Staunton, May 7 – If anyone has any doubts about the breadth of Vladimir Putin’s intentions both geopolitically and politically, they should be put to rest by the conclusion of a Russian historian that Transdniestria is “the first liberated part of Novorossiya,” Putin’s term for what he sees as a new state spreading across Ukraine into Moldova and perhaps beyond.
Yesterday on the Ruskline.ru portal, Sergey Lebedev says that “’the Russian spring’ in historical Novorossiya has come to territories still situated inside the territorial formation of ‘Ukraine,’” but in fact to Moldova as well where its “first liberated territory is the Transdniestr Moldovan Republic”.
According to Lebedev, “the Transdniestr Moldovan Republic,” which was born already in 1990” has been living with “the hope of re-uniting with Great Russia.” For two decades, it hasn’t been able to, but “now the situation is radically changing in connection with the crisis in Ukraine and also the complicated situation in Moldova and Romania.”
In his April 17 talk with the Russian people, Vladimir Putin spoke directly to this issue. He said that the people of Transdniestria “should be allowed to resolve their own fate” and that Russia would work with them to that end, words that sparked new worries both in Kyiv and in Chisinau and Bucharest.
In Lebedev’s telling, Transdniestria “for all the years of its existence has lived under conditions of a blockade,” threatened both by Ukraine and by Moldova, with Romania in support of the latter. That is hardly an accurate description of the situation, but it is certainly one with which many in Moscow would agree and are acting upon.
The nationalist historian then gives an even more tendentious history of the region, confusing ethnic development, religious evolution and state development as many Russian commentators do and thus claiming that the area, which does not have an ethnic Russian majority is thus a Russian region whatever the facts of the case are.
Lebedev’s article highlights two directions of Putin’s policies, both of which should be of concern not only in the region but in Europe and the West more generally. On the one hand, to the extent that Transdniestria is a model for some putative Novorossiya, it presents a very ugly picture.
Transdniestria under its breakaway government has been one of the most repressive places in the former Soviet space and has a thoroughly criminalized government that has been prepared to sell off the enormous arms cache there left over from USSR times to all and sundry, including terrorist groups.
And on the other, it underscores that Putin’s plans are far broader than Ukraine and involve a thrust into the Balkans. Were Transdniestria to be taken from Moldova and annexed to Russia, that would almost certainly lead to the collapse of the Moldovan state, the unification of part of it with Romania, the federalization of that country, and the extension of a Moscow-sponsored arc of instability into the Balkans.
There are many good reasons to support Ukraine against what is a Russian invasion by stealth; the threat that Moscow is planning to include Transdniestria in Putin’s “Novorossiya” project only adds to the urgency of taking far more serious steps, including the provision of military supplies and security guarantees to both Ukraine and Moldova.
Sanctions are not enough to “change Putin’s calculus,” as even American officials are beginning to acknowledge. And given the dangers that allowing him to move even further west into Moldova and beyond would inevitably entail, the time to contain and then reverse what he is doing is now.