According to a Telegram post of a Russian TV station, the president of the Republic of Moldova, Maia Sandu, is considering a military attack on the separatist region of Trasnistria and has tried to rally Kiev’s support. The story has prompted a true media frenzy in Chișinău and Moscow, having been redistributed by a large number of media outlets. Chișinău authorities have dismissed this scenario, which they say carries little weight.
NEWS: “The president of the Republic of Moldova, Maia Sandu, is allegedly considering a military solution for the conflict in Transnistria, the Telegram account of the TV station “НЕЗЫГАРЬ” has quoted Kiev sources. According to the post, after meeting with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, president Maia Sandu reportedly asked Ukraine for assistance in this respect.
The aforementioned source also writes that Moldova’s newly elected president also hopes to enlist the support of Romania, Poland and Great Britain. Moreover, Moldova might be negotiating with Turkey. The author of the Telegram post says this is one of the reasons why Maia Sandu wants to appoint Anatolie Nosatîi as the new Minister for Defense. Nosatîi was head of operations in the Moldovan Army’s General Staff up until 2020. Over 2014-2018, Nosatîi was a former officer with the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations in New York. He was Chief of General Staff with the Rapid Response Forces Command and the Terrestrial Forces Command, and chief of battalion at the Military Institute and commander of the 22 Peacekeeping Operations battalion.
Moreover, the author of the post writes that Anatolie Nosatîi, like most other people Sandu has promoted, was trained in the United States. He holds an MA in national security strategies from the United States National Defense University”, www.stiridinmoldova.md further notes.
The Telegram post has been shared by a long list of news portals in the Republic of Moldova, both in Russian and in Romanian, as well as by media institutions in the Russian Federation. None of these, however, has demanded an official opinion from the presidents of Moldova and/or Ukraine, and some of them have presented the story basically as a done deal, with headlines like “Chișinău is preparing the military intervention in Transnistria”.
NARRATIVES: The pro-Western leaders in Chișinău and Kiev are preparing a military intervention. NATO countries are ready to attack Transnistria and, by extension, Russia’s interests. Maia Sandu might provoke a genuine catastrophe for the Republic of Moldova.
BACKGROUND: Narratives concerning the planned military intervention of Western countries, the United States and other Moldovan political forces in the breakaway region of Transnistria, east of the Republic of Moldova, are regularly distributed by certain media outlets, especially Russian-speaking ones.
Overall, the impact of such stories is rather limited. It is quite unusual for such information, posted on a Telegram account, to be redistributed by dozens of media institutions, both in the Republic of Moldova and Russia, which is what happened in this case.
The narrative is primarily targeting Maia Sandu, who is trying to trigger snap elections in Parliament in order to build up a comfortable majority allowing her to introduce the reforms she promised in the election campaign. The early elections scenario doesn’t sit well with the other political parties, the Party of Socialists (PSRM) in particular, which enjoys closes ties with Moscow and is controlling Parliament through a well-oiled system of political alliances.
In 1992, an armed conflict broke out in the breakaway region of Transnistria between forces loyal to the central Government in Chișinău and a separatist militia backed by volunteers of the Russian 14th Army. The conflict froze in 1992, and the region has since been under separatist control. Several elements of the Russian army have remained in the region to safeguard the region’s security, despite Russia’s public commitment to withdraw and Chișinău’s repeated requests in this respect. For the Russian Federation, Transnistria remains a major bridgehead close to NATO’s external borders and the Balkans.
PURPOSE: To depict the pro-Western leaders in Kiev and Chișinău, the newly elected Moldovan President Maia Sandu in particular, as belligerent figures, ready to stir up military conflicts. To present Russia as a victim of secret agreements of certain countries that go against the country’s interests and citizens.
WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: The military capabilities of the Republic of Moldova are very limited. According to a study published in June, 2020 by the Institute for Public Policies (IPP), the Republic of Moldova is the fourth-last country in a ranking of countries in terms of government military spending by GDP (0.38%) and second-last in terms of the total share of military expenditure (1.11%).
“It’s hard to compare the competitiveness of Moldova’s armed forces at regional level and the extent to which the army is capable to reacting swiftly to potential threats to its national security”, IPP experts said.
The statement concerning the involvement of Romania, Poland and Great Britain in such a conflict doesn’t hold water either. A possible attack on the breakaway region in Eastern Moldova would certainly prompt the retaliation of the Russian Federation, who has a weapons depot and considerable forces on the ground. According to some figures, approximately 200,000 inhabitants of Transnistria are also citizens of the Russian Federation, which provides Moscow with the ideal subterfuge to invoke their interests. The three countries the source mentions are all members of NATO and none would take on such a risk.
The author of the Telegram post further argued that Maia Sandu nominated a military schooled in the United States for the position of Minister of Defense. Even if elected minister, Anatolie Nosatîi would not be the first military who studied in the United States to be appointed Moldova’s Defense Minister. The current Minister, Victor Gaiciuc, a close associate of former pro-Russian president, Igor Dodon, studied at the NATO Defense College in Rome and was Moldova’s Representative to NATO.
GRAIN OF TRUTH: Maia Sandu paid an official visit to Kiev on January 12 and held talks with Volodymyr Zelensky.
WHO STANDS TO BENEFIT: Igor Dodon would benefit from depicting Maia Sandu, his number one political opponent, as someone who is very likely to start a military conflict that would harm the Republic of Moldova. Moscow would also stand to benefit, being presented as the victim of international plots against Russia, thus helping it order the deployment of reinforcements to Transnistria or to other areas of interest.
OFFICIAL REACTIONS: The Moldovan presidency spokesperson, Sorina Ștefârță, has labeled the Telegram story as “entirely false”, despite its wide media coverage. “The story is false, through and through. There has been no such discussion in Kiev or anywhere else. Moldova’s standpoint in the matter remains firm: the conflict in Transnistria will be settled peacefully”, Sorina Ștefârță has told Veridica.ro.