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Transnistria as another Russia/Ukraine flashpoint?

June 4, 2015

Summary: “One to watch” – Transnistria as another Russia/Ukraine flashpoint?  But who is provoking what?

transnistria ukraine mapI was just listening to Anthony Beevor plugging his new book on the Battle of the Bulge, warning against the risks of learning the wrong lessons from history.  The climate warms and favours military operations in Ukraine.  The OSCE reports increasing conflict in what is still, thus far, called Eastern Ukraine.  But should we assume that Donetsk/Luhansk would be the natural site for a new dose of hybrid warfare?  The Financial Times has a useful item to remind us of an area ripe for provocation in Ukraine’s west.  Inevitably, whether Russia is trying to provoke a confrontation over Transnistria to justify further military operations or Ukraine is doing similar (I would tend to favour the former over the latter explanation) the media language and political exchanges would be similar:

Financial Times, 4 June 2015:

Keep an eye on Transnistria, the pro-Russian breakaway state in Moldova. On Monday, Dmitri Trenin, one of Russia’s best-known foreign policy analysts and a man with good Kremlin antennae, tweeted: “Growing concern in Moscow that Ukraine and Moldova will seek to squeeze Transnistria hard, provoking conflict with Russia.” On Tuesday, a columnist in the pro-Kremlin Izvestia warned that that Russia “seriously faces the prospect of a repeat of the [2008] situation” – when it went to war with Georgia – “this time around Transnistria”.

What sparked the tensions was a May 21 vote in Ukraine’s parliament to suspend military co-operation with Russia. That included a 1995 agreement giving Russia military transit rights across Ukraine to reach Transnistria, which borders Ukraine’s Odessa region.

Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in the unrecognised statelet since its brief war for independence from ex-Soviet Moldova in 1992, and Russia has a base there with about 1,350 soldiers and heavy weapons. Losing access via Ukraine means Russia must resupply its base by air through Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, and across Moldovan territory.

But Moscow complains Moldova has recently detained and deported several Russian soldiers. Mr Trenin alleged to the FT, moreover, that Ukraine had deployed S-300 air defence systems near the border.

Cue claims by Russian and Transnistrian officials that Ukraine and Moldova are imposing an economc blockade; civic leaders in Transnistria last week appealed to Russian president Vladimir Putin to protect them “in case of emergency”. On Monday, Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s hard-line deputy premier, assured Transnistria’s leadership that “Russia will always be there” to ensure regional security.

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