Even casual observers of Russia’s aggressive moves leading up to its invasion of Ukraine cannot fail to recognize the eerie — and alarming — parallels with what has been happening over the past few days in the Eastern European nation of Moldova.
It’s far from clear that Russia actually has the military capability to make good on such a threat, though an attempt certainly can’t be ruled out. Two Russian objectives are likely, though: first, to justify wider attacks on Ukraine’s so-far mostly unscathed western region, including Odessa, a port city near Moldova; and, second, to pressurize and destabilize Moldova, which — like Ukraine before it — has signaled its desire to escape Moscow’s orbit definitively in favor of a more Western orientation. In July 2021, a pro-Western party swept into office, backed by 52 percent of Moldovan voters, on a promise to pursue European Union membership and a strategic partnership with the United States.
Russia has no legitimate reason to fear any of this, of course. NATO membership, the Kremlin’s bugaboo, couldn’t happen for Moldova in part because Moscow’s troops are still on Moldovan territory. Moldova has dealt gingerly with Moscow, which also controls its energy supply, since the war in Ukraine began, declining to join sanctions or to permit weapons to transit its territory. What the government of President Maia Sandu admirably has done is take in some 100,000 Ukrainians, making this nation of 4 million the world’s largest haven for the war’s refugees on a per capita basis.
For that reason alone, Ms. Sandu’s government deserves American and European gratitude, sympathy and support. Evidently, Moldova also faces an imperial Russian challenge that is highly reminiscent of the one that faces Ukraine, as the fearful flow of thousands of people out of Transnistria this week vividly illustrates. Western policy failed to respond strongly enough, soon enough, to deter Moscow’s machinations against Ukraine after it took Crimea and Donbas in 2014. Hence the disaster now unfolding across Europe and, indeed, the world. There would be no excuse for making the same mistake twice.
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