Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Russia Today that the West “has got its sights” on Moldova as a country that might “follow Ukraine’s path” by turning into an “anti-Russia”.
Moldova, a small country on Ukraine’s western border, is seen as vulnerable to a potential escalation of the war in Ukraine. Part of its territory, the Transnistria region, has been controlled for decades by Russia-backed separatists.
Officials in Moscow were angered by recent comments from Moldovan President Maia Sandu hinting that the country might consider Nato membership. Two influential Russian lawmakers previously warned on January 24 that Moldova considering Nato membership “may lead to its destruction”. Moscow’s fierce opposition to Ukraine joining Nato was one of the reasons for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
"Now they [the West] are sizing up Moldova for this role [as the ‘next Ukraine'], primarily because they were able to place a president at the helm of the country, who is itching to join Nato, by way of quite specific methods that are far from being free or democratic in any way. She [Sandu] has Romanian citizenship, she is ready to unite with Romania and in general is ready for almost anything," Lavrov said, Tass reported.
“#Moldova: The country is on a high alert after MFA Lavrov stated in a interview that Nato/West would be interested in repeating “Ukrainian scenario” in Moldova," Political commentator Dionis Cenusa wrote on Twitter on February 2.
"This statement coincides with the warnings from Ukraine that Russia is readying a massive attack, which could have repercussions on Moldova too. The two ways in which Russia can effectively pose military risks to Moldova are the following: 1) missiles attacks (various rockets have already landed in Moldova in 2022-23; or 2) via Transnistria. The first one is more likely than the second one,” Cenusa added.
Lavrov commented on the situation in Transnistria, complaining that Sandu and Western countries have abandoned the ‘5+1’ format previously used to work towards a settlement of the frozen conflict. The format, which involved both Russia and Ukraine, became unworkable following the invasion.
"This format is considered unsuitable by the West, because it was needed when there were still authorities in Chisinau who were interested in maintaining [Moldova’s] territorial integrity and in an agreement with Transnistria,” Lavrov claimed.
“But when this administration came in, they were ready to solve the Transnistria problem by force and insist on the expulsion of our peacekeepers and those who guard the ammunition depots in Kolbasna, then no negotiation formats are needed, you just need to support these powers that be.”
There have been fears since the invasion of Ukraine that Russia might seek to extend the war to Moldova or use its influence in Transnistria to create internal unrest. So far this has not happened, as the authorities in both Chisinau and Tiraspol have sought to maintain calm.
Lavrov's statement prompted a critical response from Moldova’s pro-EU authorities, with Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Nicu Popescu calling it “unfriendly and incorrect”.
Popescu argued that Russia’s main unfriendly action towards Moldova is the maintenance of the separatist regime in Transnistria, and that the peaceful resolution of this problem is one of the main objectives of the authorities in Chisinau, which are fully committed to the European integration process.
"Our goal is to solve these problems, to obtain the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of our country. achieving this goal is done through peaceful and diplomatic methods. We are broadly supported by the international community,” Popescu said.
Several missiles have already crossed over or landed on Moldovan territory since the start of the war. Three Russian missiles crossed Moldova’s territory on October 10, posing a threat to civil aircraft. Then on October 31, a Russian missile, shot down by the Ukrainian anti-aircraft system, fell on Moldovan territory. In the latest incident in December, a missile fell on an orchard in Briceni, in the northern part of Moldova. Parliament speaker Igor Grosu warned at the time that Moldovan lawmakers may pass a statement declaring Russia a terrorist state.