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Editor’s Note: The following report is excerpted from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the premium online newsletter published by the founder of WND. Subscriptions are $99 a year or, for monthly trials, just $9.95 per month for credit card users, and provide instant access for the complete reports.
WASHINGTON – There is growing concern in the West that Russia’s next move following its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula will be Transnistria, a split-away province of the former Soviet province of Moldova, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Transnistria, an autonomous region within Moldova, seeks independence from the country but, given that the majority of the population there is of Russian ethnicity, some 2,000 Russian peace keepers are in the region. They’ve been there since 1992.
In that year, a conflict broke out between the Moldova government and ethnic Russians. However, a ceasefire was worked out, leading to establishment of a demilitarized zone enforced by Russian troops.
The concern in the West is that the Kremlin will be looking to “stabilize” the region, following its annexation of Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t discouraging the prospect.
From a strategic standpoint, Moldova is located between Russia, Turkey and countries of the European Union.
“There’s absolutely sufficient Russian force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transnistria if the decision was made to do that, and that is very worrisome,” Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, told International Business Times.
“The Russian force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready,” Breedlove said.
Western estimates are that the Russians have amassed some 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern border. They reportedly are conducting maneuvers, as they did just prior to the 2008 Russian attack on Georgia and then the March 2014 takeover of Crimea.
One of the issues encouraging Putin possibly to take action is that Transnistria relies on imports through Ukraine, which is blocking those imports to the predominantly ethnic Russian population.
According to Moscow, continued blockage will “significantly complicate the living conditions for the region’s residents, impeding their movement and normal trade and economic activities.”
In recent days, the United States has offered $10 million to Moldova to help secure its borders with Ukraine.
Warnings by the Kremlin about protecting ethnic Russians have served as a basis for its subsequent military action in Georgia and Crimea, with the prospect that a similar scenario could be repeated for Transnistria.
There are supposed to be further talks between the Russians and Europeans on Transnistria, which is considered to be one of a number of “frozen conflicts” that came into being following the end of the Cold War.
With Transnistria still being part of Moldova, which looks westward to be part of the European Union and free trade agreements, there is an effort inside the region to join Moscow, much as Crimea has done.
They want to join Russia’s customs-free Eurasian Union, which many observers believe is Putin’s attempt to resurrect the former Soviet Union.
In his phone call over the weekend to U.S. President Barack Obama, who was visiting Saudi Arabia at the time, Putin hinted that Transnistria would be next, given the lackluster western response to his annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, the Kremlin suggested.
According to a Kremlin readout of the conversation, “Vladimir Putin also pointed out that Transnistria is essentially experiencing a blockade, which significantly complicate[s] the living conditions for the region’s residents, impeding their movement and normal trade and economic activities. He stressed that Russia stands for the fair and comprehensive settlement of the Transnistria conflict and hopes for effective work in the existing 5+2 negotiation format.”
The Kremlin readout also said: “The two leaders continued exchanging views on the crisis in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin drew Barack Obama’s attention to continued rampage of extremists who are committing acts of intimidation towards peaceful residents, government authorities and law enforcement agencies in various regions and in Kiev with impunity. In light of this, the president of Russia suggested examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilize the situation. The two presidents agreed that specific parameters for this joint work will be discussed by the Russian and US foreign ministers in the near future.”
As in Transnistria, the autonomous republic of Gagauzia in Moldova held a referendum last February to decide whether it wanted to integrate in the EU or with Russia. According to reporting, some 98.4 percent of voters chose closer ties with Russia and its Eurasian Union. In that same referendum, some 97 percent were opposed to joining the EU.
There’s some question whether Gagauzia will actually seek to split, but it does complicate Moldova’s integration plans, as well as other countries in the EU-Russian periphery, according to regional experts.
Of Moldova’s total population of 3.4 million, the ethnically Turkic Gagauz number fewer than 150,000 people.
Just as the West is concerned with Russian troops amassing on Ukraine’s eastern border, Russian troop occupation in Transnistria poses a potential threat to western Ukraine.
Transnistria is seen as a real threat by regional experts, since it has one of the largest Russian arms stockpiles in Eastern Europe.