IS MOLDOVA NEXT FOR PUTIN?
Moldova, a post-soviet union nation is one of the struggling and poorest nations in Europe. Presence of troops in Odesa, Ukraine which is just 56km from Moldova & surfacing of a video of Alexander Lukashenko (President of Belarus), a close ally of Moscow in which he was seen explaining a map to the troops marked with arrows suggesting planned Russian advance in Moldova has raised tensions.
Moldova’s Constitution calls for neutrality and bars the nation from joining either US-led NATO or Russia-led CSTO (Central security treaty organization). Moldova has already experienced a civil war in which Transnistria (Pro-Russian breakaway region) became independent. However, it is yet to be recognized as a Sovereign state.
Current Situation in Moldova
Moldova, a 2.6 million population nation has been flooded by refugees past weeks amid the Russian invasion. Despite having a loose economy where 27% of the workforce lives abroad or desires to & 16% of GDP coming from remittances it welcomed more than 270,000 refugees. The rhetoric of neutrality has left the nation’s defense crippled with only 0.4% of GDP spent on it. Moldova army is called ‘Lilliputians’ as it has only 8000 Soldiers and 18000 police.
Currently, Information War is going on in the nation, masterminded by Russia to discourage people from reaching out to Ukrainian refugees and to create inner differences within the nation. On March 3rd, 2022 Moldova have applied for fast-track EU membership which could further create friction and could further provoke Putin.
Transnistria-Neutral over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
Transnistria, a pro-Russian region where Lenin’s statue still ends in its capital Tiraspol is an ethnically diverse region with the presence of Ukrainians, Russians, and Moldovans in almost equal proportion. Despite Russian Influence and the presence of 1300 Russian troops in the region, Krasnoselsky (President of Transnistria) has taken a neutral stand.
The presence of Soviet-era arsenal including 22,000 tonnes of ammunition in a decommissioned arms depot in the village of Covasna, region elites calling of Russian troops as peacekeepers & its application for recognition as a state just after Moldova applied for EU have created ambiguity over its real stand. Moldovans feared that this pro-Russian region could be used by Russia to destabilize and invade their nation.
Transnistria-Linkage with Ukraine
Ukrainian is one of Transnistria’s three official languages and its main university is also named after Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. Multiple statues of Ukrainian heroes appear in the region also Taras appears on 50-ruble notes used in Transnistrian. Krasnoselsky being ethnic Ukrainian is seen as the reason for its neutral position and its soft corner for Ukraine.
The Moldovan breakaway region is also reliant on Ukraine economically as it provides the region access to foreign markets. Ukraine is the major trading partner of the region. It exports more goods to Ukraine than Russia. This presence of cultural, social, and economic linkage of the region with Ukraine is seen as a deterrence to its open support of Russia’s actions. However, there is little doubt that most people in the region hope of Russia annexing Transnistria as it will make the region economically independent & provide it with permanent security architecture.
Gagauz Separatism in Moldova
Gaguzas are ethnic Turkic-speaking living in Moldova, Gagauzia is an autonomous territorial unit in Moldova. These ethnic Turks were Russified during the 19th & 20th centuries. Now, the Russian-speaking Gaguzas call for greater control of Moscow over Moldova as they fear erosion of their culture. Fear of Gagauzia being integrated into ‘Greater Romania’ further triggers support for Russia. This separatism further creates risk for Moldova as Moscow could use it as context to destabilize and invade the nation as done in Ukraine.
Benefits and Risks for Russia in Possible Invasion of Moldova?
1. Blocks Eastward Expansion of Nato & Western Influence: With political or military control of Moldova Putin will be successful in his main agenda of roadblocking Nato’s expansion. Recent visits of US secretary of state ‘Antony Blinken’ would have further pushed the possibility of Moldovan invasion to counter ‘western influence eastward flow’. Moldova’s push for membership of the EU and possible drift towards the west could be permanently blocked with invasion.
2. Permanent Blockade to Ambition of ‘Greater Romania’: Romania push for Moldova to join Euro-Atlantic structures and consideration of full integration for creation of ‘Greater Romania’. The ambition came alive amid 40% of Moldovans holding Romanian passports and since 1994 more than 8 lakh Moldovans have become Romanians. Romania being a Nato member, its ambition of greater Romania is a greater threat for Russia as it will lead to the permanent drift of Moldova from Moscow’s soft control.
1. Anti-Russian Sentiments: Russian invasion of Moldova will further lead to the loss of its historical influence, prestige, and soft power in post soviet union states. Already, anti-Russian sentiments are at their peak amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine which will be a major drawback for long-term strategic interests.
2. Inner Conflict: Invasion and integration of nation-states in Russia will lead to Internal conflicts due to the presence of multiple ethnicities and people being already tasted the flavor of ‘Complete Independence’ and Ethnic nationalism.
3. European Security: Russian invasion of Ukraine and its sour relations with Nato could once again divide the European region into ‘East & West Europe’ which will be a major threat not only to globalism and European Security architecture but also to ‘Peaceful world order’.
4. Western Sanctions: Ukrainian Invasion has already been met with fierce sanctions from the west which has led to Russian economic breakdown and 40% ruble devaluation. It has skyrocketed inflation in Russia to 9.15% and according to experts, it might go up to 20%. If Putin continues with his plan it might lead to the complete economic devastation of Russia which will further push Moscow in the lap of China.
Russia’s Invasion of Moldova does not seem inevitable provided diplomatic negotiations between Nato and Russia occur. Transnistria and Gagauzs Separatism have already weakened Moldova’s sovereignty and it is only a matter of time for Russia to gain its military control. If Russia’s calculation provides a positive tradeoff between benefits and risks over the Moldova invasion world could expect it sooner.