The Transnistria Region of the Republic of Moldova: Threats and Current Situation

March 2, 2023
UkraineWorld spoke to Serhiy Herasymchuk, expert of Ukrainian Prism Foreign Policy Council.
Photo credit: Encyclopedia Britannica

Key points – in our brief, #UkraineWorldAnalysis:

1. On whether the so called “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic” (PMR) poses a threat to Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania

  • The situation in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova has always been difficult for a number of reasons. First, there are the so-called Russian peacekeepers, who have official status as a result of the 1992 agreement between the Republic of Moldova and Russia. Second, there is the operational group of Russian troops guarding the ammunition depot in the village of Kolbasna. The latter troops were supposed to have been withdrawn in accordance with the decision of the OSCE summits of 1999 and 2001, and plans for their withdrawal were even announced in 2003 by first deputy chief of Russia's Presidential Administration Dmitry Kozak, but those plans were canceled because Moldova did not sign Kozak's memorandum. Third, the weapons in the depots in the village of Kolbasna belonged to the former 14th Soviet Army, which were exported from Eastern Europe and East Germany. There are about 20,000 tons of these arms.
  • Nothing is known about their condition and readiness for use, as the OSCE has not been permitted to visit there. The so-called Transnistrian army even has BM-21 Grad Multiple Launch Missile Systems in service, and it outnumbers Moldova's weapons. The so-called Transnistrian army, their militia, the Ministry of State Security, and border guards comprise around 6-8 thousand people in addition to 2,000 Russians, 500 peacekeepers, and 3,000 troops from the Russian operational group. This is probably not enough for a separate operation against Ukraine, but if it is combined with missile attacks and other escalation in southern Ukraine, the situation becomes more complicated. The Russian troops currently in Transnistria can be used for provocations and sabotage and reconnaissance groups

2. On the possibility of Russia capturing Transnistria

  • Moldova is lucky not to share any borders with Russia. The transfer of Russian troops to Transnistria is unlikely, due to the fact any such transfer would have to cross either NATO (Romanian) or Ukrainian air space, and Ukrainian air defense has strengthened.

3. On Russian-sponsored protests in Moldova

  • The population of Moldova is polarized. About half of the population believes in Putin and supports Russia. In this context, it is not difficult to inflame public sentiment for the overthrow of Dorin Recean's government or the presidency of Maia Sandu. Ukraine and Moldova are exchanging intelligence information. Among the scenarios considered were the capture of state structures and the resignation of the pro-presidential government and the holding of snap elections. This was Russia’s bet. According to the results of the poll, the presidential faction would still remain the largest in the parliament, but would not have a majority, Elon Sor's party and the socialist-communist bloc would have the opportunity to form a coalition.
  • Moldova is a parliamentary republic, and if a government is formed in parliament that is unfriendly to the president, the president becomes an ornamental figure. Historically, Moldova’s strongest presidents were those who had a parliamentary majority: Voronin, who had a communist majority; Dodon, who had a socialist majority; and Sandu. On the other hand, President Timofti had problems with the "Alliance for European Integration," a political coalition of three centrist parties, and did not execute full power.
  • Another point is the election in September of the head of the Gagauz Autonomous Region, where sentiment is even more pro-Russian than in Transnistria.

4. On possible defense coalitions for Moldova

  • The Republic of Moldova has neutrality enshrined in its constitution, and amending the Constitution requires a ¾ vote in the parliament, which Maia Sandu does not possess. She has 62 out of 101 deputies - that's ⅔ but not ¾. Secondly, the Republic of Moldova would have to additionally hold a referendum before scrapping this constitutional provision.
  • From the point of view of international humanitarian law, states where the troops of other states are stationed cannot be neutral though. There is no state course towards Euro-Atlantic integration. One option would be in-depth cooperation in the field of air defense, because the sky over Moldova is unprotected.
Serhiy Herasymchuk, expert of Ukrainian Prism Foreign Policy Council

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.