Moldova, Republic of Moldova, Transnistria, Bessarabia: The potential next prey of the Russian despot Putin on NATO’s south-eastern flank appears historically under many names. Germans also once settled there. Now the West faces the challenge of helping the small country against the Kremlin.

In 2005, a satirical travel guide for “Molwania – Land of Damaged Smiles” was published in Germany. Among other things, he listed “garlic schnapps” as a typical specialty of the invented nation, which its hospitable and gap-toothed inhabitants supposedly serve up.

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Foreign visitors to this imaginary country, formerly under Soviet influence, were advised to bring small gifts, “such as flowers, fruit, handguns, or—for small children—cigarettes.”

The bizarre analogy to actual Moldova was obviously intentional; To this day, the small country between the Ukraine and Romania, with 2.6 million inhabitants and no army worth mentioning, is considered one of the poorest and most backward in Europe. And as one of the most threatened at the moment. Because, as the “Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung” judged at the beginning of May, it fits “into the looting scheme of Kremlin boss Putin”.

The President of the Republic of Moldova, Maia Sandu, reported on Wednesday in front of the European Parliament in Brussels that she could hear the impact of Russian air raids on Ukraine in her office in the Moldovan capital Chisinau. Russia’s President Putin wants to “redesign the region” and also destabilize your country. To applause from MEPs, the President claimed a “European future” for her nation and called on the EU to become the “anchor” for Moldova’s independence.

“We don’t want war,” declared Sandu. “We want nothing more than to live in peace.” She demanded a “strong signal” of support from the European Union: “We believe in the EU.” But the decision on war and peace lies elsewhere – in the Kremlin.

According to the Ukrainian General Staff, Kremlin troops stationed in Moldova’s Transnistria, a breakaway region, are preparing for battle. Their number is estimated at 1500 to 2000, up to 10,000 armed separatists could be in league with them. Should the Russian aggressors succeed in taking over the Ukrainian Odessa, which they are increasingly covering with rocket terror, then the way to Transnistria would be free. Then Moscow could try to completely separate Ukraine from the Black Sea – it is already blocking the Ukrainian ports there anyway. Measured by its population, Moldova has taken in the most Ukrainian refugees in Europe.

As early as 1992 there was a brief war over Transnistria, a thin strip of land in eastern Moldova on the border with Ukraine. About two-thirds of the population there has Ukrainian or Russian roots. When separatists wanted to separate Transnistria from Moldova, Russian troops stationed there from the Soviet era intervened decisively in the fighting in their favour.

Since then, Russian-oriented rulers have ruled in the breakaway region, which is not internationally recognized as independent, with the backing of the remnants of the former 14th Soviet Army, which was intended to advance to the Balkans in the event of a conflict during the Cold War. In fact, the area has been under Russian rule for 20 years, probably with the approval of the majority of the local population. According to the British Moldova expert Rebecca Haynes, there would be no justification whatsoever for Russia to invade Moldova under the pretext of having to “save” the local Russian minority, as allegedly in the Ukrainian Donbass.

Haynes told the daily newspaper “Die Welt”: “Everything is complicated in this part of the world.” You could say that. The German Cultural Forum of Eastern Europe, which is dedicated to the cultural heritage in former German settlement areas in Eastern Europe with the support of the Federal Government, points out in a historical outline of Moldova that the region has been a “transit area for numerous peoples” since ancient times. The Ottoman Empire left its mark there, as did the Habsburg Empire and the former great powers of Hungary, Poland and Lithuania.

In 1812 the area was annexed by the Russians, and after the First World War it was annexed to Romania. In 1940 the Soviet Union invaded, in 1941 the Romanians in turn and recaptured “Bessarabia”; Romanian nationalists still claim it today. The steppe landscape between the rivers Prut (border river to Romania) and Dniester, historically called Bessarabia, is essentially identical to today’s Republic of Moldova. The term derives from the Wallachian dynasty of Basarab, which once ruled there.

The Russian Tsarist Empire invited German colonists to the sparsely populated region, whose fertile soil is just as favorable for agriculture as that of the Ukraine. When the area fell back to the Soviets as part of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1940, Nazi Germany redistributed the Bessarabian Germans in its dominion. In former German villages such as Glückstal/Glinoje, Neudorf/Karmanowo and Bergdorf/Kolosowo, the expellees left behind characteristic church and school buildings. The more significant Polish and Ukrainian cultural and power influences were primarily replaced by Russian ones from the 19th century. As the Soviets ruled this part of Europe, they eliminated and deported large sections of the local elite.

“The Soviets never recognized the legitimacy of the Romanian claim to Bessarabia and considered it part of the Russian Empire,” historian Haynes told Die Welt. “One could say that since the early 1990s, politics in Moldova has vacillated between a pro-Romanian, ie pro-European, if you will, and a pro-Russian stance. And that is still the case to this day.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were efforts in Moldova to join Romania. However, this was countered by fears that Bucharest might pay too little attention to local sensitivities. In addition, Romania in its current state, with all its economic and domestic problems, was not a particularly attractive partner. The Moldovan tricolor nevertheless bears the Romanian national colors of blue, yellow and red. According to Haynes, the country’s official language, Romanian, is used there in a form that probably corresponds to the difference between Standard German and the Austrian idiom.

At this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, which the public vote turned into a declaration of solidarity with Ukraine, Moldova competed with a contribution that mixed pop and traditional Romanian/Moldovan “musica popular”. The song, titled “The Little Train,” is about a train ride between the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, and Bucharest. The message: The train may cross a state border, but stays in the same cultural homeland. With a Russian aggression against Moldova, Romania, already a border country with Ukraine, would become one of the most threatened frontline states of the EU and NATO. The nervousness in Bucharest is correspondingly high.