After Ukraine’s final military garrison was overrun on Sunday and Russia’s signing of Crimea into its territory on Friday, there is a warning from the head of NATO, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, about the build up of Russian troops on the border and the potential risk this poses to Moldova’s territory.
With the annexation of Crimea complete, Moscow seems to have its eye on Moldova’s separatist Transdniestria region, attributed to the build up of Russian troops on the Ukraine Border. The NATO commander has been quoted as saying “The (Russian) force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready”. The Russians have denied any intention of this, but then they originally denied sending troops to Crimea. The situation later turned into a Russian invasion and, some would argue, a forced referendum at the point of a gun resulting in Crimea’s seperation.
The annexation of Crimea was originally sparked from the Ukrainian protests against closer ties to Russia which had been accepted over the popular support for closer ties to the European Union. It seems Russia took advantage of a weakened Ukraine to increase the size of its federation with the knowledge that the international community was averse to spending further on world affairs owing to the prolonged costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions. Many fear that this situation could replay itself, this time with Moldova’s Transdniestria. Transdniestria is a small territory that favours the Russian motherland, and if Russia decides that it wants it, well then Moldova, like Ukraine, will have little power to change that. Moldova, because of its small size would not be able to match Russia militarily or financially and would have to just roll over, like Ukraine, and let its land be taken from them.
The story of Transdniestria, a small territory along the east of Moldova, is similar to Crimea’s. It is an area where there is a Russian population who have felt isolated and desire stronger ties with Russia. This desire has led Moldova to grant them slight autonomy, an autonomy that lacks recognition from the rest of the world. Remnants of the Soviet Union still reside there, with the hammer and sickle emblazoned on the flag; this small territory is encouraged by Russia through soft power influences such as the building of schools. The Russian troops stationed here also show the want of a union between one of the Soviet Union’s former territories, so this could very much be the future Crimea. Although not sharing a land border there is the similar desire with the Russian population being the influence and the excuse that Putin needs to create his stronger Russia by annexing the territory – potentially leading to the same situation with the Crimean annexation, which is what the NATO commander forewarns.
Similar tactics to those used by Russia in Crimea could be used again and the world will be limited in its ability to respond. Despite the sanctions against many involved in the annexation of Crimea, they will continue to act because of the strong position they have found themselves in. Russia has a rich supply of resources such as Gas of which many European states are dependent upon. As mentioned in the independent on Sunday, Ukraine’s president has said he fears Russia will use the supply of gas as a new nuclear weapon to intimidate neighbours, leading to a stalemate in which little action can be taken. Russia seems to be holding all of the power currently and this does not seem likely to change. With many small former Russian speaking soviet territories, there are several potential targets for Moscow to set their sights on and this aggression could continue, firstly in the case of Transdniestria. The build up of military units along the border of Ukraine shows potential for this but Eastern Europe is reluctant to mobilise against the aggressor as they could face untold hardship if they lose their gas and other essential supplies.