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Moldova: “Russia knows full well that it does not have the means to annex Transnistria”

Florent Parmentier is a doctor in political science, secretary general of CEVIPOF, the political research center of Sciences Po Paris, and associate researcher at the HEC Center for Geopolitics.

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Moldova: “Russia knows full well that it does not have the means to annex Transnistria”

Florent Parmentier is a doctor in political science, secretary general of CEVIPOF, the political research center of Sciences Po Paris, and associate researcher at the HEC Center for Geopolitics. He is the author, with Josette Durrieu, of Moldavia at the Crossroads of the Worlds (Éditions Non Lieu, 2019).

LE FIGARO. - The separatist authorities of Transnistria requested “protective measures” from Moscow this Wednesday. Some observers point out that Putin had already used a call from pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine as a pretext to launch his offensive two years ago. So should we expect Moscow to try to annex Transnistria?

FLORENT PARMENTIER. - Relations between Moscow and Moldova have never been so degraded since the short war of 1992, which led to the autonomy of Transnistria. But we must distinguish stated intentions from capabilities. Tiraspol and Moscow know full well that Russia does not have the means to annex Transnistria. I remind you that there are only 1,500 Russian soldiers present on site. Above all, Moldova does not have a common border with Russia. The Russian army is more than 200 kilometers to the north, in Kherson. Moscow would therefore have no way of supplying this region with men. Let us not forget that on February 24, 2022, when Putin attacked Ukraine, nothing changed in Transnistria.

Russian diplomacy responded that it would “carefully examine” Tiraspol’s request. If Moscow has no bellicose intentions, what are its intentions?

In the medium term, the Duma (the Russian parliament - Editor's note) could take a first step by formally recognizing the independence of Transnistria, but without Vladimir Putin proclaiming it. This would be a way of putting pressure on Moldova, where elections will be held next November, while maintaining the status quo. Moscow has been using Tiraspol to blackmail Moldova for thirty years. In this case, Maia Sandu is seeking a second term and clearly wishes to join the EU. So the message from Moscow is: “If you continue with Maia Sandu, we will recognize the independence of Transnistria.” Like in 2008, when President Medvedev finally recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

But in the immediate future, the objective of Tiraspol and Moscow is to reassure public opinion and the elites of Transnistria. The economy and security of this small separatist entity have been weakened by the invasion of Ukraine. We therefore appeal to the great Russian protector, to calm social anxiety. In other words, Moscow is trying to regain control diplomatically, failing to be able to do so militarily.

Also read: Why the former Soviet republics are igniting again

How did the Ukrainian war weaken Transnistria?

Before Ukraine, things were relatively simple. Tiraspol relied on Moscow for its security and on Ukraine for its economy. Access to the port of Odessa offered it a gateway to the European market. A sort of double game that is very profitable for Transnistria. Since the Russian attack, access to the European market has become complicated. Since 1992, separatist discourse has been based on the argument that Transnistria is more industrialized than the rest of Moldova. But the closer Chisinau gets to the EU, the more its economy develops, while Transnistria is further and further apart. The economy is really an important key to understanding the situation.

But the concern is also of a security nature, since the Russian army is monopolized by the war in Ukraine. On several occasions, Zelensky's entourage even offered to Chisinau to rid them of the pro-Russians from Tiraspol.

And yet, you seem convinced that an armed conflict is not for tomorrow...

The Moldovans understood that the solution to this problem could not be military. Since the 1992 war, there has not been a death, not a gunshot between Chisinau and Tiraspol. The Moldovans intend to continue this way. They therefore rejected kyiv's proposals. In reality, there is very little hostility between the people of Moldova and those of Transnistria. I like to remind you that the Tiraspol football club depends on the Moldovan league, it was even crowned champion last year! This example is not trivial, it is revealing.

By attacking Ukraine, Russia pushed it into the arms of the EU and NATO. Don't Moscow's discussions with Transnistria risk leading to the same effects?

We will have the answer to this question during the elections next November in Moldova. If Maia Sandu is reappointed, which is on track, the consequences could indeed ultimately be the integration of Moldova into the EU. In reality, the difficulty for Maia Sandu will be less to be elected president than to obtain a majority. There is no doubt that Vladimir Putin will closely follow the results of this election!

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