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13th Aug 2022

'If Odessa falls, Moldova is next'

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Russian warfare is currently focused on east Ukraine, but if it conquers Odessa in southwest Ukraine in future, then Moldova might fall next.

That was the fear voiced by Moldovan politicians and a leading Romanian expert on international relations.

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Capturing Odessa would give Russian president Vladimir Putin's army a land corridor from Russia-occupied Ukraine to Moldova.

The Ukrainian port city has already been bombarded and faces a Russian naval blockade.

"We have to face up to the reality that if things take a turn for the worse and Odessa falls to the Russians, then the situation becomes extremely dangerous for the Republic of Moldova. If that happens, Moldova is next," Mihai Popșoi, vice-president of the Moldovan parliament, told EUobserver.

He was echoed by Galia Sajin, a Moldovan MP and foreign-affairs parliament committee member, who said: "We can't exclude Moldova to be the next target in [Russian president Vladimir] Putin's crosshairs".

Sandwiched between Ukraine and the EU, the non-aligned but pro-EU Moldova is in peril not just due to its proximity to the war zone, but also because its breakaway Transniestria region already hosts some 1,500 Russian troops.

A mysterious series of explosions there in recent weeks raised concern that Putin might use false-flag attacks as a pretext to invade for the sake of protecting Russian-speakers in Transniestria.

"We have no security guarantees and our neutral status might not be enough to fend off any possible aggression. The problem is the Russian military presence in Transnistria", Popșoi said.

One of Putin's ambitions was to fully occupy Transniestria and then to install a pro-Kremlin puppet regime in Chișinău, Armand Gosu, a professor of Russian politics at Bucharest University, also said.

"If indeed Odessa were to fall, the risk is huge for Moldova, as most likely Transniestria would be swamped by the Russian military and turned into a new Donbas [a war-torn region in east Ukraine]", he said.

Meanwhile, whether they live in Moldova proper or in Transniestria, nobody in the country wants to fight either Russia or the West, the Moldovan government says.

And even the breakaway region is increasingly interested in doing business with the EU and Romania, Popșoi said.

"Obtaining the status of an EU candidate country would help stabilise the situation and peacefully resolve the conflict in Transnistria", he said.

Moldova applied to join the EU along with Georgia and Ukraine in the wake of Russia's latest aggression.

It remains to be seen if the EU would ever take in Moldova prior to Transniestria reunification.

But even though most Moldovans want to join Europe, the Transniestria issue is not the only thing standing in their way.

The European Commission has been ringing the alarm over Moldova's rampant corruption for quite some time.

Oligarch abuse in Moldova was made infamous by the Vladimir Plahotniuc affair.

The former chairman of the Democratic Party was charged in 2020 for his role in the disappearance of more than $1 billion — worth 12.5 percent of Moldova's GDP — from the country's biggest banks.

Moldovan president Maia Sandu and her government have promised zero tolerance on graft, but the old system they have to reform is a monster, experts note.

"The oligarch problem in Moldova can only be resolved through judicial reform," Gosu said.

"With such oligarchic structures it would be very difficult for Moldova to become an EU member state," he said.

Author bio

Cristian Gherasim is a freelance journalist contributing to EUobserver, Euronews, EU Reporter, Katoikos, Von Mises Institute, and bne IntelliNews, with a particular focus on European and regional affairs.

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