From disinformation spread by propaganda regarding the imminence of a war in Transnistria, Russia has now moved to official statements about Ukraine’s plans to invade the separatist region of the Republic of Moldova. Transnistria seems to be used to draw attention away from Russia’s plan to destabilize Moldova, as well as from the defeats sustained in Ukraine. Besides, the pro-Russian opposition in Chișinău could take advantage of the panic induced by the prospect of war.
Russia’s statements about a possible attack on Transnistria, disproved even by Tiraspol
For over two years, Russian propaganda has been promoting the metanarrative about an imminent attack on Transnistria, which has taken several forms – the attack will be launched either by the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, the United States, Poland or various alliances these countries are part of. On February 23, this metanarrative became official rhetoric when the Russian Defense Ministry stated that Ukraine was planning an attack. Although the Republic of Moldova denied the accusation, the Russian Foreign Ministry on February 24 issued another press release, which stated that, from Moscow’s point of view, any attack on Russian troops in Transnistria is an attack on the Russian Federation itself.
Over the course of the two days, Chișinău authorities pointed out that situation in the region remains stable, and urged Moldovan citizens to get their information only from “official and reliable” sources, according to the First Source (Prima Sursă) Telegram channel of the Government of the Republic of Moldova.
“Our institutions are working with international partners, and should any threats to our national security arise, we will inform the public without delay”, the government wrote on Telegram.
In turn, Ukraine’s presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, told Radio Moldova that Ukraine would never undertake any aggressive action on the territory of the Republic of Moldova without consulting directly with the Republic of Moldova and European Union members. Podolyak said Ukraine supports the Moldovan Government and that any decision to settle the Transnistrian conflict rests exclusively with the Moldovan side.
“Don’t ever listen to what the Russian Defense Ministry has to say. They have a consistent and primitive way of using the same narratives about alleged challenges (…) The dependency on Russia, including in economic terms, will always generate poverty and political instability. The decision to settle the Transnistrian crisis belongs to Moldova alone. De jure, Moldova must address president Zelensky if it needs Ukraine’s help, and in turn the Ukrainian president will need to make a decision. I repeat, Ukraine will never advance any initiative without consulting with Moldova, Romania and European Union countries. As regards instigations, the only country capable of doing that in Moldova and which will certainly take action in Transnistria is the Russian Federation”.
Even the separatist leader in Tiraspol, Vadim Krasnoselsky, urged the population to stay calm and gave assurances that he would personally come forward if any threat arises. Krasnoselsky seems to have referred in rather uncertain terms to the latest posts on dozens of Telegram channels in support of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which announced that Ukrainian tanks and troops have started moving towards Transnistria. Shots were allegedly fired in Cobsana, the town home to depots of Soviet-era weapons, and Ukrainian drones are supposedly already overflying Transnistria.
Klaus Iohannis expressed readiness to support the Republic of Moldova “in any scenario”, and suggested Romania could also offer military help
The information regarding Ukraine’s military challenges in Transnistria originally turned out to be fakes that had been promoted in the past as well. The timing of their reassertion seems to have been picked to coincide with Maia Sandu’s visit to Bucharest, where she was scheduled to hold bilateral talks with president Klaus Iohannis, who in turn condemned the external threats to the Republic of Moldova, the attempts at destabilizing this country and Moscow’s hybrid actions.
Klaus Iohannis said Bucharest wants to help the Republic of Moldova consolidate its resilience in order to deal with external threats both directly, as well as via mechanisms operated by the European Union and NATO.
Maia Sandu’s meeting in Bucharest with president Iohannis followed shortly after the B9 summit in Warsaw, where leaders of countries on NATO’s eastern flank convened in a meeting also attended by US president Joe Biden.
At the end of the summit, Klaus Iohannis made a statement which came as a surprise to many political pundits.
Answering a question about guarantees and assurances Romania can give to the Republic of Moldova, Klaus Iohannis said Bucharest will continue to support Chișinău “if the situation so requires”.
“Romania is not just ready, but also willing to support Moldova, I repeat, in any scenario. The nature of this support will obviously depend on geopolitical developments. Right now, you are well aware we are providing gas, electricity, etc., we help Moldova reform its institutions, but we are willing, and I am personally willing, to go even further, if the situation so requires”.
Klaus Iohannis’s statement is not just an expression of support for the Republic of Moldova, but also a warning to anyone who continues to destabilize Chișinău, Romanian political theorist Cristian Pârvulescu said, arguing that Iohannis actually referred to military support Romania might provide Moldova if necessary:
“This means that regardless of the type of intervention Russia will resort to, but we can imagine that Russia will try to destabilize the Republic of Moldova, including by using military force, deploying troops to Transnistria. Even in such an event, Romania will support Moldova. To those who want to risk destabilizing the Republic of Moldova, Klaus Iohannis conveyed a clear message. […] Romania has prepared a number of scenarios to support the Republic of Moldova, including the delivery of military assistance. Hopefully it won’t get to that, although tension is growing by the day”.
Presumably, it is no coincidence the Romanian president’s statement followed the B9 summit, and that security developments in the Republic of Moldova as well as the potential role Bucharest might play were discussed during the meeting.
The fake news about a possible Ukrainian attack in Transnistria seek to divert public attention from Russia’s failures
The Republic of Moldova came to the attention of Western politicians and media particularly after the statements made by Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the European Council meeting of February 9. At the time, the Kyiv leader said Ukrainian secret services had intercepted a secret Russian plan to destabilize the Republic of Moldova through subversive actions, and that he had notified president Maia Sandu. Days later, Maia Sandu confirmed the existence of such a plan and said it sought to topple the Moldovan government in order to “subordinate Moldova to Russia”.
Maia Sandu said that plan is to attack state institutions in the Republic of Moldova, by taking people hostage as part of protest actions staged by the opposition.
These violent protests would be attended by “diversionists with military training, camouflaged in civilian clothes” and other foreigners. Moldova had allegedly intercepted orders to infiltrate the Republic of Moldova received by citizens of the Russian Federation, Belarus, Serbia and Montenegro.
After Maia Sandu went public with details about the plan, several Western officials, including US president Joe Biden, have expressed support for the Republic of Moldova and its European track.
As expected, Russia denied any involvement in such actions, but instead the Kremlin said relations with the Republic of Moldova “are very strained” and brought up Transnistria, which within the space of a few days became the headline-grabbing event regarding Moldova, whereas the story about the attempted coup lost media exposure.
Moldovan analysts and officials also say that, by talking about Transnistria, the Kremlin wants to divert the attention of world audiences, including in Russia, from the serious difficulties facing Moscow at present.
“The purpose of such statements is to generate unrest and draw away public attention from defeats on the battlefield and from the UN General Assembly. This is part of Russia’s hybrid warfare, which points to no real threat”, Oazu Nanto, an Action and Solidarity MP close to Maia Sandu told Yevropeiska Pravda in an interview.
Aside from attempting to turn public attention away from Russia’s diplomatic and military failures, Russia could also seek to spread panic in Moldovan society, and capitalize on the new context to multiply its disinformation and fake news revolving around the metanarrative according to which the current Moldovan administration, led by Maia Sandu, risks involving the Republic of Moldova in a war against Russia. It’s worth pointing out that three of the top false narratives promoted in the Republic of Moldova in 2022 are about Moldova’s involvement in the war, attacking Transnistria and the Moldovan government’s Russophobia.
Combined with the protests staged by the opposition, particularly the party controlled by the wanted oligarch Ilan Shor (who is reportedly tied to the Russian FSB intelligence service), the narratives in question seem to have been designed to discredit the current pro-European power in the Republic of Moldova. At any rate, Moscow has shown it treats ex-Soviet republics as vassals that need to stay in its orbit. Any serious rapprochement with Euro-Atlantic space in liberal democracies that have expressed their commitment towards a set of values that is incompatible with those promoted by the Kremlin is punished either through hybrid actions or military force, as in the case of Georgia and Ukraine.