From Crimea to Transnistria: how far will Vladimir Putin go? | War in Ukraine

There were sandbags, concrete blocks to slow down vehicles and more soldiers than usual, we were told.

Moldova’s small pro-Russian separatist enclave has been on high alert since the end of April. Security was tightened at all entry points after a series of mysterious explosions, two of which occurred recently on Saturday last week, near the capital Tiraspol.

No one was injured, although two radio transmission towers were damaged, as well as a Ministry of Security building.

Who is hiding behind these attacks, which look like provocation and set-up?

Moscow is shouting terrorism and blaming neighboring Ukraine. Kyiv, for its part, blames the Kremlin and accuses it of wanting to destabilize the region.

We were finally able to negotiate permission to enter as tourists, roam freely and explore.

Despite the dams, it was dead calm. The first village we walked through exuded silence.

Dima, a father, is scratching the ground in his garden with his two young children. The quiet reallyhe said, but we are afraidhe added, simultaneously pointing to the left.

Ukraine is two kilometers away and they are Nazis. They can attack us at any time; they already did this a few weeks ago.

Its origin? Russian television and word of mouth.

Like many other Russian -speakers in Transnistria, Dima was honest with the news from Moscow. Russian propaganda is part of everyday life in Transnistria, despite the sources of information available, such as Ukrainian and French channels.

Maria is convinced that Ukraine is preparing an attack on Transnistria.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Alexey Sergeyev

Dima’s neighbor, Maria, is a retired woman with a definite speech who opens the door to us without hesitation.

They are the killers, he says about Ukrainians watching TV. He swears by the news from Russia.

Obviously, Russia feeds us, Russia treats us well; we have been friends since the Soviet era. »

A quote from maria

Report by Tamara Alteresco

Separation of Transnistria and Russian influence

Transnistria seceded from Moldova in 1992, during a four-day war that left 1,000 dead. However, since this battle, the Moldovans and the inhabitants of Transnistria have lived peacefully.

Transnistria’s autonomy was never recognized, either by the international community or by Russia.

But most of all it is thanks to the help of Moscow that the small territory of 500,000 inhabitants has survived for 30 years. More than 1,500 soldiers are assigned there throughout the year, under the leadership of a peacekeeping mission.

Statue of Lenin in Tiraspol.

Lenin’s statue guards Tiraspol, a city with unmistakable Soviet points.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Tamara Alteresco

The capital, Tiraspol, is like the old Soviet cities, whose statue of Lenin was frozen in time.

We were there on the eve of the 9th May VE Day celebration over the weekend. It was beautiful and warm; the families strolled to the city’s large central square.

It’s hard to imagine the war spreading so far, especially to see these men, ice cream in hand or baby in arms, holding a weapon to join Vladimir Putin’s war.

There is no “Z” here – this symbol of support for Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine – as in public space in Russia. However, there are many crowns at the foot of the statues of soldiers.

A park in Tiraspol.

Families walk downtown Tiraspol.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Tamara Alteresco

seek peace

The majority of the people who agreed to talk to us told us that they wanted peace, at home and in Ukraine.

We’re good at it, we don’t want to get involvedsays Galina, a 60-year-old woman who walks daily in a park in Tiraspol.

The idea of ​​being taken into battle frightened him, but he knew the danger, since Odessa was only 100 kilometers away and one of the targets of the Russian army.

The possibility that Vladimir Putin will use Transnistria to destroy the stability of Moldova and open a new frontier there is increasingly worrying in Washington, Europe andUN.

These fears were reinforced a few weeks ago when General Rustam Minnikhanov, a senior Russian army officer, said that one of the motivations for the “special operation” in southern Ukraine was to open a corridor in Transnistria.

Control in southern Ukraine will establish a corridor towards Transnistria, where there are also cases of oppression of the Russian-speaking population. »

A quote from General Rustam Minnikhanov

For Galina, however, it’s not about bullying. The sixty -year -old, on the other hand, believes that Ukraine is a threat. He is convinced that Ukraine has carried out the attacks since April 25, even though he has no proof.

Disruption, or reason to invade Moldova?

Among the scenarios raised by observers was the possibility that the Kremlin would finally recognize Transnistria’s autonomy, as it did for the self -proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk a few days before invading Ukraine.

Such a step would give Russia the legitimacy to send more troops and artillery there to attack Odessa from the west.

But how? astonishment of Moldovan political analyst Victor Ciobanu.

This is almost impossiblebecause Moscow will need to parachute thousands of troops into Transnistria, which crosses part of Ukraine’s airspace from the Crimea, Ciobanu said.

Victor Ciobanu is more convinced that the Russian -speaking population of Transnistria has no desire to engage in conflict, he said.

They lined up to get Moldovan and Romanian passports; it is wonderful and that says a lot; this population does not want to participate. »

A quote from Victor Ciobanu, political analyst

If there is danger, he said, Vladimir Putin will use Transnistria to invade Moldova. It is possible, but certainly not imminenthe said.

Victor Ciobanu and a few observers we have consulted only consider such a scenario if Vladimir Putin chooses the general mobilization of the Russians to advance towards Odessa.

000 à 500000 soldats, on peut appréhender ce genre d’escalade et une menace sérieuse, mais pour l’instant, ce corridor terrestre ne lui est pas acquis, loin de là”,”text”:”Si le dirigeant russe réussit à mobiliser de 200000 à 500000 soldats, on peut appréhender ce genre d’escalade et une menace sérieuse, mais pour l’instant, ce corridor terrestre ne lui est pas acquis, loin de là”}}”>If the Russian leader succeeds in mobilizing 200,000 to 500,000 soldiers, we will see this kind of escalation and a serious threat, but at the moment, the corridor of this land is not his, far from it.said the analyst again.

UN fears

Passing through Chișinău, the Moldovan capital, on Monday, the United Nations Secretary General did not hide his concern.

Moldova is the weakest neighbor of Ukraine and the consequences of Russia’s aggression too scary to consider, Antonio Guterres said at a joint press briefing with the Moldovan Prime Minister.

Moldova is not a member ofNATO and, unlike Ukraine, it only has a very small army of approximately 7,800 soldiers to defend itself in case of aggression.

The European Union, to which Moldova has submitted an application for membership, took action on May 4 to give it more military support, under the circumstances. But Moldovan President Maia Sandu opted for caution and appealed for calm.

Since being elected to a pro-European platform in December 2020, Ms Sandu has been able to maintain a certain neutrality towards Russia, on which Moldova depends for its gas supply.

The war in Ukraine, however, continues to test the limits of this neutrality.

What the government fears right now is rising tensions caused by various groups in Transnistria with an interest in government destabilizationsaid President Sandu.

But according to Washington, the stakes will be bigger. We estimate that President Putin is preparing for a protracted conflict in Ukraine in which he still wants to achieve goals across the Donbassciting his desire to establish a land bridge from Crimea to Transnistria, the Biden administration said.

Preparing for exile

Leaving Transnistria, on the Moldavian side, we spoke to Nikolai, an 18-year-old man.

He came from Tiraspol to deposit money in the bank, because he thought of going as far as he could, as his hundreds of years had done since the beginning of spring.

According to Nikolai, pro-Russian separatist forces have already started recruiting men in Transnistria, although we cannot confirm this with the leaders in the separatist territory.

It’s very stressfulhe said. I don’t want to fight. Neither against the Ukrainians nor against the Moldavians, who have been with him in peace since birth.

In the garage next to the bank, Iluri ushered us in, smiling and interested in seeing Canadians. The priority, for now, is to continue arming Ukraine, as Canadians and civilized nations do.he said.

If the Ukrainian army will fight and win the war, the Moldovans will be protected, that is guaranteed.

And if not?

Iluri’s wife, Ludmila, burst into tears. He is Ukrainian and restless. He refused to consider his country’s defeat. Out of the question, you understand, out of the question.

Ludmila.

Ludmila has been restless since the war broke out in her native Ukraine.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Tamara Alteresco

This is where I live, but my heart is therehe said, pointing to Ukraine.

Odessa was so close that on the morning of February 24, they both heard the first shear from the Russian army. And with every bomb falling on southern Ukraine, war is approaching them.

Ludmila released her flag, a stringed instrument from Ukraine, and gave us an improvised performance. With music he is relaxing these days.

Before the war, he worked in a choir in Transnistria, but he refused to set foot there again since his boss told him that Ukraine deserved what was happening to him.

Ludmila said her 12-year-old daughter has often asked her questions since the war began: Why, mother, does a country as big as Russia need Ukraine and little Moldova?

Weeks passed, the war continued and Ludmila still did not know what to answer.

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