Transnistria, population approximately half a million, between pro-western Moldova and Ukraine, is appealing eastward.
Last month, Transnistria asked to join the Russian Federation. A few days ago its parliament formally asked Russia to recognise it as independent.
President Putin, flush from his recent annexation of Crimea, till recently anchored within Ukraine, responded to the call: “The people are indeed very pro-Russian. A large number of Russian citizens live in Transnistria. People have their own understanding of how they should build their future, their fate — and that is nothing but a manifestation of democracy if we allow those people to do what they want.”
The Transnistrians proclaimed a republic in 1990, after seceding from Moldova, which is one of Europe’s poorest countries,
The breakaway splinter state has never been internationally recognised except by South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are themselves self-declared breakaway statelets.
Fighting over Transnistria in the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union left some 2,000 dead in 1992. Transnistria’s ethnic groups are: 32 percent Moldovan, 30 percent Russian and 29 percent Ukrainian. The Transnistrians got support from former Soviet troops against Moldovan forces.
The Moldovans have not controlled the landlocked strip adjacent to Ukraine since then. Russia promised to remain neutral if the enclave was given autonomy, but it kept troops there.
A plebiscite in 2006 registered 97 percent in favour of attachment to Russia. If that happened, Russia would not be neutral any longer.
The European Union is deeply concerned over further east-west clashing, Romania pleading for a stronger deployment of NATO in Eastern Europe.
Moldova signed a trade accord with the EU last November. Ousted President Yanukovych attended that EU summit without signing an accord for the Ukrainians. That undid him, and triggered bloody chaos.
Afterwards, remarking wryly on the Moldovans’ inclination, the Russian deputy prime minister suggested: “Moldova’s train to Europe will lose its carriages in Transnistria.”
Many fear Moscow is keenly tempted to sabotage it.