Saturday, March 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Next Move against Ukraine May Come from Transdniestria

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – The Russian Federation may open “a second front” against Ukraine from Transdniestria, the breakaway portion of Moldova, and thereby threaten Kyiv’s control over Odessa immediately and that country’s entire Black Sea littoral in the somewhat longer term, according to officials and experts in Ukraine.

            A few days ago, Marina Levko of UNIAN notes, Vladimir Konstantinov, parliamentary speaker of the former Autonomous Republic of Crimea, sent a request to Moscow “not to leave to the arbitrary action of fate Russians and others “from Kharkiv to Odessa” who want to become “part of Russia” (

            Some in Odessa reiterated that request, noting that they are “under the gun” because they border the unrecognized Transdniestria republic of Moldova, a request that appeared “absurd,” Levko writes, “but this ‘closeness’ and the present of the unresolved Trandniestria conflict and the presence of Russian peacekeepers” represents “a threat to [Ukraine’s] national security.”

            “Recently,” Artem Filipenko, the head of the Odessa branch of the National Institute for Strategic Research, said, “the authorities of Transdniestria have actively positioned the republic as an advanced post of ‘Eurasian integration,’” a code word for joining with Moscow. And while they had not received much public support from Russia in this regard earlier, Crimea has changed the equation.

            The Transdniestria authorities thus had been “restrained” in their comments, Filipenko said, but “it is completely natural that their sympathies are entirely on the side of the Crimean separatists” and “it is not excluded” that Tiraspol is also worried that it may face its own Maidan although the Ukrainian analyst suggested there is “not particular reason” for this.

            “Despite the fact that this state unrecognized even by Russia does not play for the Kremlin the same strategic role as the Crimean peninsula,” Filipenko continued, “now Russian political technologists are forcefully promoting the theme of “the fall of the empire’s prestige if it does not save Transdniestria.’”

            They are doing so, he suggested by arguing that “behind the back of Moldova stands Romania, and behind its, the United States and NATO.” Consequently, Ukrainian officials are viewing what takes place in Transdniestria as “a litmus test” of Russia’s broader intentions against Ukraine.

            Filipenko said that there are real concerns that Moscow may be able to send “provocateurs” into Odessa from Transdniestria, a fear that has led Ukrainian officials to go on the alert at the border and in the city and region.  Moreover, Ukrainians are worried not only about that but about economic and even military “interference.”

            In the event of a blockade of the railway passing through Transdniestria, Ukrainian firms would suffer enormously, and Kyiv is concerned that there are enough Russian forces and support groups in Transdniestria to cause trouble for its southeast, even though most Ukrainian attention to the Russian threat is focused on the east.

            Levko devoted most of the remainder of her article to the arrangements Ukrainian officials, military, border guards, and prosecutors, have put in place against a thrust against the republic that so far relatively few outside that region are paying attention to, although as she suggested they may soon be forced to redirect their focus.

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