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Intel Brief: Gagauzia, Moldova Seeks Russian Support



Date: 08/03/2024


Who’s involved:

  • Moldova, Gagauzia, Transnistria, Russian Federation, Turkey, France, Romania






What happened?


  • On 07/03/2024 Moldova signed a cooperation agreement with France on defense matters among reports of increasing destabilization  efforts, such as disinformation and cyber attacks, by Russia against the country.

  • On 05/03/2024 Moldovan authorities denounced plans by the Russian Federation to increase destabilizing activities in the country in 2024 to push the country away from its pro-EU path and closer to Russia ahead of the planned November elections. In February 2023 Moldova accused Russia of plotting a coup to overthrow the current pro-EU government. 

  • Situated in the south of Moldova, Gagauzia is an autonomous territorial unit populated by a Turkic ethnic minority. Under the Soviet Union, Gagauzia already sought independence from Moldova. In 1995, Gagauzia was awarded autonomy by the government of the newly independent Moldova, with guarantees enshrined in the Moldovan Constitution. The population and the government of Gagauzia have always taken a pro-Russian stance as they retain cultural, linguistic and economic ties with the Russian Federation. 

  • On 06/03/2024 Evghenia Gutul, the leader of Gagauzia, met with Putin in Moscow and asked for support and described the central Moldovan government as economically and politically oppressive towards the Gagauz people. Moldova’s prosecutor general announced legal action against Gutul for her involvement in unspecified illegal actions.

  • In 2014 Gagauzia held a referendum on its international stance. The referendum was considered illegitimate by Moldovan authorities. Voters overwhelmingly rejected closer political integration with the European Union in favor of joining the Russia-led CIS Customs Union. They also supported the region’s right to declare independence if Moldova loses its independence, likely referring to talks of a possible Romania-Moldova reunification.

  • Transnistria, a region de facto independent, has also shown pro-Russian views. The majority of the citizens are in favor of joining the Russian Federation, which has a strong influence on the local economy. Since the 1990s Transnistria has hosted 1,500 Russian troops and arms depots dating back to the Soviet Union. Russia is also involved in the management of the local army and secret services. Leaders of Transnistria asked Russia for protection, as did Gagauzia, in late February 2024. Half of the population of Transnistria has Russian nationality or a Russian passport and is allowed to vote in the Russian elections. Moldova is however trying to stop the Russian embassy from handing out ballots. 

  • In recent years Russia and Turkey have been in competition with each other over who has more control in Gagauzia. With the inhabitants being of Turkic origin, even though they are Christians, Turkey feels that it has cultural ties with the region. By investing in schools where the Gagauzian language is spoken and by investing in cultural heritage institutions Turkey has increased its role in Gagauzia. In the meantime Turkey has been complaining about Russia trying to turn Gagauzia into a Russian speaking enclave.

 

Analysis:


  • With the invasion of Ukraine advancing only slightly Russia seems to want to divert attention away from Ukraine and is starting to entice other “Russian break-away” regions to be more vocal about their desires to join the Russian Federation. Not only is Russia openly supporting the Moldovan region of Transnistria, but it has also supported the Gagauzian pro-Russian groups more openly. This in combination with the announcement of the opening of a new naval base in the break-away republic of Abkhazia in Georgia seems to be part of a strategy from President Putin to advance his “Greater Russia” plans. A military confrontation between Russia and Moldova could mean that Romania and the rest of the EU and NATO may be involved. This will stretch EU and NATO resources across a long dividing line through Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. There is a chance that Russia will take advantage of this situation by getting the West to agree on more autonomy for Transnistria and Gagauzia in an attempt to prevent a military confrontation.

  • France and Romania have openly stated that they will help Moldova reinforce its military, but it seems that the focus lies more on a defense basis than on offensive capabilities. Moldova is not equipped to fight Russian and pro-Russian forces in Transnistria and Gagauzia and it is not likely that France and Romania will militarily intervene if the break-away regions announce total autonomy or even claim membership of the Russian Federation.

  • It is likely that Russia will increase its pressure on Moldova by more openly supporting Transnistria and Gagauzia through means of propaganda, cyber attacks, election tampering and, not unlikely, violent action through various means like sabotage, terrorism or even sending Russian troops into the regions to “protect” the pro-Russian population from Moldovan “repression”. Any such action will be taken as an act of aggression by Moldova and the EU/NATO, but without an actual physical confrontation it is not likely that Russian plans will be thwarted. The EU and NATO will put pressure on Moldova to not intervene militarily as this will endanger the very fragile peace between Russia and the West.


Conclusion:


Recent Russian statements expressing support for Transnistria and Gagauzia can be interpreted as part of a wider regional strategy seeking to destabilize pro-EU countries in Eastern Europe. Even though a military confrontation is unlikely to happen, Moldova will be under increasing pressure from Russian disruptive activities to compromise the country’s ties to the European Union. The “Greater Russia” plan of President Putin has strong support in Russian and pro-Russian populations, where it is felt that all people who consider themselves to be of Russian descent have the right to join the Russian Federation and deserve military protection against perceived repression. This point of view will undoubtedly cause further unrest in the coming future as long as Putin stays in power.



 

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