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Breakaway Moldovan region asks Russia for ‘protection’

By AFP - Feb 29,2024 - Last updated at Feb 29,2024

A child stands on a T-34 Soviet tank set as a monument in the center of Tiraspol, capital of the self-proclaimed Moldovan Republic of Transnistria, on April 3, 2017 (AFP photo)

MOSCOW — Pro-Russian rebel officials in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria appealed to Russia for “protection” on Wednesday, amid fears the territory could become a new flashpoint in Moscow’s conflict with neighbouring Ukraine.

The thin sliver of land has been de facto controlled by pro-Russian forces since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but is internationally recognised as part of Moldova.

At a special congress in the region — only the seventh in its history — lawmakers passed a resolution asking Russia’s parliament to “protect” Transnistria from mounting Moldovan pressure.

They said the Moldovan government in Chisinau had unleashed an “economic war” against Transnistria, blocking vital imports in the aim of turning it into a “ghetto”.

“The decisions of the current congress cannot be ignored by the international community,” the breakaway republic’s foreign policy chief Vitaly Ignatiev told the meeting.

The resolution comes just a day before President Vladimir Putin was set to make an annual address before Russian lawmakers and as Ukraine suffers setbacks on the battlefield.

The separatist territory last held a congress in 2006, when deputies announced a referendum on integrating with Russia. The vote resulted in an overwhelming majority in favour.

The call for help from Moscow has fuelled comparisons with February 2022, when Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine called for protection against what they said was relentless attacks and shelling by Kyiv’s forces.

Delegates at the conference on Wednesday made little mention of Ukraine, according to accounts of the session in state-run media, instead aiming their ire against Moldova, who they blamed for the territory’s economic woes.

A Moldovan government spokesman downplayed concerns ahead of the rare meeting.

“From Chisinau, things look calm... There is no danger of escalation and destabilisation of the situation in the Transnistrian region. This is another campaign to create hysteria,” they said in a post on Telegram.




Moldova has accused the Kremlin of stoking tensions in Transnistria, a primarily Russian-speaking region that depends heavily on Moscow for support.

Since Moscow began its full-scale assault on Ukraine, Chisinau has been concerned the Kremlin could use Transnistria to open a new front in the southwest, in the direction of Odesa.

The tiny region was rocked by unexplained blasts in 2022 that military analysts believe may have been a Russian attempt to drag the region into the conflict.

Then, in March 2023, Transnistria’s pro-Russian leadership accused Kyiv of an assassination attempt on their leader, an accusation that Ukraine rejected.

The Kremlin has around 1,500 soldiers permanently stationed in the region, and has warned Ukraine and Moldova that attacking them would incur serious consequences.

Russia still props up Transnistria’s economy with supplies of free gas, but the breakaway republic has found itself increasingly isolated from Moscow since the conflict in Ukraine.

The gathering of Transnistrian officials comes as Ukraine faces intense pressure on the frontlines, where it has recently lost ground to Russia amid mounting ammunition shortages.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Albania on Wednesday for a summit of south-eastern European nations, where he was expected to renew his calls for more aid.

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