In a newly announced statement during a joint telethon on Friday, July 22nd, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, Kirill Budanov, said that special services and “[Ukraine] as a state” are ready to help Moldova get rid of the “occupiers on their land” and to do “everything to help them”. This comes only days after the foreign minister of Transnistria said that the Moldovan separatist region is committed to achieving independence from Moldova and possibly unifying with Russia. Asserting that Moldova’s recent EU candidacy status effectively ends any possibility of cooperation between Transnistria and its mother state. At a press conference in Moscow, Vitaly Ignatyev, the unrecognized government’s foreign minister, said that Transnistria will pursue the goals determined in a 2006 referendum, which saw almost 100% of voters back independence from Moldova and potential Russian integration. The referendum was widely seen as illegitimate by the international community. “The subsequent free accession to Russia is a process that probably requires significant decisions, political preparation, and much more… The main priority, obviously, is independence.“
Moldova is constitutionally neutral and thus not a potential NATO member, but is showing a growing Western orientation. In June, the EU granted it candidate status alongside Ukraine, with full bloc membership conditional on reforms such as tackling corruption and strengthening the rule of law. “Having received the status of a candidate for EU membership, Moldova has thus crossed a certain Rubicon,” Ignatyev said. “It put an end to the issue of building political relations within certain common spaces, because this decision was made solely by the Moldovan leadership, it was not taken collectively. Moreover, no one can speak for us.” In response, Moldova called on the Kremlin to withdraw the Russian contingent from so-called Transnistria. The Moldovan Bureau of Reintegration noted that international partners and constitutional authorities are in favor of a peaceful settlement of the conflict with respect for the territorial integrity of Moldova, with the main goal being the reintegration of the occupied region into a single country.
On Friday, Moldova also denied Russian Foreign Ministry complaints that it is sabotaging the rotation of Russian troops in breakaway Transnistria and not letting Russia bring modern weaponry to its forces in the region. “Our country rejects the accusations launched [by Russia], with the explicit mention that cases of non-authorized entry of certain Russian servicemen are related to [Russian] non-compliance with the criteria established in the mechanism… Thus, the entry of the officers of the so-called Operative Group of the Russian Troops, a formation that is illegally on the territory of our country and that violates neutral status, was not allowed,” officials in Chisinau said in a press release. Moldova reiterated its call for the unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops and ammunition depots from Moldova, including from the breakaway Transnistrian region.
Russia keeps about 1,700 soldiers in the Transnistrian region on the left bank of the Dniester. They are divided into two groups: Russian peacekeepers with a mandate to ensure peace; and Russian soldiers who are part of the Operative Group of the Russian Troops, OGRT. They remain in the region under the pretext of guarding the ammunition depot at Cobasna, where 20,000 tons of ammunition from the time of the Soviet Union are stored. The Russian military in the OGRT is subordinate to the Western District of the Russian Army, based in St. Petersburg. They are viewed as a real danger by both Moldova and Ukraine as the possible source of a surprise attack. Military sources in Chisinau say the core of the OGRT consists of 70 to 100 Russian officers, with the rest being Transnistrian locals employed as Russian soldiers. The Russian peacekeepers and the OGRT military are de facto one and the same. Troops rotate between them once every six months.
Transnistria occupies a slim stretch of land between Ukraine and the rest of Moldova and has hosted a contingent of Russian peacekeeping forces since the end of its separatist war in 1992. Belarussian dictator Lukashenko also seemingly accidentally revealed that an original plan during the Russian invasion of Ukraine was to send Russian forces through Transnistria, leading to rising tensions. As well, in April, a series of targeted attacks struck a number of structures around the region. Undertaken using RPGs, drones armed with explosives, anti-tank mines, and plastic explosives, there is much unknown about the true perpetrators. Suspicions have risen that it was possibly connected to false-flag or provocative actions that Russia organized in the DPR/LPR prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or perhaps Transnistria itself. According to TASS (Russian media), President of Transnistria Vadim Krasnoselsky stated that Ukraine was suspected of being behind the attack. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that the explosions were part of a plan by Russia to occupy Southern Ukraine in order to establish a land bridge between Transnistria and the Crimea during the invasion of Ukraine.
Following the attacks, some Transnistrian residents reported receiving text messages on controversial topics such as the possibility of a referendum on reuniting with Moldova. There were also unverified reports that men under 60 would be banned from leaving the country, as in Ukraine following the onset of the war. The president of Transnistria denied these rumours about the situation on his Telegram feed. Some Transnistrians also received texts purporting to be from the Ukrainian armed forces, claiming an attack was imminent. Many people living in Transnistria started crossing into Moldova after the explosions. Following the events in Transnistria, the Information and Security Service of the Republic of Moldova reported that the Russian hacking group Killnet had launched a series of cyberattacks against websites of Moldovan official authorities and institutions. Some days before, this group had orchestrated similar attacks on Romanian websites.
The region’s origins can be traced to the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which was formed in 1924 within the Ukrainian SSR. During World War II, the Soviet Union took parts of the Moldavian ASSR, which was dissolved, and of the Kingdom of Romania’s Bessarabia to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1940. The present history of the region dates to 1990, during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was established in hopes that it would remain within the Soviet Union should Moldova seek unification with Romania or independence, the latter occurring in August 1991. A military conflict between the two parties started in March 1992 and concluded with a ceasefire in July of that year. As part of the ceasefire agreement, a three-party (Russia, Moldova, and Transnistria) Joint Control Commission supervises the security arrangements in the demilitarized zone, comprising 20 localities on both sides of the river.