Moldova in Moscow’s crosshairs

  • July 1, 2022
  • 4 Min Read

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, believes that Moldova must be supported militarily in order to deal with possible actions of destabilization, such as those which recently occurred in Transnistria, or even a direct threat aimed at its territorial integrity.

Authorities in Chisinau and the European Union fear the conflict in Ukraine will spread to Moldova. So, could Moldova be in Moscow’s crosshairs? Many observers have been asking this question since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, especially after the start of the second phase of the offensive, which focused on Donbass and the south of the country in order to ensuring a land corridor to the Crimea, or even to Transnistria, retain some; which would allow Moscow to open up this territory and control all the ports of the Black Sea.

A Russian-speaking separatist region, which had given rise to a conflict that ended with the intervention of the 14th Russian army in 1992, Transnistria or the Moldavian Republic of the Dniester (in long form) is de facto an “independent” state, but not recognized by the international community, which considers it an autonomous region located within the internationally recognized borders of Moldova. Moscow maintains a limited, but highly symbolic, military presence there with the OGRVP (Operativnaya Gruppa Rossiyskikh Voysk v Pridnestrovye), the Operational Group of Russian troops in Transnistria, referenced as military unit or v/ch (for voyskovaya chast) 13962, which falls under the command of the Western Military District of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

The OGRVP, whose HQ is in Tiraspol, has a little less than 2,000 men, mainly grouped into two guards motorized rifle battalions, with four companies each, the 82nd and 113th (v/ch 74273 and 22137), an armored battalion, the 540th (v/ch 0953) and support units. In 2020, Moldovan President Maia Sandu said that OGRVP should withdraw from separatist Transnistria, as there were no bilateral agreements between Chisinau and Moscow and that OGRVP’s mission, officially security and peacekeeping, was to be transformed into a civilian observation mission entrusted to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

It should be noted that this same security mission is also carried out, according to article 11 of the Constitution, by the Transnistrian armed forces, which are none other than those of the unrecognized republic of Transnistria. These line up approximately 5,000 men (plus 15,000 to 20,000 reservists), mainly grouped into four “brigades” of motorized-mechanized infantry on BTR and BMP-1/2, numbered from 1 to 4 and based respectively in Tiraspol, Bender, Rîbnița and Dubăsari, a tank battalion of the T-64BV and support units (artillery, air defense, etc.).

In total, the Russian or pro-Russian forces are numerically as large or almost as the Moldavian government forces, which do not field more than 8,000 men, are devoid of combat tanks and equipped with equipment almost all inherited from the Soviet period ( except for a few Humvees supplied by the United States). The Moldovan army essentially has three “brigades” of motorized infantry, the 1st “Moldava” from Bălți, the 2nd “Stefan Cel Mare” from Chisinau and the 3rd “Dacia” from Cahul, plus units of support and four so-called peacekeeping battalions.

According to the political alternations, Moldova has expressed the wish to join the European Union as soon as possible, with which a free trade agreement entered into force in July 2016. It also hopes to get closer to NATO, of which it has joined the Partnership for Peace program on March 16, 1994. As we have recalled, since the invasion of Ukraine, two incidents have occurred in Transnistria: on April 25, the headquarters of the Ministry of Public Security of the Dniester Moldavian Republic, in Tiraspol, was targeted by a grenade launcher attack; the next day, a radio transmitter located in Mayak, about 50 km from Tiraspol, relaying Russian frequencies, was taken out of service after being the target of two explosions.

These two incidents, which did not cause any casualties, remain of unknown origin. But since then the region has been under pressure, to the point that President Maia Sandu appealed for calm after a meeting of the National Security Council. “This is an attempt to increase tensions. We call on our fellow citizens to remain calm,” she said, before announcing measures to strengthen border patrols and transport controls.