Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Officials representing Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria have formally requested Russian protection amidst escalating tensions with the country’s pro-Western government.

During a rare assembly in the regional capital of Tiraspol on Wednesday, members of the Transnistrian congress petitioned the Russian Duma for support, citing the need to defend Transnistria against mounting pressure from Moldova, particularly highlighting the significant presence of over 220,000 Russian citizens in the region.

The current dispute traces back to the beginning of the year when Moldova, in its pursuit of European Union (EU) membership, implemented new customs duties on imports and exports to and from Transnistria. Located along the Ukrainian border, Transnistria is not internationally recognized as a separate entity, including by Russia, which maintains close ties with the region. Moldova’s alignment of economic legislation with the EU, while seeking full membership, has aggravated officials in Transnistria who argue that the imposed measures detrimentally impact local residents and businesses.

In a formal declaration issued on Wednesday, authorities in Tiraspol appealed to the European Parliament, the United Nations Secretary-General, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, urging them to prevent Moldova from infringing upon the rights and freedoms of Transnistrian residents. Prior to the assembly, anticipation heightened following remarks from an opposition legislator hinting at a potential bid by Transnistria to join Russia.

However, Moldova’s government dismissed such claims, characterizing the meeting as a “propaganda event” and downplaying the likelihood of escalation. Alexander Korshunov, chairman of the Transnistrian Supreme Council, criticized Moldova’s utilization of economic measures as tools of pressure and blackmail, accusing them of longstanding efforts to undermine Transnistria’s statehood and economic viability.

Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, addressed the annexation speculations, suggesting NATO’s concern over the assembly’s outcomes. Transnistria, with a population of approximately 470,000, occupies a slender territory between the eastern bank of the Dniester River and Moldova’s border with Ukraine, maintaining its own currency and flag.

The region’s history is marred by a brief conflict in the early 1990s, leading pro-Russian forces to declare independence. While a 2006 referendum showed overwhelming support for joining Russia, it lacked international recognition, with the US State Department dismissing it as provocative. Presently, Russia stations around 1,500 troops in Transnistria as peacekeepers, tasked with safeguarding Soviet-era weapons stockpiles.

Since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Moldova’s pro-Western leadership has consistently accused Moscow of destabilization efforts. Moldova, granted EU candidate status in 2022, received further affirmation when Brussels announced plans for accession negotiations with both Moldova and neighboring Ukraine in December of the previous year.

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