A few days ago, maps of Ukraine with flags representing Russian troops suddenly changed. There at the bottom left, in another country bordering Ukraine, was a flag. How did that get there?
The flag is on Ukraine’s southwestern flank and on Moldova’s eastern border. Why, I wondered, did we never hear about Russians moving troops into Moldova? I soon found out. Russia occupies that part of Moldova.
They occupy that strip of Moldova without the consent of the Moldovians. The area, east Mondova’s Dniester River is called Transdniestria. There are reportedly 1,500 to 2,000 Russian soldiers with significant stockpiles of weapons and ammunition occupying the region. The Russians also exercise overall control over separatist armed groups in Transdniestria. This is yet another region where Russia supports proxy forces.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a short civil war between Moldovan loyalists and Transnistrian separatists in the early 1992. Moldova, NATO, Ukraine and the U.s. have all called on Russia to withdraw the troops.
Since 2002, Russia has been issuing passports to residents which has infuriated Kyiv and Chisinau, Moldova’s capital.
Transnistria has its own security services, government, currency, and border control. It also has a site which is estimated to be the “largest ammunition depot in Eastern Europe.” It is in the village of Cobasna, where 22,000 tons of ammunition is housed.
The European Court for Human Rights has found Russia guilty of human rights violations in the Transnistrian region. Ion Manole, executive director of the human rights group Promo-LEX has stated:
“We cannot speak about respect for human rights in this region. The main reason for this is impunity. It’s a closed territory where journalists, specialists, lawyers, and human rights defenders are not accepted. So we cannot even monitor the status of human rights as we would like.”
One company appears to own almost all of the petrol stations, supermarkets, and distilleries – Sheriff, a name synonymous with Transnistria. It is owned by a former Soviet police officer, Viktor Gushan. The opaque organization is influential in politics, Transnistrian trade and everyday life.
According to Freedom House, this unrecognized state is “not free.”