The Moldovan foreign ministry has urged Russia to respect its neutrality after a Russian general openly announced plans to occupy the breakaway Transnistria region.
Brigadier General Rustam Minnekayev said on April 22 that the Russian army plans to take Ukraine's Donbas region, then create land corridors to both the Crimea and Transnistria.
"Since the beginning of the second phase of the special operation, which has already begun, literally two days ago, one of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over the Donbas and southern Ukraine," said Minnekayev, the acting commander of Russia’s Central Military District, as reported by Tass.
"This [control over the Donbas region] will provide a land corridor to the Crimea, as well as influence the vital facilities of the Ukrainian [military forces], Black Sea ports through which agricultural and metallurgical products are delivered to [other] countries," he continued.
"Control over the south of Ukraine is another way out to Pridnestrovie [Transnistria], where there are also facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population. Apparently, we are now at war with the whole world, as it was in the Great Patriotic War, all of Europe, the whole world was against us. And now the same thing, they never liked Russia," added Minnekayev.
The Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration responded later on April 22 by summoning the Russian ambassador in Chisinau, Oleg Vasnetov. The ministry said it had taken note of the statements from the “representative of Russia’s Ministry of Defence”.
“These statements are unfounded and contradict the position of the Russian Federation supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, within its internationally recognised borders,” the statement read.
“During the meeting, it was reiterated that the Republic of Moldova, in line with its Constitution, is a neutral state and this principle must be respected by all international actors, including the Russian Federation.”
What role for Transnistria in the war in Ukraine?
Transnistria is a long, thin stretch of land between the Dniester river and Moldova’s border with Ukraine that has been de facto independent since a civil war that ended in July 1992. It has political, economic and military backing from Russia, though neither Russia nor any other state has formally recognised it as independent.
Since the invasion, there has been speculation that – as a Russia-backed territory on Ukraine’s western flank, with Russian troops stationed in it – Transnistria could be used to open a new front in the war in Ukraine. This was fuelled by a video of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko with a battle map that appeared to indicate Moldova was part of Russia’s invasion plans.
In early March there were reports from Transnistria that Ukraine had blown up a railway bridge that would have helped the Russian military in the unrecognised republic cross the border into Ukraine.
However, the Russian military presence in Transnistria is very small with only around 1,400 soldiers.
The Moldovan government has said since the invasion that there have been no signs of preparations for an attack from Transnistria.
Earlier in April, Chisinau denied claims from the General Staff of Ukraine that the Russian troops in the Moldovan separatist region of Transnistria had been redeployed along the border with Ukraine, in order to potentially prepare for an attack that could open another front in the war.
While Russia is vehemently opposed to Ukraine ever realising its hope of joining Nato, Moldova, unlike Ukraine, has declared its neutrality and has not voiced any ambitions to join the Alliance. Nor has Moldova joined sanctions on Russia, though it has taken steps to ensure it is not used as a channel to evade sanctions.
However, like Ukraine, since the start of the war Moldova has formally applied to join the European Union.
Minnekayev’s worrying and controversial comment was made on the same day that Moldova submitted its first questionnaire for EU membership.
President Maia Sandu tweeted on April 222: “Today #Moldova submitted the 1st questionnaire for #EU membership to EU Ambassador @JanisMazeiks as we take a step closer to our accession bid to the EU. We are ready to do our part swiftly and diligently to give Moldova a chance for a better, safer & more prosperous future.”