Pro-Russian demonstrations, Moldova, 2015
Moscow may have updated a plan to move into Europe’s poorest country, Moldova. The timing is partly because of a Presidential election there on October 30th and partly because of what it sees as Britain’s increased hostility against Russia.
One source cited foreign secretary Boris Johnston’s encouragement of anti-Russian protests outside the London embassy, senior Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell’s calling for NATO confrontation of Russian air power over Syria, and Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for tougher sanctions.
Moldova is sandwiched between troubled Ukraine and EU-NATO member Romania. Riddled with corruption and with a GDP per capita of only $5,000 (a third of that of China), its three million population has benefitted little from the free market system. People are equally divided between the West and Russia. The Moldovan president has limited powers so the election will be a vivid test of support in the tug of war in popularity between Russia and the European Union. Moscow is backing the highest polling candidate, the Socialist Party’s Igor Dodon, to win.
Russia already controls a swathe of Moldovan territory, Transnistria, which split off after a civil war in 1992. It is governed along strict Soviet lines with subsided fuel prices and secure pensions envied by many other Moldovans. Russia deploys 1,500 troops in Transnistria. United States troops have been carrying out exercises in Moldova.
Unlike the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Moldova has no protective military treaty with NATO. If Moscow did move in, NATO would not be obliged to react and Russian troops may well be greeted with flag waving supporters lining the streets. The Moldovan plan was last poised for implementation during the 2014 Ukraine crisis and since then the question of Russian troop supply and rotation to Transnistria has become a tense issue. My source says it could be this that is used to trigger some form of military intervention, probably with highly-trained plain-clothed militia as were used in Crimea.