Who’s involved: Moldovan Government, Romanian Government, Russian Government, Ukrainian Government, separatist movement in Russian-speaking Transnistria, European Union, NATO
In light of Russia’s attempts to destabilize the Republic of Moldova, Moldovan Prime Minister, Dorin Recean, visited Romania on 01/03/2023 as his first official visit abroad since entering office.
Romanian Prime Minister, Nicolae Ciuca, has reassured Moldova of Romania’s unwavering support for the preservation of Moldovan sovereignty and territorial integrity. He has also pledged Romania’s assistance for Recean’s ambitious reforms to consolidate the Moldovan economy and the resilience of state security, as well as advancing Moldova’s pro-EU agenda.
This echoes Romanian President Klaus Iohannis’ announcement at the B9 Summit in Warsaw on 22/02/2023 that Romania is not only willing but prepared to back Moldova whatever the circumstances.
On 28/02/2023 there were more protests in Moldova’s capital city, Chișinău, instigated by the pro-Russian ȘOR Party. Thousands of protesters marched through the streets demanding the resignation of President Maia Sandu and denouncing possible involvement in the war in Ukraine.
Amid threats of a Russian coup d’état, Russian political agitators have been discovered posing as protesters by Moldovan journalists. The municipality of Chișinău has therefore temporarily restricted mass gatherings.
Pavel Verejanu, the Mayor of Orhei and a prominent member of the ȘOR Party, along with other figures of the Moldovan political underworld have paid a visit to Russia between 22-26 February. Russia hosted a series of meetings on cooperation where allegedly the protests in Chișinău and Moldovan local elections were discussed.
Chișinău has called on the European Union to adopt sanctions against Moldovan oligarchs with ties to the Russian government. Moreover, Chișinău has also asked for help to consolidate its defenses.
The Moldovan Parliament is debating 2 draft laws which are meant to increase the Intelligence and Security Service’s powers to combat Russian disinformation campaigns and counter foreign intelligence activities.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has officially declared that tensions in the region are being deliberately stoked up by Kiev. Moscow has thus accused Kiev of transporting radioactive materials around Odessa in order to stage an attack on the break-away region of Transnistria.
Tiraspol has launched a recruitment campaign in Transnistria for an apparent “peacekeeping” mission. This is a paramilitary contingent formed of Russian soldiers, Moldavian soldiers, and Transnistrian separatist forces. All able-bodied men under the age of 55 have been called upon to register for military service.
Tiraspol has also announced a three month military exercise beginning on 01/03/2023 for its “peacekeeping” contingent.
Ukraine has confirmed sending an adequate number of troops along the Transnistrian border to prevent a possible Russian attack on Moldovan territory.
Out of security concerns, Moldova’s air space briefly closed on 14/02/2023. As of 27/02/2023, Wizz Air announced that it will suspend its flights to Moldova from 14/03/2023.
Moldova has emphasized its special relationship with Romania after Prime Minister Recean’s most recent visit to Bucharest. Following pledges of support from both the Romanian President and Prime Minister, a Russian military attack on Moldova is highly unlikely because that would also trigger a Romanian military response and draw NATO into the conflict. So far, Russia has shown no intention of wishing to provoke NATO into a direct military confrontation because such a scenario would be too much of a risk considering Russia’s current strategic position. Moreover, the implications for international security would be disastrous
On the other hand, Russia may be using hybrid warfare to cause instability in Moldova as a deceptive tactic to encourage Kiev to divert its troops away from the Donbass. Therefore, by creating security threats on the Transnistrian border using its bellicose political rhetoric, Russia may be trying to weaken Ukrainian defenses in the East since Ukraine will now have to build up its forces in the Odessa region. Russia may have no intention of opening up a second front West of Ukraine but rather to blur the boundary between war and peace so that it can create chaos and confusion so that it may open up strategic opportunities to break through Ukrainian lines in the Donbass.
The most probable scenario is that the ȘOR Party may be plotting a violent uprising in the hopes of launching a Russian-backed coup d’état. Considering that Russia interprets hybrid warfare as the Western way of war, Russia may be trying to emulate a CIA-style orchestration of foreign regime change. Verejeanu’s visit to Russia right before the start of the second round of protests in February 2023 suggests that the leaders of the ȘOR Party may have received instructions directly from the Kremlin on preparing the ground for a strike against Moldova’s pro-Western government. Indeed, Russia may try to install the fugitive Russophile Ilan Shor in power, so that it may redress the balance of power in Eastern Europe by thwarting Moldova’s progression towards the European Union and severing its ties with the West.
Moldova has renounced its position of passive neutrality and has taken proactive steps towards the defense of its peoples and territory. Responding to Russia’s strategy of hybrid warfare, the Moldovan government is taking steps to increase the resilience of the Moldovan informational space. The Moldovan Intelligence and Security service should have more powers enshrined in law which would improve its effectiveness at identifying and exposing Russian subversive narratives aimed at manipulating the Moldovan population. Hopefully, Moldova will succeed in clearing its political sphere of Russian-backed oligarchs by sanctioning and removing these actors from its territory with the help of the EU.
Tensions between Chișinău and Tiraspol are likely to rise throughout the duration of the Russo-Ukrainian War. The recent recruitment campaign and military activity in the area implies that the Tiraspol government is on high alert, harboring suspicions of an attack. As Transnistria feels increasingly isolated due to the war in Ukraine, the frozen conflict in Moldova may become active. Transnistria is home to the Cobasna ammunition depot which is the largest ammunition depot in Eastern Europe containing a significant amount of Soviet-era weapons. Moreover, Russia also maintains a consistent military presence in Transnistria, enough to pose a serious security threat to both Moldova and Ukraine.
Russia is conducting a hybrid warfare campaign in Moldova, however, this is mainly done via indirect action. Therefore, the likelihood of a military incursion on Moldovan territory is very low. The most likely scenario, nevertheless, is that Russia may attempt to stage a coup d’état in Chișinău in order to establish a pro-Russian government that would expand its sphere of influence in the region. Over the next few months, considerable social unrest and a deterioration of the security situation can be expected in Moldova due to spillover effects of the war in Ukraine in light of Russia’s aggressive political agenda.
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