Moldova facing ‘dangerous moment’ amid fears it could be drawn into Ukraine war | Moldova

Moldova is facing “a very dangerous new moment”, the country’s deputy prime minister has said, as he warned that unnamed forces were seeking to stoke tensions after a series of explosions in the breakaway region of Transnistria this week.

In a briefing with victims, Nicu Popescu said his government had seen “a dangerous deterioration of the situation” in recent days, after grenade attacks on the “ministry of security” in the breakaway region of Transnistria on Monday. The attacks with missile-propelled grenades represented “a very dangerous new moment in the history of our region,” he said, adding that Moldova’s institutions had been put on high alert in response.

Fears are growing that Moldova and Transnistria could be drawn into the Ukraine conflict. The predominantly Russian-speaking region of Transnistria in eastern Moldova has been controlled by pro-Russia separatists since 1992 after a short war when Moscow intervened on the side of the rebels.

Last week a senior Russian commander said gaining control over southern Ukraine would help Russia link up with Transnistria, which shares a 453km border with Ukraine. Then on Monday came a series of mysterious explosions targeting Transnistria’s “state security ministry”, a radio tower and military unit.

Map of Transnistria

“Our analysis so far shows that there are tensions between different forces within the region interested in destabilizing the situation and that makes the Transnistrian region vulnerable and creates risks for the Republic of Moldova,” said Popescu, who added that a majority of Moldovans, including those in Transnistria, wanted to stay out of the war.

Moldova’s government, which does not control Transnistria, was working through several hypotheses about the cause of the attacks, he said, adding that it could be a provocation or “the result of some tensions of some forces inside this region”. He added: “We cannot point exactly the finger or put the blame, but what we see is that indeed there are some forces inside the region that work towards the destabilization of the situation inside this region.”

According to Popescu, who is also Moldova’s foreign minister, Transnistrian authorities announced last week that they were stopping all men of fighting age from leaving the region, which he described as a sign that “we are not yet out of the potential danger zone”.

Moldova had received public and private assurances from Moscow “that Russia continues to recognise the territorial integrity of Moldova”, he said, adding that “given the situation in the region, we remain very alert”.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed on Thursday that recent incidents in Transnistria were an attempt to drag it into the conflict in Ukraine.

Transnistrian authorities have blamed Ukraine for the attacks, while Kyiv has pointed the finger at Russia, saying Moscow is seeking to destabilize the region.

One senior EU diplomat said the incidents were “clearly prepared by Russia themselves”, a view that was based on their analysis of the situation, rather than intelligence sources. “We don’t see that there will be an active conflict”, the diplomat said, “but you never know because they [Russia] have done crazy things.”

One of Europe’s poorest countries, Moldova is grappling with a large influx of refugees and the economic fallout of the war that has stopped nearly 15% of its exports.

About 95,000 people fleeing the war in Ukraine have arrived in Moldova, equivalent to 3.5% of the population, according to the Moldovan foreign ministry. While the number has stabilized and even decreased recently, the former Soviet country is still adapting to the new arrivals, with Ukrainian refugees now accounting for one in 10 of the child population in Moldova.

The war is also having “major negative economic impacts”, Popescu said as up to 14% of Moldova’s exports, which had gone to Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, had “virtually stopped”. Inflation had shot up to 22% and the price of Moldova’s imports had gone up, as the nearby Ukrainian port of Odesa – the cheapest way to transport many goods – was no longer available.

Moldova is seeking economic support from the EU, as well as eventual membership of the bloc.

The government in Chișinău filed a membership application in March soon after Ukraine launched its bid to join the EU, and is busy answering hundreds of questions from Brussels about its readiness to join.

Last week, Moldova’s government announced it had submitted to Brussels an initial questionnaire answering 369 questions; it is now working through a second document covering 2,000 other queries on the country’s compatibility with EU law.

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“We are a country with a European history, a European identity, a European language – and our Romanian language is already an official language of the EU, so that makes things much easier,” Popescu said, adding that Moldova had proven it was adept at changing governments through democratic means.

But even EU member states sympathetic to Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia’s membership bids say these countries are unlikely to join anytime soon.

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