by Mark Porter, Edinburgh April 27 2022
- Two explosions destroyed two radio antennas in the disputed Moldovan region of Transnistria yesterday
- A Day earlier, explosions reportedly hit the Ministry of State Security in the breakaway region
- Transnistria, a region on the border with Ukraine, is recognised internationally as part of Moldova
Russia is trying to destabilise Moldova’s breakaway region that borders Ukraine with hybrid attacks after a series of explosions rocked the country’s Russian-controlled separatist enclave of Transnistria.
Ukrainian and Moldovan officials are warning that Russia looks poised to launch ‘false flag’ attacks to justify invading the territory. The explosions destroyed two powerful Soviet-era radio antennas that were re-broadcasting Russian stations in the region of Transnistria, an unrecognised Moscow-backed sliver of land bordering southwestern Ukraine, on Tuesday.
The blasts occurred in the small town of Maiac roughly 12 kilometers (7 miles) west of the border with Ukraine, just days after a Kremlin military chief warned that ‘Russian-speakers’ had been ‘oppressed’ there.
Transnistria, which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists and permanently hosts 1,500 Russian troops as well as a large arms depot, borders western Ukraine.
A day earlier, several explosions believed to be caused by rocket-propelled grenades were reported to hit the Ministry of State Security in the city of Tiraspol, the region’s capital. No one was hurt in the explosions, officials said.
On Tuesday, a military unit in the village of Parcani was also targeted. Officials did not offer any details on the incident, but declared a ‘red level of terrorist threat’ and promised to impose additional security measures in the region.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak accused Russia of trying to destabilise Transnistria and warned that ‘if Ukraine falls tomorrow, Russian troops will be at Chisinau’, the Moldovan capital.
“Russia wants to destabilise the Transnistrian region and hints Moldova should wait for ‘guests’,” Podolyak said. “Good news, Ukraine will definitely ensure strategic security of the region. But we need to work as a team.”
Citing surveillance of Russia’s spy agency FSB operating in the country, another Ukrainian intelligence official said: “They have a plan to destabilise Moldova, and the operation is likely to peak around May 9,” when Russia commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Germany in the second world war.
“Russia can attack Moldova at any time. They have this option on the table,” the official said. Moldova’s pro-EU government, led by President Maia Sandu, is aware of FSB activities and is preparing to counter possible efforts by Moscow to attempt political destabilisation activities in the coming weeks, according to two officials briefed on internal discussions.
“Politics, energy, Transnistria: they are all options for them,” said one of the officials.
Russia said last week that its new goals for the nine-week-long invasion of Ukraine included capturing the country’s southern coastline and creating “another way” to Transnistria.
Western intelligence officials have already warned that Moscow could use troops stationed in the separatist region to stage attacks on Ukraine.
The wearing or display of the ribbon of St George, a traditional military symbol of Russian patriotism, was outlawed by Moldova’s parliament earlier this month. The ribbon is typically worn by people marking the May 9 anniversary, so the ban sets up possible clashes with Russia-leaning citizens.
Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman, said of the claims of Russian meddling in the country: “This looks like yet another fake.” Moldova’s government declined to comment.
Fears of the use of ‘false-flag’ attacks in nearby nations as a pretext for sending in troops has been the subject of repeated warnings by US intelligence.
Last week, Kremlin military chief Rustam Minnekayev said Russia sought control of southern Ukraine, which could provide access to Transnistria, ‘where there have been cases of oppression of the Russian-speaking population’.
Minnekayev, the deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, said Moscow planned to forge a corridor between Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014, and the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.
Moldova’s foreign ministry summoned Russia’s ambassador over the comments, which it called ‘unfounded and contradicting Russia’s position in support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country within internationally recognised borders’.
The suggestion by a senior Russian official that Moscow needs to defend supporters in a nearby country is a chilling echo of its previous justification for invading Ukraine.
And today, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia is closely following events in Transnistria, adding that news from the region was a cause for serious concern.
Moldova’s president Maia Sandu said the attacks in Transnistria were an attempt by factions within the territory to increase tensions, as she urged the country’s citizens to remain calm.
Speaking after Moldova’s Security Council held an urgent meeting, Sandu said: ‘From the information we have at this moment, 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 said the security council had recommended improving the combat readiness of security forces, increasing the number of patrols and checks near Moldova’s border with Transnistria, and monitoring critical infrastructure more closely.
Sandu said: ‘We urge citizens to keep calm and feel safe,’ while urging authorities to tighten public safety measures and protection of critical infrastructure.
Transnistria’s president, Vadim Krasnoselsky, also called on Tuesday for anti-terrorist security measures to be imposed at a ‘red level’ for 15 days, including setting up blockposts at the entrances to cities.
The Moldovan authorities are sensitive to any sign of growing tensions in Transnistria, especially since Russia invaded their neighbour Ukraine.
Transnistria, a strip of land with about 470,000 people between Moldova and Ukraine, is recognised internationally as part of Moldova but is effectively controlled by Russia, which has given citizenship to separatists.
An estimated 1,500 Russian troops are permanently stationed in the Transnistria, but concerns are high that the region could be used as a launch pad for new attacks on Ukraine.
Russia’s military base still guards a stockpile of some 20,000 tonnes of munitions which were brought there when Soviet troops withdrew from Europe.
In the early hours of Tuesday, two explosions hit a radio tower re-broadcasting Russian stations near the Ukrainian border.
‘Early on April 26, two explosions were heard in the village of Mayak in Grigoriopolsky district,’it said in a statement.
It said the blasts at 6:40 am and 7:05 am (0340 GMT and 0405 GMT) targeted the ‘Mayak’ radio centre, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the regional capital Tiraspol.