What is Transnistria, and will Russia advance toward Moldova?

Reminders of the early 1990s conflict remain in Bender, Transnistria, including this building marked by artillery fire. (Gianmarco Maraviglia for The Washington Post)
Comment

Two months into the invasion of Ukraine, a Russian military commander suggested on April 22 that Moscow aims to establish a corridor through southern Ukraine to Transnistria, a breakaway republic in eastern Moldova.

“Control over the south of Ukraine is another way out to Transnistria, where there are also facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population,” said Rustam Minnekaev, acting commander of Russia’s Central Military District, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

It was unclear whether Minnekaev’s statement reflects the official Kremlin line. The comment surprised some analysts, since Russia tried and failed in the early weeks of the war to advance on southwestern Ukraine — the area it would need to secure to reach the border with Transnistria.

Nonetheless, it sparked global conversation about the separatist enclave and represents the most direct challenge to Moldova to date. Moldova summoned Russia’s ambassador later Friday to express “deep concern” over Minnekaev’s comments.

“These statements are unfounded and contradict the position of the Russian Federation supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, within its internationally recognized borders,” the Moldovan Foreign Ministry said in a statement provided to The Washington Post.

Analysts say it’s unlikely that the Russian military, embroiled in a fight to take eastern Ukraine, is capable of carving out such a path. And even though Transnistria is backed by Moscow and hosts Russian troops, that may not mean its residents want to get involved in the war.

On Tuesday, the United States said it was monitoring events in Moldova after authorities there said several explosions over the past two days hit a radio center and a security headquarters in the breakaway region, fueling worries in Moldova of an escalation. Moldova’s president also convened a meeting of the country’s security council, vowing to prevent an escalation.

U.S. monitoring blasts reported in Moldova breakaway region bordering Ukraine

No one immediately claimed responsibility, but the Ukrainian Defense Ministry called the blasts Monday a “planned provocation by the Russian special services.” The Moldovan Office for Reintegration Policy said the explosions were intended aim of the incident was to “create pretexts for straining the security situation in the Transnistrian region, which is not controlled by the constitutional authorities.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking in Germany, said the United States is examining the cause of the explosions and is “not really sure of what’s that all about.”

“Certainly,” he added, “we don’t want to see any spillover.”

BELARUS

Voronezh

RUSSIA

Chernihiv

Russian-held

areas

Belgorod

Sumy

Kyiv

Kharkiv

Poltava

Transnistria

LUHANSK

Self-proclaimed

republic since

1991

UKRAINE

Luhansk

Dnipro

Uman

Donetsk

DONETSK

Zaporizhzhia

Rostov-

on-Don

Mariupol

Russian-held

areas

Mykolaiv

Chisinau

Melitopol

Area held by

Russia-backed

separatists

since 2014

Odessa

Tiraspol

Kherson

Crimea

RUSSIA

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Black

Sea

ROMANIA

100 MILES

BULGARIA

Source: April 21 control data via Institute for the Study of War

RUSSIA

BELARUS

100 MILES

Area held by

Russia-backed

separatists

since 2014

Chernihiv

Kyiv

Kharkiv

UKRAINE

Uman

Dnipro

Mariupol

MOL.

Russian-held

areas

Odessa

Chisinau

RUSSIA

Crimea

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

ROM.

Transnistria

Self-proclaimed

republic since

1991

BULG.

Source: April 21 control data via Institute for the Study of War

RUSSIA

BELARUS

Area held by

Russia-backed

separatists

since 2014

100 MILES

Kyiv

Kharkiv

UKRAINE

Dnipro

MOL.

Mariupol

Odessa

Russian-held

areas

Chisinau

RUS.

ROM.

Transnistria

Crimea

Self-proclaimed

republic since

1991

Annexed

by Russia

in 2014

BULG.

Source: April 21 control data via Institute for the Study of War

Here’s what to know about the breakaway republic.

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