Russian-state media continues to embolden pro-Russian separatists in Moldova, possibly in an attempt to sow political instability and division, the Institute for the Study of War reported in their daily assessment on Jan. 9.
Vadim Krasnoselsky, the president of the Russian-backed breakaway republic of Transnistria, told reporters from the Russian state media agency TASS that Moldova's increased 'militarization' threatens Transnistria. Over the last year, the government of Moldova increased its military budget, participated in joint exercises with NATO, and received military supplies from European states to protect itself from further military incursion from Russia.
"When our neighbor, with which there has been an unresolved conflict for more than 30 years and which has treacherously attacked our peaceful cities in the past, suddenly races to arm itself, naturally, that’s a threat," Krasnoselsky said.
Transnistria is a breakaway region internationally recognized as part of Moldova. Russian troops have occupied Transnistria since the early 1990s when Russia invaded the region under the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians.
Krasnoselsky also rejected the idea that Moldova could be increasing its military capabilities as a way to defend itself against Russia. He also alleged that Moldova is “consistently following the path of escalation” and the Moldovan government “bears the responsibility for further inevitable consequences.”
In a previous assessment, ISW determined that Russia is slowly shaping an information space aimed at destabilizing Moldova and justifying any future campaigns by framing Russia as a protector of 'threatened Russian language speakers' in Moldova. This approach is almost identical to the narratives constructed by Russia to justify the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
This recent report suggests Krasnoselsky's decision to further develop the Kremlin’s information conditions and instability in Moldova is motivated by a recent change to the Moldovan Customs Code.
In March 2023, the Moldovan government amended the Customs Code to begin requiring companies in Transnistria to pay import customs duties to Moldova. The change went into effect at the beginning of this month and reportedly came as a "surprise" to Transnistria.
Viktor Gushan, a Moldovan-Russian businessman who effectively controls the economy in Transnistria, is closely affiliated with Krasnoselsky. Back in April 2022, Russia conducted a false-flag operation in Transnistria in an attempt to bring the breakaway region into the invasion of Ukraine. The operation failed allegedly because Gushan refused to risk his lucrative business ties with Western companies.
The Customs law, however, could potentially jeopardize Gushan's profits in Transnistria. According to ISW, Moldovan investigative journalists reported in 2020 that two Transnistrian companies tied to Gushan imported products worth about $22 million to Transnistria without paying taxes.
Krasnoselsky called the new customs policy “unreasonable,” in violation of the trade agreement between Transnistria and the EU, and that Moldova is pushing Moldovan-Transnistrian relations towards “greater confrontation.”