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U.S. monitors blasts reported in Moldova breakaway area bordering Ukraine

Reminders of the early 1990s conflict in Transnistria include this building marked by artillery fire. (Gianmarco Maraviglia for The Washington Post)
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The United States is monitoring events in the Eastern European country of Moldova, the Pentagon said Tuesday, after the breakaway region of Transnistria bordering Ukraine said explosions over the past two days hit a radio center and a security headquarters.

The reports of explosions could stoke fears about the scope of Russia’s war in neighboring Ukraine, and they prompted Moldova’s president to convene a meeting of the country’s security council as she promised to prevent an escalation.

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 that’s all about.”

“Certainly,” he said, “we don’t want to see any spillover. It’s important to make sure that we do everything that we can to ensure that Ukraine is successful. And that’s the best way to address that.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told CNN in an interview earlier Tuesday that it was too soon “to know exactly what happened here, who’s responsible.”

“We’re watching this as best we can,” he told the news network.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres is following the developments there “with concern,” and “urges all concerned to refrain from any statements or actions that could escalate tensions,” Farhan Haq, a spokesman for Guterres, said in an emailed statement.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday evening that “Russia’s war against Ukraine is just the beginning.”

He added: “The ultimate goal of Russia’s leadership is not just to seize the territory of Ukraine, but to dismember the entire center and east of Europe and deal a global blow to democracy.”

A Russian military commander said last week that one the country’s goal was to establish a corridor through southern Ukraine to Transnistria — a strip of land with a population of nearly 500,000 that is backed by Moscow and hosts Russian troops. The region, which broke away after the collapse of the Soviet Union triggered a conflict in the early 1990s, is not recognized as independent by any country, but operates separately from Moldova.

Kamyanets-Podilskyi

Kyiv

UKRAINE

Briceni

Detail

Soroca

TRANSNISTRIA

Self-proclaimed

republic since 1991

Botosani

Balti

Ribnita

Dnister

River

MOLDOVA

Mayak

Location of two

explosions on

April 26

Dubasari

Iasi

Chisinau

Tiraspol

Bender

Vaslui

Bacau

ROMANIA

Odessa

Comrat

UKRAINE

Mouth of

Dnister

River

Cahul

Focsani

Bolhrad

Galati

Black

Sea

Izmayil

Braila

Tulcea

Danube

River

Danube

Delta

25 MILES

Kyiv

Kamyanets-Podilskyi

Detail

Briceni

UKRAINE

Soroca

TRANSNISTRIA

Self-proclaimed

republic since

1991

Balti

Ribnita

MOLDOVA

Mayak

Dubasari

Location of two

explosions on

April 26

Iasi

Chisinau

ROMANIA

Bender

Tiraspol

Bacau

Odessa

Comrat

Dnister

R.

Cahul

UKRAINE

Focsani

Bolhrad

Galati

Black

Sea

Izmayil

Tulcea

Danube

Delta

Danube

River

25 MILES

Kyiv

UKRAINE

Detail

Briceni

TRANSNISTRIA

Self-proclaimed

republic since 1991.

Balti

Ribnita

MOLDOVA

Mayak

Dubasari

Iasi

Location of two

explosions on

April 26

Chisinau

ROMANIA

Bender

Tiraspol

Bacau

Odessa

Comrat

Dnister

R.

UKRAINE

Black

Sea

Galati

Danube

River

Danube

Delta

50 MILES

It was unclear whether the commander’s comments on Transnistria reflected official policy, although Ukraine depicted them as proof of the Kremlin’s ambitions beyond its borders and Moldova summoned the Russian ambassador to express “deep concern.”

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blasts. A Moldovan government body warned Monday of possible attempts to “create pretexts for straining the security situation in the Transnistrian region,” and the Ukrainian Defense Ministry called the blasts a “planned provocation by the Russian special services.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Russia doesn’t know who was responsible for the attacks but suspects an attempt to “destabilize the situation.” His comments followed a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry that said the country wanted to avoid a scenario in which it “will have to intervene in the conflict in Transnistria.” The statement, published by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, described the news of explosions as “alarming.”

Meanwhile, the head of pro-Moscow separatist forces fighting to expand their grip in eastern Ukraine, Denis Pushilin, said the latest incidents in Transnistria “would require the continuation” of Russia’s military operations.

What is Transnistria, and will Russia advance toward Moldova?

And the head of Transnistria, Vadim Krasnoselsky, on Tuesday blamed Ukraine for “traces of terrorist attacks,” according to the Russian news agency Tass.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu accused factions in the separatist region of attempting “to destabilize the situation.”

The Washington Post could not independently verify the claims made by any side.

In Transnistria, the Internal Affairs Ministry said explosions in the village of Mayak on Tuesday morning damaged two antennae that broadcast Russian radio. It disseminated photos of the collapsed towers a day after declaring that several blasts hit the Ministry of State Security building in the capital, Tiraspol, and that preliminary information suggested rounds were fired from a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

The ministry said there were no injuries. The office of Transnistria’s leader reported a third incident on Tuesday, an attack on a military unit near the village of Parcani, without giving further details.

As the region raised its security threat level, Moscow said it was “very closely watching” Transnistria. Peskov added that there were no plans for contact between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Moldovan counterpart, Sandu. “Of course, news from there causes concern,” he said.

Dan Lamothe in Washington, Catherine Belton in London and Bryan Pietsch in Seoul contributed to this report.

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