The Dniestr River, dividing Transnistria from Chisinau-controlled Moldova (photo: The Bug Pit)
Fears that the crisis in Ukraine could be spreading to Moldova have sharpened as American and European leaders warn that the Russian military may be casting its eyes further West. "There is absolutely sufficient force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Trans-Dniester if the decision was made to do that. That is very worrisome," said U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO's supreme allied commander. Strobe Talbott, one of the U.S.'s top diplomats in the ex-Soviet world, tweeted: "[N]ow that we've had crash course on Crimea, read ahead about Transnistria, a likely target for Putin next move." Added Nicu Popescu, an analyst at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris" “What happened to Crimea in two weeks, most of that had happened to Trans Dnestr in the last 22 years, except for what happened to Crimea in the last 24 hours: recognition by Russia and annexation. That could happen in Trans Dnestr.” Russian officials denied they had any expansionist aims: “Russian armed forces are not involved in any manner of unannounced military manoeuvres that would endanger the security of neighbouring states,” said Russia’s deputy defence minister, Anatoly Antonov. “We have nothing to hide.” The de facto authorities in Transnistria, the separatist region of Moldova that borders western Ukraine. called last week to join Russia like Crimea did. And Russia last week accused Ukraine of a "blockade" of the border with Transnistria; Russia relies on that border to supply its military forces in Transnistria. Russian media reports have said that Ukraine is blocking military-aged males from Transnistria from entering Ukraine, and supplies for Russian troops in Transnistria. Komsomolskaya Pravda, for example, reported that two trains of food, clothing, and fuel have been stopped on the border since March 10. Both Ukraine and Moldova have denied that there is such a blockade in place. "In connection with the reports in several media outlets alleging that Ukraine has stopped cargo for Russian peacekeepers [in Transnistria], we must report that they do not conform to reality and are intended to destabilize the situation in the region and to discredit the role of Ukraine in the process of the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict," according to a statement from Ukraine's embassy to Moldova, The European Union has accelerated the pace of agreements for Moldova (as well as Georgia) to get closer to the alliance. Not too many, however, (other than U.S. Senator John McCain, a reliable anti-Russian voice) are calling for the same thing to happen with respect to NATO. My guess: Russia has no intention of invading Moldova and is more likely to put pressure on Moldova in subtler ways. But Western officials want to look like they are getting ahead of a potential crisis situation, rather than reacting slowly as they did in Crimea. Still, of course, this is a tense and unpredictable situation.