Annexation Request to Moscow

Updated: Feb 27

Significant political machinations are taking place in the separatist state of Transnistria. There is a growing concern that Transnistria will ask Russia to annex them (again), reigniting the frozen political conflict into conventional war. 

On 21 February, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) - Transnistria - unexpectedly announced a significant ‘deterioration’ in the security situation since the beginning of the year. It made the shock move of convening a rare Congress of Deputies in Tiraspol for 28 February. Pertinently, the last time a Transnistrian Congress of Deputies was convened was March 2006, when it voted to hold a referendum on joining the Russian Federation (which was voted in favour by 97%). The Transnistrian government has levied the accusation at Chisinau that it has ‘destroyed’ the Transnistrian economy and had exacted “external political and economic pressure” upon the separatist state. 

On 29 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin will make his annual address to the Federal Assembly. Transnistrian opposition MP Ghenadie Ciroba claims that “a request [will] be voiced on behalf of PMR citizens to accept Transnistria into the Russian Federation, and on 29 February, Putin will announce this in his Address, and the Federal Assembly will quickly decide to satisfy the request”. The question remains as to whether this will actually transpire. 

What is the likely outcome of the Congress of Deputies? Will Russia actually annex Transnistria? 

It is likely that the Transnistrian Congress of Deputies will seek to initiate a new referendum, the first since March 2006, or, simply, the Congress could demand the implementation of the previous referendum. It is most probable that whatever the Congress of Deputies decides will be welcomed by President Vlaidmir Putin.

However, it is unlikely that Putin will action immediate calls to annex the separatist territory. Traditionally, Putin has preferred utilising Transnistria as a proxy for conducting psyops and political interference in the Republic of Moldova. There is also no indication that the Russian military has sufficiently prepared itself to intervene in either Transnistria, or Moldova more broadly. 

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has argued that the most probable course of action is that the Transnistrian Congress of Deputies and Putin’s subsequent address will “mark an inflection in Russian preparations for hybrid warfare against Moldova, possibly intended to set conditions for an imminent political crisis.” 

If Russia were to annex Transnistria, which remains in my view unlikely, it would be rather totemic, for Russia is militarily unable to geographically unite itself with Transnistria due to its faltering war effort in Ukraine. As noted by T-Intelligence, “establishing a land bridge or air corridor is impossible as long as Ukraine controls [the] Odessa oblast.”

Therefore, if annexation were to take place, it would be as symbolic as is possible. Whether annexing Transnistria would regalvanise the Russian war effort in Odessa remains to be seen, however, it is likely not a high priority for the Kremlin. 

The convening of the Transnistrian Congress of Deputies will likely reveal Russia’s commitment to waging hybrid warfare in Moldova, utilising Transnistria as a strategic stronghold. It is most probable that the Congress of Deputies will pass a resolution either seeking a new referendum on annexation or the implementation of the March 2006 referendum (which, pertinently, Russia did not act upon). In addition, Moscow ignored Transnistrian calls for annexation in 2014 , following the Russian annexation of Crimea.

However, actioning military operations into Transnistria is likely not a high priority for the Russian government. Russia uses Transnistria as part of its coercive attempts to control and influence Moldova. Annexing Transnistria outright would lose that outlet of coercive control; rather, it is likely Putin will continue to use Transnistria as its proxy, to exert influence over Moldova, and strife its European integration and NATO aspirations. 

Nevertheless, it is imperative not to completely rule out military instigations in Transnistria. This is an objective increase in political tensions, with a propensity to increase. The variables depend upon the resolution decided by the Transnistrian Congress of Deputies, and then Putin and the Kremlin. 

This article has been written in Will Kingston-Cox’s personal capacity as a specialist on Transnistrian and Russian politics and does not represent the views of Europinion.

Kingston-Cox has conducted, and continues to conduct, academic research on the Transnistrian situation and collaborates with T-Intelligence on producing the monthly Moldova/Transnistria security updates. 

Image: AFP/via The Telegraph


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