Will Russia attack Moldova? Why there are fears Putin will escalate Ukraine war with invasion of Transnistria

Reports of explosions in Transnistria, a Moscow-backed separatist region of Moldova bordering Ukraine, is prompting concern that the war could be spreading.

Moldova has called on its citizens to remain calm and has stepped up security measures.

Transnistria’s security council declared a red terrorism alert level on Tuesday meaning heightened security in the territory.

Separatist authorities have claimed Ukrainian “infiltrators” were responsible.

Kyiv has suggested the attacks were “false flag” operations carried out by Russian special forces units to create unrest in Moldova.

Here is what we know.

What has happened in Transnistria?

According to Transnistria authorities, explosions on Monday and Tuesday targeted their state security headquarters in the main city Tiraspol; radio masts used to broadcast Russian news; and a military unit in the village Parcani, just outside Tiraspol.

It said that on Wednesday “shots were fired” at a village, where a Russian arms depot is located, claiming that “several drones” had flown over from Ukraine.

The Transnistria interior ministry said: “On the morning of April 27 at 8.45am (5.45am GMT) shots were fired from the Ukrainian side towards Kolbasna.

“The drones were launched onto the territory of Transnistria from Ukraine.”

No casualties have been reported.

According to the Guardian, on Tuesday residents in Transnistria received fake SMS texts warning of an imminent Ukrainian attack.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has blamed Russian special services for the attacks.

Where is Transnistria?

It is a separatist Russian-backed enclave in Moldova located between the Dniester River and the Ukrainian border.

Transnistria is around 60km (around 37 miles) from the Black Sea port of Odesa.

In 1990, Transnistria proclaimed independence from Moldova, however, this self-declared independence is not recognised by the international community.

After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, tensions between Transnistria and Moldova culminated in the Transnistria War which intensified in 1992 and claimed the lives of 700 people.

In that same year, a ceasefire was signed. This was enforced by the Russian troops stationed in Transnistria.

There are around 1,500 Russian troops in Transnistria. Russia says they are there as “peacekeepers”.

How has Moldova responded?

Moldova’s President, Maia Sandu, held an emergency meeting of her security council on Tuesday following the blasts.

After the meeting, Ms Sandu said: “These escalation attempts stem from factions from within the Transnistrian region who are pro-war forces and interested in destabilising the situation in the region.

She added: “This makes the Transnistrian region vulnerable and poses risks to the Republic of Moldova.”

Moldova’s Foreign Minister, Nicu Popescu, said Transnistria had announced men of fighting age would be prevented from leaving the region and added: “This is a sign we are not yet out of the potential danger zone”.

He said: “Our primary duty is to maintain peace in Moldova. Moldova should not be drawn into any type of military scenario in this region.”

Transnistria’s President, Vadim Krasnoselsky, has called these comments “absurd lies” and “fantasies… that have nothing to do with reality”.

Moldova, Europe’s poorest nation, is not a member of Nato.

What does Ukraine say?

On Tuesday President Zelensky said: “The goal is obvious – to destabilise the situation in the region, to threaten Moldova. They show that if Moldova supports Ukraine, there will be certain steps.

“But we understand their capabilities, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are ready for this and are not afraid of them.”

Mykhaylo Podolyak, a Ukraine presidential aide, wrote on Twitter: “Russia wants to destabilise the Transnistrian region.

Referring to Moldova’s capital, he added: “If Ukraine falls, tomorrow Russian troops will be at Chisinau’s gates.”

What does Russia say?

The Kremlin says the situation “is a cause for concern” and that it is watching the situation closely.

It has said that Russian speakers in Moldova are being oppressed – a claim it also used to justify the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

On Friday Russian general Rustam Minnekayev said: “Control over the south of Ukraine is another way out to Transnistria, where there are also cases of oppression of the Russian-speaking population”.

And the rest of the world?

The United Nations and the United States have warned of the rising tensions in the Transnistria region of Moldova.

A UN spokesman said that UN Secretary-General António Guterres “is following with concern reports of new security incidents in the Transnistrian region of Moldova”.

The US state department spokesman Ned Price echoed these concerns.

“We fully support Moldova’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” he said.

Meanwhile, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace backed Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s speech last night which called for Russian forces to be pushed out of the whole of Ukraine.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re prepared to help Ukraine stand by its sovereignty and defend itself however long that may take.

“There is no difference in the position of the United Kingdom since 2014, which is when Ukraine as a sovereign nation was invaded both in Crimea… and Donetsk.

“That needs to stop, that needs to be reversed.”

Mr Wallace told Sky News Vladimir Putin risks becoming a “cancerous growth” in Ukraine and that Britain needed to help drive his troops from the country like a “limpet off the rock”.

His comments follow President Putin’s warning that nations interfering in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will face a “lightning-fast” response from Moscow.

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