VIDEO | Andonovic: Russians from Transnistria seek protection from Putin

Analysis with Andonović / Photo Sloboden pechat

Pro-Russian rebels in the separatist part of Moldova have asked President Vladimir Putin to protect their region from what they say are threats from the Moldovan government. Transnistria, which illegally broke away from Moldova with the collapse of the Soviet Union, remains firmly in Moscow's sphere of interest, while Moldova, which borders Ukraine, seeks to join the European Union.

At a special congress held yesterday, politicians in Transnistria asked Moscow to protect them from "increased pressure from the Moldovan government," and the Kremlin later announced that protecting its "compatriots" was a priority, Russian state media RIA Novosti reported.

Although the congress initially expressed fears that Moscow could continue its long-standing plan to destabilize Moldova's increasingly pro-Western government, Moldova dismissed it as "propaganda".

Meetings of the Transnistrian Congress of Representatives, a decision-making model inherited from the Soviet era, are rare, but often significant and decisive. The Congress of Deputies established Transnistria in 1990, and just two years later, this formation resulted in a war between Moscow-backed separatists and the newly independent Moldovan republic.

No country in the world officially recognizes the independence of Transnistria, where Russia has maintained a military presence of around 1.500 troops for decades.

The last meeting of the Congress was held in 2006, when the referendum on joining Russia was adopted. When Transnistrian politicians unexpectedly announced another meeting, analysts suggested it could lead to renewed calls for unification with Russia.

On the other hand, the Moldovan and Ukrainian authorities downplayed the speculations and did not pay attention to this event.

On the other hand, the Congress passed a resolution yesterday calling on Russia to provide greater "protection" to more than 220.000 Russian citizens in Transnistria from the Moldovan authorities.

Transnistria will persistently fight for its identity, the rights and interests of the people of Transnistria and will not give up their protection despite any blackmail or external pressure," the resolution, the text of which was reported by Russian state media TASS, states.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that "protecting the interests of the people of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of the priorities."

Moldovan authorities dismissed the congress as an attempt to incite "hysteria".

"There is no danger of escalation and destabilization of the situation in this region of our country," spokesman Daniel Voda wrote on Telegram. "What is happening in Tiraspol [the capital of the region] is a propaganda event," he states.

In a statement to CNN, Moldova's reintegration office said it "rejects Tiraspol's propagandistic statements and reminds that the Transnistrian region benefits from a policy of peace, security and economic integration with the EU, which benefits all citizens." .

Meanwhile, US State Department spokesman Matt Miller said the United States is "very closely monitoring Russian actions in Transnistria and the wider region around the border with Ukraine.

The Russian war in Ukraine had a major impact on Transnistria's economy. Ukraine closed its border with Transnistria when the war began, cutting off about a quarter of the enclave's trade. Although it still receives Russian gas for free, the agreement to allow gas transit through Ukraine expires in December and there is no guarantee that the agreement will be extended.

The war also prompted Moldova to try to resolve its decades-long conflict with Transnistria.

As part of efforts to resolve the conflict with Transnistria, in 2022 the EU granted Moldova candidate status and last year gave the green light for the start of accession negotiations.

While Moldovan President Maia Sandu has indicated she would be willing to join the EU without Transnistria, reunification could simplify the process. A recent blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace claimed that "Moldova's strategy is to speed up the process by making life as difficult as possible" for the region.

Relatedly, in January Moldova unexpectedly canceled customs concessions for Transnistrian companies, forcing them to pay taxes to both Transnistria and Moldova.

Experts claim that the reintroduction of tariffs in Moldova is the main reason why the Congress of Transnistria held an emergency meeting after more than 18 years.

Many believe that if Russia's invasion of Ukraine had gone according to plan, it would have taken the capital Kiev within days and the rest of the country within weeks, extending across the Ukrainian coast to the southwestern city of Odessa near Transnistria.

Russia's military command said at the time that one of the aims of the so-called "special military operation" was to establish a corridor through southern Ukraine to Transnistria as Russia tries to reunite with its "compatriots abroad".

Although Ukraine stopped Moscow's advance near Kherson, about 350 kilometers from Transnistria, analysts emphasized that Russia is still actively working to realize its plans towards Moldova.

"The Kremlin is trying to use Transnistria as a Russian-controlled proxy that it can use to derail Moldova's EU accession process," warns a report by the US-based Institute for the Study of War.

Just as Russia found Ukraine's turn to the EU unacceptable in 2014 – and used military force to prevent it – the authorities in Moscow want to prevent the same in Moldova.

Last year, CNN had access to a document compiled by the Russian security service, the FSB, that described a plan to destabilize Moldova and curb its leaning toward the West.

Putin has justified Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and military operations in Donetsk and Luhansk as an attempt to protect Russian-speaking citizens in eastern Ukraine, who he claimed were under threat from Kiev.

Now Western military analysts see "strong parallels" between that rhetoric and that recently used by the Transnistrian government. In an interview with RIA Novosti, the president of the breakaway region of Transnistria, Vadim Kranoselski, claimed that the Moldovan government was preparing to carry out terrorist attacks on Transnistria before the possible invasion, without indicating any evidence for this claim.

However, other analysts argue that the situation in Transnistria, rather than highlighting Russia's influence in the region, is evidence of how Moscow has so far failed to achieve its key military goals.

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