Putin issues chilling threat as despot’s next target laid bare – Troops already on ground

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While the Kremlin continues to peddle the line its invasion of Ukraine is a “special military operation” trying to “denazify” the country, leaders across the West have called it out for what it is – an imperial-style invasion, seeking to bring Ukraine back under Russian rule. Moldova was part of the Soviet Union until it dissolved in 1991, and today’s speech by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggests it may be next in the firing line after he made a threat against any resistance to Russian rule in a pro-Kremlin part of the country which already has “peacekeeping troops” on the ground.

Speaking at a meeting with students and lecturers of MGIMO University, Lavrov said: “Everyone should understand that any move posing a threat to the safety of our peacekeepers [in Transnistria] will be considered in line with the international law as an attack on Russia, just like it was in South Ossetia, when [then-President of Georgia Mikhail] Saakashvili attacked our peacekeepers”.

Lavrov also promised to “do everything to protect the Russian-speaking population of Moldova and Transnistria.”

The foreign secretary also highlighted that a group of military servicemen remains stationed in the country to guard the largest arms depot in Europe, located near the residential area of Kolbasna. The unrecognised Transnistrian republic declared itself separate to Moldova on September 2, 1990.

It has a predominantly Russian-speaking population, and has been negotiating with Chisinau ever since armed conflict between the two erupted in 1992. The conflict was ended by the intervention of Russian soldiers, which Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported as “peacekeepers” – much the same as the language used to describe Russian soldiers entering Ukraine in the build-up to the February 24 invasion.

The declaration of a potential threat to the people of Transnistria mirrors the justification given for moving Russian troops into the self-proclaimed independent, pro-Russia Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine just before the start of the invasion.

This move was widely seen as a major escalation of tensions and a precursor for the war. Tobias Ellwood, Chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, has previously raised the alarm over the threat to Moldova from Putin.

In a Twitter video on July 21, Mr Ellwood outlined the similarities between Moldova and Ukraine – including the presence of what he described as a “breakaway enclave” in Transnistria. While it does not share a land border with Russia, Putin’s advance through areas of eastern and southern Ukraine has edged towards Moldovan territories, which sit inland from the Western bank of the Black Sea.

Mr Ellwood said Moldova is “nervous” as it runs the risk of becoming “the new frontline” if Russia turns its sights on Odessa after Donbas.

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He added: “Putin has made no secret of his desire to expand Russian influence back into old Soviet Union Territory. The situation is all the more precarious, given the breakaway enclave of Transnistria in the north, effectively run by the Russians.”

Mr Ellwood added that Putin felt “threatened” by Moldova’s ties to the West. He accused the international community of “missing the boat with Ukraine” by failing to offer adequate support, and pleaded with the West to “not make the same mistake again”.

CIA director William Burns told the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado that Putin is “a big believer in control, intimidation and getting even,” adding the despot “is convinced his destiny as Russia’s leader is to restore Russia as a great power”.

US President Joe Biden said of Putin in February: “I’ve read most of everything he’s written. He has much larger ambitions in Ukraine. He wants to, in fact, reestablish the former Soviet Union. That’s what this is about.”

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Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov hinted strongly in June that Russia did not want Moldova getting closer to the West.

He said: “There is nothing to say about Ukraine here, everything is clear there, but now we see Moldova, which wants to become Europeans more than the Europeans themselves.”

He added that Moldova “for some reason associates this candidate status with anti-Russianness. The more they become anti-Russian, they think that the more Europeans should like them.”

The threat was made clear when Mr Peskov added: “We would really not want this to happen.” Moldova is not a member of NATO or the EU, but applied to join the latter just two weeks after Putin launched his offensive in Ukraine.



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