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Suspended flights, false flag claims, and an alleged coup plan What we know about Moscow’s designs in Moldova
Wizz Air, one of Europe’s largest budget airlines, is suspending flights to and from Moldova beginning on March 14. The company’s press service told the news outlet RBC that the decision is “difficult, but it’s the responsible one” given “recent events” in Moldova and the “elevated risk” in the country’s airspace. (It didn’t specify what “recent events” it was referring to.) Since the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, missile fragments have been found on Moldovan territory multiple times.
Earlier, on February 27, Natalia Humenyuk, spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Operational Command South, said it would be “impossible” for Russian airborne troops to land in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria. “After all, that would require either crossing the airspace of NATO countries or crossing Ukrainian airspace directly. Who’s going to let them do that?” she said. The Ukrainian forces that are concentrated on the part of the Ukraine-Moldova border that’s controlled on the Moldovan side by Transnistria are “adequate to respond to the threat that’s theoretically possible,” Humenyuk added. As a result, she said, the odds of Russia opening a second front from Transnistria are low.
Last week, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed twice in one day that Ukraine is planning to invade Transnistria. On the morning of February 23, the agency released a press statement alleging that the Ukrainian military is preparing to stage a false-flag “Russian” offensive from Transnistrian territory and to use that as an pretext for launching an “armed provocation” against Tiraspol. That evening, the ministry warned that the “staging of the planned provocation” would threaten Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria, and vowed to “respond adequately.”
The Moldovan government said in a statement that it “does not confirm” Russia’s allegations. Meanwhile, Ukrainian State Border Guard Service representative Andriy Demchenko said on February 24 that the border section around Transnistria has been reinforced by Ukrainian Border Guard, Army, and National Guard units. Since the start of the full-scale war, he said, Kyiv has been devoting as much attention to the segment in question as to its borders with Belarus and Russia, and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Russia using it to launch an attack on Ukrainian territory.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, Moscow may be planning a “false flag operation” of its own in Transnistria. Analysts from the research group said on February 24 that the Russian Defense Ministry’s statements about a Ukrainian “armed provocation” in Moldova’s breakaway region don’t indicate that Russia plans to launch an attack on Moldova (which it doesn’t have the resources to do, according to the experts), but instead point towards an “escalation in [Putin’s] ongoing efforts to undermine the Moldovan state.”
In early February, Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukrainian intelligence had intercepted a “Russian plan to destroy the political situation in Moldova.” Moldovan President Maia Sandu confirmed Zelensky’s claims, saying Russia has plans to overthrow her country’s government. In particular, she said, Russia plans to seize Moldovan government buildings with the help of pro-Russian opposition members and foreigners. Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said that Moscow’s plan to stage a coup in Moldova may involve Chechen fighters who were deployed in Ukraine earlier in the war.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine sent Moldova into an energy crisis. In mid-February, the country elected a new government. Moldova’s new prime minister, Dorin Recean, is an advocate of EU membership for the country and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria. According to RBC Ukraina, which cited The Military Balance report for 2022, there are currently 1,500 Russian soldiers stationed in Transnistria, while the unrecognized republic’s own army consists of up to 8,000 people. Moldova’s armed forces, meanwhile, has more than 5,000 military personnel and about 58,000 reservists.
The Transnistrian authorities have called on residents to remain calm. According to Transnistria leader Vadim Krasnoselsky’s press service, at a meeting on February 27, Krasnoselsky told officials that the current situation is tense, but vowed that “if people face a real danger, he’ll personally and expeditiously inform citizens of it.”
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