Could the Ukraine war spill over into Moldova? (2023)

Over the weekend, pro-Russian separatists claimed that Ukrainian drones dropped explosives on an airfield in Transnistria, a pro-Russia breakaway region of Moldova bordering Ukraine. Western analysts havecast a lot of doubt on those drone claims, but they came two weeks aftera series of explosions were reported in the region. No one was injured in either event, but they were a reminder of the risks if the Ukraine war spills beyond its borders.

The explosions also rattled the status quo of a decades-long “frozen” conflict. Amid the fall of the Soviet Union, Transnistria, backed by Moscow, fought to break away from Moldova. A 1992 ceasefire stopped the fighting, but Transnistria still maintains its de facto independence, though its status is not formally recognized by the international community — not even by Russia.

No one claimed responsibility for the recent blasts in Transnistria, which targeted an empty state security ministry in Tiraspol, its capital, along with a radio tower that broadcast a Russian-language station, and a local military unit.

The lack of attribution meant a lot of accusations. Transnistria officials blamed Ukrainian “nationalists” for committing a terrorist attack. Ukrainian officials accused Russian security forces of a “false flag” operation to create a pretext for intervention. Moldova’s foreign minister said that the attacks were “pretexts for straining the security situation in the Transnistrian region.” Maia Sandu, Moldova's pro-European Union president,said rival factions within Transnistria were responsible.

Experts said whoever staged the attack likely did it more for messaging than intentional harm. But it did succeed raising fears that reignited tensions might draw Transnistria, or Moldova, into a wider conflict. There were other hints, too. On April 22, the acting commander of Russia’s central military district, Rustam Minnekayev, indicated that Russia’s efforts to control southern Ukraine could create a bridge to Transnistria, where,Minnekayev claimed, there is “oppression of the Russian-speaking population.”

US intelligence apparently made a similar assessment of Russia’s ultimate goal. Director of National Intelligence Avril Hainestold a Senate committee Tuesdaythat there are “indications” Russia wants to create this land bridge, connecting southern Ukraine — including the key Ukrainian port city of Odesa — to Transnistria, which would cut Ukraine entirely off from sea access. But, Haines added, the US assesses Russia won’t be able to do that “without launching some form of mobilization.”

Ukraine has alsoworriedthat Russia would use Transnistria as a possible staging ground to carry out attacks in southern Ukraine, including near Odesa, or use it as another front to expand the war.

Moldova, a small, poor countrywith a tiny military, is in a precarious moment:seeking more support from the EUand the West, whilemaintaining its neutralityand trying to avoid provoking Russia. And Transnistria itself may have a pretty complicated calculus: though it was largely dependent on Russia, it has expanded trade with the European Union, to its own economic benefit, and that would all go away if it is subsumed by Russia.

For Russia the goal has always been to use Transnistria as a leverage point to destabilize Moldova and the region. Even if it desires some sort of land bridge, the Transnistria itself is not the Kremlin’s aim. Right now, that is still Ukraine. Andthe Kremlin is still fighting to control territory in Ukraine’s east and south— which means the realities on the ground temper Russia’s maximalist aims. “The only thing that’s saving [Transnistria] from being taken over is geography — the fact that Ukraine is in between them and the Russians,” said Stuart Kaufman, a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware.

What is Transnistria?

Transnistria has always had closer linguistic and cultural ties to Moscow than the rest of Moldova, the western part of which tends to share closer ties to Romania. The Soviet Union also heavily industrialized Transnistria, making it economically important during the Soviet era, and leaving Moldova as a whole more dependent on the region.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, said Michael Eric Lambert, an analyst and expert on the region, that identity also meant Transnistria didn’t want to go with the rest of Moldova, and wanted to be either independent, or part of Russia.

Transnistrian separatists, with Russian backing, foughta civil war that killed about 1,000 people, until a 1992 ceasefire that basically gave Transnistria de facto independence. Russian armed forces became permanently stationed in the region, including a few hundred peacekeepers as part of the ceasefire and the so-called Operational Group of Russian Armed Forces,about 1,500 troops that guard a massive munitions cache. Transnistria also hasabout 10,000 of its own soldiers, according to the Los Angeles Times.

If you’re Moldova, this situation was always a little unsettling, and that was exactly the point of Transnistria for Russia. “Russia creates political pressure on Moldova to keep it in its sphere of influence and keep it from participating in Western European structures such as the European Union,” said Agnieszka Miarka, a professor of political science at the University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland. Moldova is officially neutral andhas said it will remain so, but if Moldova ever decided to change its mind, having pro-Russia troops on its soil would also make NATO membership impossible.

Transnistria’s de facto government is pro-Russia, and as experts said, the region does have a shared history, language, and culture with Russia. (At the same time, the territory of about 400,000 has sizable Ukrainian and Moldovan or Romanian-speaking minorities.) The territory was traditionally dependent on the Kremlinfor things like energy and pensions— though Moscow hasn’t been as generous lately as it once was.

But Transnistria’s economic ties started to shift in recent years, a consequence of Moldova’s trade agreement with the EU. Now,about 70 percent of Transnistria’s exportsgo to the European Union. That has created a dichotomy, where the region’s political sympathies still align with Russia, but its economic interests are more firmly tied to Moldova, and the European Union. And that may be one reason working against the possibility of a spillover conflict.

How likely is it that the Ukraine conflict spills over into Moldova?

Transnistria’s de facto government has not condemned Russia’s invasion — but it hasn’t supported it, either.

As experts said, even though Transnistria won’t abandon its Russian ties, it doesn’t want to go out of the way to invite Moscow to march across its doorstep. There’s the economic factor; Transnistria would be cut off from the Western economy that it’s increasingly dependent on, and instead rely on asanctions-crunchedRussia. There are also more common-sense reasons. “Would you like the war to come to your home? I don’t think so,” said Tatsiana Kulakevich, a global studies professor at the University of South Florida.

So, Transnistria is kind of laying low. “‘We support Russia. Russia is our ally. Russia, Russia,’” Kulakevich said of the region’s likely thinking. “But Russia needs to reach us first.”

That is, Moscow would need to actually create the land bridge that at least one Russian general claimed the Kremlin wanted to make. And experts really doubt that Russia can do that right now, given thatthe Russian military is bogged down in eastern Ukraine, and while it has made advances in the east and the south, thesebattles are depleting Russian troops, too.

Since Russia doesn’t border Moldova, it couldn’t easily supply or bring troops to Transnistria, making it an unlikely front from which to wage an attack on Ukraine. “I don’t think the Russians have any ability to do anything militarily with the troops they have in Transnistria because they can’t supply them,” Kaufman said.

Still, some analysts said just threatening Transnistria may serve a purpose — specifically, by forcing Ukraine to move troops to the area to defend places like Odesa, and away from other active fronts. It also lets Russian President Vladimir Putin “pretend that he’s winning more than losing,” as Lambert put it.

And as experts pointed out, the threat keeps Ukraine and Moldova on edge.Moldova applied for EU membership in March, though the country has a long pathway to go before reaching it. The EU hasalso said it will step up military assistance— in addition to financial support the West is providing for the tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees who’ve crossed into Moldova. But Moldova has also been careful to reiterate its neutrality, andremains dependent on Russia for its energy. And officialshave downplayed the risks of a spillover.

As experts said, it makes little sense for Russia to expand the Ukraine conflict, given how it already had to revise its war aims. Right now, the possibility of a real spillover still seems low. But Putin has madeinexplicable military movesthroughout the Ukraine conflict, and wars, once started, are inherently unpredictable. “There’s a risk of escalation,” Lambert said. “It’s a reality.”

Update, May 10, 12:10 pm ET:This story has been updated to include the US intelligence assessment of Russia’s intentions.

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Could the Ukraine war spill over into Moldova? (1)


Could the Ukraine war spill over into Moldova? ›

The war has spilled over into Moldova on multiple occasions, though it is not a belligerent. Moldova is officially neutral. Some believe Russia will create a land corridor to Transnistria, or bring Transnistria into the war completely.

Can Moldova access the Black Sea? ›

While it is landlocked, Moldovan territory includes the Prut, the Dniester, and the Danube rivers, which empty into the Black Sea.

Is Moldova going to be attacked by Russia? ›

Last month, the head of Moldova's Security Service warned there is a “very high” risk that Russia will launch a new offensive in Moldova's east in 2023.

Are there Russian troops in Moldova? ›

To this day, Moldova continues to request the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Transnistria, having done so as recently as in 2021.

Is Moldova under pressure from Russia's war on Ukraine fears it could be next? ›

Moldova's greatest fear is that, if Moscow wins the war in Ukraine, it could be next in line for a Russian invasion. Russian officials have openly warned Moldova against drifting to the West.

Does Moldova have any sea access? ›

Moldova does have access to the Black Sea. However, it does not have directly access to the Black Sea. The Prut River runs along the western border of Moldova. The Prut River joins the Danube River, when eventually flows directly into the Black Sea.

Does Moldova have access to the Danube River? ›

Moldova is one of the smaller countries of the Danube River Basin, but the Danube touches the southern point of Moldova for about 340 meters.

Is Moldova an ally of Russia? ›

Separatist regions

Transnistria, a de facto independent region of Moldova, is supported by Russia, although Russia has not recognised Transnistria. There have been proposals in Transnistria for joining the Russian Federation.

Does the US support Moldova? ›

The United States stands together with Moldova by supporting its long-term democratic and economic reform efforts, as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The two countries addressed the economic, energy, security, defense, and humanitarian impacts to Moldova of Russia's war against Ukraine.

Are there NATO troops in Moldova? ›

Article 11 of the Constitution of Moldova states: "The Republic of Moldova proclaims its permanent neutrality. The Republic of Moldova does not allow the deployment of armed forces of other states on its territory."

Is Moldova an ally of the United States? ›

Moldova has generally cordial relations with the United States, but they vary depending on whether Chisinau has a pro-Western or pro-Russian political party in power.

Is Moldova military strong? ›

Unlike Ukraine, Moldova has a weak military, comparable to Transnistria's forces. Moldova's active military personnel amounts to 6,000 soldiers, who likely do not have the ability to successfully fend off Russian troops. Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with a population of about 2.6 million.

What are the Russian plans to invade Moldova? ›

The plan includes making Moldova dependent on imports of Russian gas and stirring up social conflict, as well as trying to block Moldova's efforts to gain influence in the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria, where some 1,500 Russian soldiers are stationed.

What is the secret country between Moldova and Ukraine? ›

Transnistria is landlocked and borders Bessarabia (the region the Republic of Moldova is based on, for 411 km; 255 mi) to the west, and Ukraine (for 405 km; 252 mi) to the east.

Is Moldova in danger? ›

Exercise a high degree of caution in Moldova due to the volatile security environment and military conflict in neighbouring Ukraine.

What is the unrecognized country between Moldova and Ukraine? ›

Transnistria, or Trans-Dniester, represents a separatist region that is located on a narrow strip of land between the Dniester River and the Ukrainian border. Transnistria broke away from Moldova in 1990 and is not recognized by the international community as an independent state.

Why is Moldova least visited? ›

Moldova is landlocked, has no natural resources outside of fertile agricultural land and has recently been relying on handouts from the EU to try and keep their country together.

Can you drink tap water in Moldova? ›

1. Tap Water in Chisinau. It is highly unadvised to drink tap water in Chisinau as it is purified with great amounts of chlorine.

Where does Moldova get its oil from? ›

Moldova imports all of its supplies of petroleum, coal, and natural gas, largely from Russia.

What two countries is Moldova landlocked between? ›

Moldova (/mɒlˈdoʊvə/ ( listen) mol-DOH-və, sometimes UK: /ˈmɒldəvə/ MOL-də-və; Romanian pronunciation: [molˈdova]), officially the Republic of Moldova (Romanian: Republica Moldova), is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east, and south.

Is Moldova a landlocked country or not? ›

Moldova, landlocked country lying in the northeastern corner of the Balkan region of Europe. Its capital city is Chișinău, located in the south-central part of the country.

What is the water source in Moldova? ›

Surface water

In the Republic of Moldova surface waters are represented by basins of the Dniester and Pruth rivers which are transborder water sources, inland rivers and natural and manmade reservoirs. The biggest surface water source is the Dniester River having a total annual discharge of circa 10.7 km3.

Is Moldova a good place to live? ›

In particular, Moldova has become one of the most comfortable countries to live in, so we share current prices for renting housing, food, entertainment and travel in the country.

Who controls Moldova? ›

The politics of Moldova take place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, wherein the prime minister is the head of the Government of Moldova, and a multi-party system. The President of Moldova has no important powers.

What is Moldova known for? ›

Why is Moldova famous? Mainly for its world-class wine, ancient monasteries and unspoiled open countryside - and for its distinct lack of crowds.

Are Americans welcome in Moldova? ›

U.S. citizens may stay in Moldova for up to 90 days within a six-month period without a visa. Residence permits are required for stays over 90 days and may be obtained at the Bureau for Migration and Asylum office at 124 Boulevard Stefan cel Mare in Chisinau. You must register your visit with the government of Moldova.

What is the US relationship with Moldova? ›

U.S. government assistance aims to help Moldova strengthen its democratic institutions, increase prosperity, secure its internationally recognized borders, and integrate with Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community. Since 1992, the United States has provided over $1.4 billion in assistance to Moldova.

What is the US policy towards Moldova? ›

The United States supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova and on that basis supports the OSCE-led 5+2 negotiations to find a comprehensive settlement that will provide a special status for the separatist region of Transnistria within a territorially whole and sovereign Moldova.

How big is Moldova military? ›

Armed Forces of the Republic of Moldova
Reaching military age annually43,729 (2005 est.)
Active personnel6,500 Professional Personnel + 2,000 Annual Conscripts (2022)
Reserve personnel65,000-70,000 (2018)
24 more rows

Why is Moldova not in the EU? ›

The level of poverty in Moldova (the country is the poorest among the potential EU members) is a stumbling block to accession. The Transnistria conflict, concerning a self-proclaimed breakaway republic supported by Russia, is also an obstacle.

Is Moldova in the European Union or NATO? ›

Although Moldova is not a member of NATO, it does cooperate with the organization and contributes to the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

What is the relationship between China and Moldova? ›

The China–Moldova relations are the bilateral relationships between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Moldova. China recognized the independence of Moldova on Dec 27th, 1991.

Is Moldova part of the Russian Empire? ›

On 27 August 1991, following the coup's collapse, Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union.

What is the relationship between Japan and Moldova? ›

Japan and Moldova have established their diplomatic relations in March 1992, and since then, they have continuously developed partner relationship based on shared fundamental values such as democracy, market economy and the rule of law.

Does Moldova have fighter jets? ›

In April 1992, the Moldovan Air Force inherited the Mikoyan MiG-29-equipped 86th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment at Mărculești Air Force Base from the Air Forces of the Black Sea Fleet.

What is the strongest country military wise? ›

United States. The United States of America is a North American nation that is the world's most dominant economic and military power.

How much of Moldova is Russian? ›

Population of Moldova
Population of MoldovaMoldovan (Romanian)Russian
by native language2,588,355 76.51%380,796 11.26%
by language of first use2,543,354 75.17%540,990 15.99%

Is Moldova protected by NATO? ›

Moldova is constitutionally neutral but seeks to draw closer to Euro-Atlantic standards and institutions. NATO fully respects Moldova's constitutional neutrality. Relations with NATO started in 1992, when Moldova joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council.

What is Moldova mission to NATO? ›

The Mission of Moldova to NATO was established in 1997 with the appointment of the first Moldovan representative to the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) (NACC). Its main task is to represent Moldova as a partner country to NATO.

What language is spoken in Moldova? ›

Article Moldova: Romanian Recognized as the Official Language. (Dec. 23, 2013) On December 5, 2013, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova ruled that the Romanian language is the official language of this country.

How many Ukrainians are in Moldova? ›

Since 24 February 2022, over 780 000 Ukrainians have crossed the border into the Republic of Moldova, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with more arriving every day.

How many Ukrainians have entered Moldova? ›

Palanca: The primary border crossing

The village of Palanca on the Ukrainian border is less than an hour's drive from the city of Odesa and has been the main crossing point for the 750,000 refugees who have fled the war through Moldova.

Is Moldova a communist country? ›

On August 23, the Communist Party was banned; subsequently, on 27 August 1991 Moldova declared Independence and the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic came to an end.

Do they speak English in Moldova? ›

Like many capitals around the world, English is widely spoken in Chisinau, Moldova. But as you venture to other regions of Moldova, most people speak just Romanian or Russian or both.

Are people in Moldova happy? ›

Happiness Index, 0 (unhappy) - 10 (happy)

The latest value from 2022 is 5.82 points. For comparison, the world average in 2022 based on 135 countries is 5.53 points. See the global rankings for that indicator or use the country comparator to compare trends over time.

What country has access to the Black Sea? ›

The Black Sea is bordered by 2 EU countries – Bulgaria and Romania – as well as Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. Since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007, the EU has strengthened regional cooperation with and between the countries surrounding the Black Sea.

Which country has direct access to Black Sea? ›

There are six countries with coastlines on the Black Sea (clockwise), Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Turkey (Türkiye), Bulgaria, and Romania.

What seaport does Moldova have access to? ›

The Port of Giurgiulești (Romanian: Portul Giurgiulești), officially the Giurgiulești International Free Port (Romanian: Portul Internațional Liber Giurgiulești, PILG), is a port on the Danube River at its confluence with the Prut and the only port in Moldova.

Who has access to the Black Sea? ›

It is bounded by Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia. The Black Sea is supplied by major rivers, principally the Danube, Dnieper, and Don. Consequently, while six countries have a coastline on the sea, its drainage basin includes parts of 24 countries in Europe.

Were human remains found at the bottom of the Black Sea? ›

A National Geographic expedition led by Robert Ballard aboard the Northern Horizon has discovered remnants of human habitation more than 300 feet below the surface of the Black Sea, approximately 12 miles off the Turkish shore.

Is the Black Sea totally landlocked? ›


The Black Sea is landlocked except for its connection with the Mediterranean through the Bosphorus; this connection is slender, having a shore-to-shore width of only 725 m at the choke point, and a midchannel sill depth of only 40 m.

How many ships does Russia have in the Black Sea? ›

Black Sea Fleet
Russian Black Sea Fleet
Size25,000 personnel (including marines) c. 40 surface warships (surface combatants, amphibious, mine warfare) plus support and auxiliaries 7 submarines (2 of which are in the Mediterranean as of March 2022)
Part ofRussian Armed Forces
12 more rows

Does the US have ships in the Black Sea? ›

Since the closure, only warships with ports on the Black Sea, which includes Russia's Black Sea Fleet and Turkish ships, can enter. The last American warship to transit the strait was USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), which left the Black Sea on Dec. 15, 2021.

Can you swim in the Black Sea? ›

Swimming in the Black Sea is possible with a clean freshwater surface, though it offers a different experience from other water bodies. With its strange features, including the high level of minerals and salt, usually, the objects tend to float on the water.

Who owns the Black Sea airspace? ›

Owned and produced by the Navy League of the United States, Sea-Air-Space attracts maritime leaders from sea services around the globe.

Why are ships registered in Moldova? ›

Moldova has no direct access to the sea. Despite this, it has become a real maritime force in the region, with hundreds of ships registered under the Moldovan flag. The flag of Moldova is attractive to foreign individuals and legal entities due to cheaper services and faster registration than in other open-flag states.

Is Moldova land locked? ›

Moldova is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, located between Romania and Ukraine. The government system is a republic; the chief of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister.

Can ships get from the Black Sea to the ocean? ›

There's only one way in and out of the Black Sea. Russia regularly sends its ships and submarines in and out of the sea, surging forces there or sending its Black Sea Fleet into the Mediterranean Sea for local operations.

Does Turkey control access to Black Sea? ›

The modern treaty controlling access is the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, which remains in force as of 2023. This Convention gives the Republic of Turkey control over warships entering the straits but guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime.

Does Russia have submarines in the Black Sea? ›

According to information published by the Ukrainian Armed Forces on March 2, 2023, the group of Russian ships in the Black Sea consists of 13 ships, 4 of which are capable of carrying Kalibr missiles, including 2 submarines.


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