Bullets and Choices
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Moldovans looking to the east can see smoke on the horizon as Ukrainian troops fend off Russia’s invasion, the Scotsman newspaper recently reported. As a result, one can understand why many in the former Soviet republic wedged between Romania and Ukraine feel as if they might be next.
“For decades, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova have been in the same geopolitical boat, living uneasily next to a neighbor with a long history of violence,” wrote Sergi Kapanadze, a Georgian journalist and former politician, for the Center for European Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC. “They were bullied by Russia, changed governments despite or because of Russia’s intervention in their domestic affairs, and had problems with democratic development and security.”
Russia currently has 1,300 troops stationed in Transnistria, a Moldovan region where Russian-backed forces staged an insurrection in the early 1990s. As Foreign Policy magazine explained, a ceasefire was reached in 1992 but the conflict has yet to be resolved. Today, Russia subsidizes Transnistria’s economy and has given many of its residents Russian passports.
Holding sway in Transnistria serves a few purposes for Russian President Vladimir Putin. It gives him influence in Moldova, a largely Romanian-speaking country that has ties to the West. It serves to prevent Moldova from joining NATO, whose rules say that members can’t join the alliance if they have contested borders, as Clark University Political Scientist Valerie Sperling noted. Lastly, it might satisfy Putin and other Russians’ aspiration to knit the former Soviet Union back together again – an initial objective in the invasion of Ukraine.
Unsurprisingly, many Moldovans, therefore, fear that Putin has designs on expanding his control in their country – and feel as if they have been compelled to make a black-or-white choice between East and West, the Washington Post wrote.
They appear to be choosing the West. In early March, Moldovans officially submitted their application to join the European Union, a move that Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița called a vote for “freedom.” The country has little interest in joining NATO and antagonizing Russia, however, added Al Jazeera, and would likely remain neutral in the event it joined the EU, like Austria, Ireland and other nations.
The 370,000 Ukrainian migrants who have been pouring into the country of about 3 million in the past month seem to be solidifying these plans. An obvious Russian disinformation campaign that paints the Ukrainian migrants as ungrateful and dangerous might have further soured some Moldovans on Russia, too, the Guardian reported.
When the bullets start flying, choices become clearer.