Moldova steps up security following blasts in breakaway Transnistria
The authorities in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria have reported a number of explosions in the last 24 hours, deeming them terrorist attacks. The blasts occurred just days after a senior Russian commander said that capturing southern Ukraine would provide Moscow with a land bridge to Transnistria. Moldovan President Maia Sandu condemned the explosions following an urgent meeting of the country’s Security Council on Tuesday. In turn, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow is “closely monitoring” the situation in Transnistria.
Tiraspol reports ‘terrorist attacks’
On the evening of Monday, April 25, the state security ministry building in Tiraspol (the administrative center of unrecognized Transnistria) caught fire after it was struck in an alleged grenade-launcher attack. The blast also shattered the windows of neighboring buildings.
On Tuesday morning, another series of explosions knocked out two radio towers in the village of Maiac, which had been broadcasting state-controlled Russian radio stations. Transnistria’s security council also reported an attack on a military unit near the village of Pacani (there are no further details on this purported attack as yet). There were no reported casualties at the time of writing.
A source “in Transnistria’s government circles” told Interfax that “three unidentified persons” who allegedly came from Ukraine were responsible for the attack on the security ministry building. In turn, a TASS source “in Tiraspol’s government circles” blamed Ukraine for the incidents, claiming that Kyiv is trying to “draw Moldova and Transnistria” into the war with Russia.
Following the explosions, Transnistria’s security council declared a “red” level terrorist threat and promised to take “urgent measures” to organize potential evacuations, medical treatment, emergency psychological support, and “protection of property left unattended.”
Transnistria’s law enforcement agencies were put on a heightened alert and checkpoints were set up at the entrances to cities in the region. Some schools were switched to remote learning and canceled final exams. Tiraspol also canceled its May 9 parade in honor of Victory Day in World War II, citing security concerns.
The response from Chisinau and Moscow
Following the blasts in Transnistria, Moldova’s President Maia Sandu called an urgent meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday. The council decided to increase the readiness of services and institutions responsible for public safety, and to step up patrols and checks in Moldova and along its borders. Speaking at a press conference after the meeting, Sandu condemned the blasts, calling them the result of “internal differences among various groups in Transnistria that are interested in destabilizing the situation.” She also warned against “provoking new risks.”
In turn, Moldova’s Information and Security Service urged citizens to “[remain] calm and refrain from disseminating information from unverified sources, especially [information] fueling hatred and war.”
Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow is “closely monitoring” the situation in Transnistria. Peskov added that while the blasts “cause concern,” there are no plans for Russian President Vladimir Putin to speak with President Sandu. In turn, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko expressed hope that those responsible for the explosions would be punished.
Land bridge to Transnistria
The blasts in Transnistria occurred just days after a senior Russian commander, Major General Rustam Minnekayev, proclaimed that establishing a land bridge to the breakaway region was among the aims of the “second stage” of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In particular, Minnekayev said that control over southern Ukraine would provide Russia access to Transnistria, “where there is evidence of oppression of the Russian-speaking population.”
That said, there is no indication that Russian forces might make a push for Transnistria in the near future. The Russian offensive in the south-west of Ukraine stalled back in March — airborne units were unable to cross the Southern Bug River north of Mykolayiv and were forced to retreat to the territory of the Kherson region. Additional Ukrainian forces from the Kyiv region were transferred to this front in early April, but their counter-offensive has not been successful.
Battles have continued in southwestern Ukraine (in the Mykolayiv and Kherson regions, as well as in the south of the Dnipropetrovsk region) throughout the month of April. While the Russian army still has a firm foothold on the right bank of the Dnipro River in the area around Kherson and Nova Khakhovka, it has yet to launch a new offensive in the direction of Odesa and Transnistria. As yet, there are no reports of additional Russian troops being transferred there.
The Russian troops currently stationed in Transnistria — the Operational Group of Russian Forces (OGRF) — are very weak by the standards of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Consisting of two motorized rifle battalions, as well as command and control units, the OGRF has less than 2,000 soldiers total. The Ukrainian units in Odesa alone outnumber the Russian forces in Transnistria many times over.
Numerically speaking, Transnistria’s own military forces (consisting of less than 10,000 people) are roughly equivalent to that of its main potential enemy — the Moldovan army. That said, even if Tiraspol decided to get involved in Russia’s war, its troops would hardly suffice to bring about significant changes on the battlefield in Ukraine.