Moldova’s foreign minister says there are “internal forces” in the country seeking to “destabilize the region” in the shadow of Russia’s war on Ukraine but that Chisinau is working to ensure that such efforts don’t spread the conflict.
Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu acknowledged that the situation in Moldova was “fragile, but it is nevertheless calm.”
He also said his country’s rightful place is in the European Union and he hopes Moldova’s accelerated EU bid gets quick acceptance from the bloc “in the next few weeks and months.”
“We do not face an acute military crisis today,” Popescu told reporters on the sidelines of a three-day G7 foreign ministers’ meeting on Germany’s Baltic coast focused largely on the war and its ripple effects on food and energy supplies.
Moldova and its tiny breakaway region of Transdniester share a roughly 1,200-kilometer border with Ukraine and fears of a spillover have intensified since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in late February.
The European Union on May 4 pledged to boost military aid to Moldova, a poor nonmember where around 1,500 Russian troops still guard a Soviet-era military depot over Chisinau’s objections.
The pro-Russian leadership in Transdniester has pointed fingers across the border at Ukraine for some of a string of explosions and other minor incidents in recent months.
On May 13, it said two attacks with Molotov cocktails targeted a fuel depot and conscription center in the regional capital, Tiraspol. The resulting fires were quickly extinguished, it said.
In a Reuters interview, Popescu said he couldn’t assign blame but he linked the Transdniester blasts to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
He expressed Chisinau’s commitment to resolving the Transdniester problem “through peaceful dialogue and diplomacy.”
He said an “absolute majority of citizens in the Transdniestrian region doesn’t want to live in a war zone and want peace, but there are forces inside that want to fuel destabilization.”
“They are limited, but want to play games stoking up tensions, provoking, [making] the population of Transdniestria hysterical and making nervous the population of Moldova,” Popescu said. “There are internal forces that want to destabilize this region and bring war closer to our homes. We are working to make sure this is not happening.”
Post-Soviet Moldova is a poor and mostly Romanian-speaking country that remains hugely dependent on Russian natural gas.
Nearly half a million refugees have fled to Moldova from Ukraine during the current fighting, with most continuing on but around one-quarter of them staying.
Popescu said his country needed financial resources and “to adapt everything” to cope with the influx.
Transdniester is a narrow strip of land between the rest of Moldova and Ukraine.
It declared independence from Chisinau in 1990 and the two sides fought a brief war in 1992 that was quelled by Russian troops intervening on th side of the separatists.
Popescu cited Moldova’s decision in the first week of the Ukraine war to submit its EU application and said its leadership was working hard on judicial and other reforms to make it an attractive candidate.
“We believe that we are a country that has a European history, language, society, and a relatively consolidated democracy,” Popescu said. “We believe our place is inside the European Union…and hope that in the next few weeks and months the EU will recognize our European aspirations.”
Nearby Georgia, which fought a five-day war in 2008 with Russian troops backing two of its breakaway regions, also submitted its EU application soon after Russian troops poured over Ukraine’s border on February 24.
With reporting by Reuters and AP