Putin Bangs War Drums Anew on Moldova 

The Russian strongman opens Pandora’s box by scrapping a key decree.

AP/Aurel Obreja
The new Moldovan prime minister, Dorin Recean, addresses members of parliament at Chisinau, February 16, 2023. AP/Aurel Obreja

Does Vladimir Putin really want a piece of Moldova? In a sense he already does — it’s called Transnistria — but one year after the Russian strongman ordered an invasion of Ukraine war drums are sounding again as Moscow makes a play for the poor Eastern European country sandwiched between NATO-member Romania and Ukraine. 

Meddling in the internal affairs of former Soviet Socialist Republics is the Kremlin’s stock-in-trade, but the fallout over Mr. Putin’s revocation this week of a 2012 decree pertaining to Moldova’s sovereignty may become impossible to contain. 

By that decree, Russia essentially dictated a set of foreign policy guidelines to Moldova with respect to a future settlement of the issue of sovereignty over the Russian-backed breakaway region of Transnistria. By freezing the conflict, it also gave Moldova the decade’s worth of relief that is now rapidly evaporating. 

According to Reuters, the revocation order was published on the Kremlin’s website and the action was taken “to ensure the national interests of Russia in connection with the profound changes taking place in international relations.”

The Moldovan chairman of the joint control commission in the security zone around Transnistria, Alexandru Flenchea, said the cancellation, which Mr. Putin announced in the same speech Tuesday in which he said Russia would suspend its participation in the New Start nuclear treaty, did not mean Mr. Putin had quashed the notion of Moldovan sovereignty.

In an interview with the Financial Times this week, Moldova’s foreign minister, Nicu Popescu, said that while Moldovan authorities see risks of hybrid sabotage or an attempted coup, they also “do not see the risk of military scenarios on the Moldovan border in the near future thanks to Ukrainian resistance and resilience.”

The reality is more complicated. On Tuesday, Moldova’s new prime minister, Dorin Recean, called on Russia to fulfill its obligations to remove its weapons and military personnel that are “illegally on the territory of Moldova.” By that he meant Transnistria, where Russia has  maintained an operational group of between 1,500 and 2,000 troops since long before the unwieldy decree that Mr. Putin just nixed.

It is not the first time that the Moldovan capital, Chișinău, has called for the eviction of Russian forces from the calm but heavily armed breakaway region, yet the timing of the renewed call comes as tensions are boiling near what is still an active war zone in neighboring Ukraine. A firebrand former Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev,  lambasted what he called “unconstructive anti-Russian hysteria” and warned Mr. Recean to “be very careful.”

While it is difficult to ascertain the situation on the ground, there is little doubt that the Kremlin is stoking the flames. On Thursday — less than 24 hours before the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine — Russia’s ministry of defense accused Ukraine of preparing to invade Transnistria. The ministry posted a message to its Telegram page in which it claimed that “as a pretext for the invasion, it is planned to stage an alleged offensive of Russian troops from the territory of Transnistria.” 

Moldovan officials subsequently shot down the Russian ministry’s claim. “We call for calmness and obtaining information from official and trusted sources of the Republic of Moldova,” a message posted to an official government Telegram channel read. “Our departments cooperate with foreign partners, and in the event of a threat to the country, the people will be immediately informed.”

In any event, Moscow has broken the rules yet again. Under the now defunct Decree 605, Russia undertook to “operate actively” to resolve the longstanding Transnistria issue in respect of Moldovan territorial integrity, at least theoretically. With the decree gone, the Kremlin has now absolved itself of the formal need to recognize Moldova’s sovereignty or neutrality. 

Because by the same decree Russia also pledged to “promote the formation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as modern democratic states,” Pandora’s box over in mountainous Georgia, too, is now more or less in Vladimir Putin’s grabby hands.

The New York Sun

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