The Ukraine war is threateningly close: in the early morning hours of February 24, 2022, many Moldovans were woken up by the explosions in the neighboring country. Now the situation is even more tense.

The sham referendums in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, the partial mobilization announced by Putin and the risk of the use of “unconventional weapons” are possible risks for the Republic of Moldova, said President Maia Sandu after the Supreme Security Council of the Republic of Moldova last weekend country had met.

At the same time, she assured that all defense and security institutions are prepared to respond appropriately to threats. “Currently, the risk of nuclear weapons being used is classified as unlikely, but not impossible,” stressed Sandu.

The Supreme Security Council therefore recommended that the Moldovan government check whether the institutions and the population are prepared for the possible consequences of such scenarios or a nuclear accident.

The new level of escalation in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is particularly threatening for the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, and not only because of its geographical proximity to Ukraine. Since then, Russian soldiers have been stationed in the separatist region of Transnistria, which split from the Republic of Moldova with Russian help in the early 1990s.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Moldova in early September that “a threat situation” to the security of Russian troops in Transnistria could trigger a military confrontation with Moscow.

“Any threat to the security of Russian troops would be considered an attack on Russia under international law,” Lavrov said in an interview with a Russian TV channel.

Lavrov had already claimed last June that the Moldovan authorities would “cancel everything Russian, just like in Ukraine”.

The Republic of Moldova – like Ukraine – has had EU candidate status since June. In the spring, the Russian embassy in the Moldovan capital Chisinau called on Russian-speaking citizens in the country to send an email if they were being discriminated against.

However, the Russian-speaking Moldovans addressed instead asked Moscow to leave Moldova alone: ​​they did not need to be “rescued” and would not be discriminated against.

Especially in the separatist region of Transnistria, there are people who have both Moldovan and Russian citizenship. This is particularly sensitive against the background of the partial mobilization of Russian citizens.

According to the Moldovan Defense Ministry, Moldovans can be called up if they live in Russia and also have Russian citizenship.

However, this does not apply to Moldovans with Russian passports who are resident outside the Russian Federation – i.e. not for those in the Republic of Moldova, including Transnistria.

President Maia Sandu also warned that Moldovans with Russian and Moldovan passports would lose their Moldovan citizenship if they fought on the side of Russia against Ukraine.

After Putin decreed partial mobilization, the queues at the Moldovan embassy in Russia were so long that the consular section remained open at the weekend: a large number of Moldovans with dual citizenship wanted to pick up so-called “white passports” there.

This is a temporary document that allows single entry to Moldova if someone has lost their Moldovan passport or it has expired.

But even for Moldovans with “white passports” or for those who only have Moldovan citizenship and therefore cannot be drafted into the Russian army, it is very difficult to return to Moldova from Russia.

Queues at the Russian-Moldovan border are extremely long, and Chisinau suspended direct flights with Russia on the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine for security reasons. A flight ticket with several stops from Moscow to Chisinau now costs thousands of euros.

Many Moldovans who live and work in Russia returned to their homeland long before the partial mobilization, demographics expert Olga Gagauz from the National Institute for Economic Studies in Chisinau told DW. Before the start of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, more than 300,000 Moldovan migrants lived in the Russian Federation, but their number has fallen to around 70,000 – even before partial mobilization.

The Republic of Moldova is not part of any military alliance and its neutrality is enshrined in the constitution. “But only a defeat of the Putin regime on the battlefield can offer us real security guarantees,” says Oazu Nantoi, MP for the pro-European party PAS. “Otherwise we are not protected, although we declare ourselves neutral.”

There are many attempts to destabilize Moldova – including via Russian media and their propaganda and pro-Russian parties in Chisinau. Pro-Russian politicians are trying to blame the pro-European government for the dramatic rise in energy prices and inflation of over 34 percent.

Pro-Russian attitudes exist not only in politics and among most residents of the separatist region of Transnistria, but also in the autonomous region of Gagauzia in the south of the country. This is where the Gagauz minority lives, a Christian-Orthodox Turkic people.

In the capital, Chisinau, supporters of the opposition Shor party have set up camp in front of the presidential office. They are calling for the resignation of pro-European head of state Maia Sandus. Ilan Shor, leader of the party named after him, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for money laundering. He controls several companies and an entire media empire.

To avoid imprisonment, the “trusted partner of Moscow”, as Russia’s propaganda channels call him, fled to his native Israel. Many of the demonstrators outside the presidential office told reporters they had been paid to protest Moldova’s president. In videos circulating on the Internet, they proudly – and visibly drunk – call themselves “Putin’s friends.”

Author: Vitalie Călugăreanu, Dana Alexandra Scherle

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The original of this article “Russian threats and the “friends of Putin”” comes from Deutsche Welle.