Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 22.12.2017
Moldova and Ukraine suffered total Russian occupation in the past and suffer partial Russian occupation now. These countries know Russian aggression from bitter experience. Finding ways to make the unwelcome Russians pack up and go home is a common concern of Moldovans and Ukrainians.
The longest illegal occupation by Russian armed forces of part of a European country dates back to the period when the Soviet Union was collapsing. The Trans-Dniester region of Moldova has been occupied by Russian troops since the time of Yeltsin. The Russians call their soldiers peacekeepers, even though they have no mandate from the United Nations and the Moldovans have demanded they leave – repeatedly.
Moldova announced on December 18 that is was recalling its ambassador from Russia, citing harassment and intimidation by Russian authorities of Moldovan political leaders and government officials. Moldovan diplomats have been targeted by Russia’s “special services” in Moscow. Expatriate Moldovans have been under intense pressure by the Russians over the past few years, following the exposure of the ‘Russian laundromat’ criminal conspiracy in Moldova and the theft of 20 percent of the wealth of Moldova’s treasury.
The President of Moldova, Igor Dodon, is strongly pro-Russia, and Russia’s special services went to great efforts to secure his election over Maia Sandu on 13 November 2016. Under Moldova’s constitution, the president’s powers are constrained by the power of parliament, which currently is considered pro-Europe. President Dodon expressed outrage at the decision of the Moldovan government to withdraw the ambassador from Russia: “This is a provocation of pro-European government, aimed at subversion of the strategic partnership between our countries.”
On December 19, the State Border Service of Ukraine announced that a joint Moldova-Ukraine border crossing was established on Ukrainian territory at Palanca in Odesa region. This is the sixth border crossing where Moldovan and Ukrainian border guards and customs officers do joint controls from the Ukrainian side of the border. The reason for this is that the other side of the border is so-called “Transnistria” and it is under the control of the Russian occupation army. The effect of joint Moldova-Ukraine border control is to assert Moldovan sovereignty to all of its internationally-recognized border. This also serves to undermine the authority of the fake Transnistria republic and curtails the smuggling and black market criminality that is a big part of the economy of the territory under Russian occupation. Moldova and Ukraine plan two more border crossings with this innovative arrangement, bringing the total to eight.
There is nothing Russia can do about this, short of invading Ukraine in a third region: Odesa. Russia has already invaded Crimea and part of Donbas.
The Moldovan government has also sent troops to participate in NATO exercises (over the objections of President Dodon) and welcomed NATO to open a representative office in Chișinău (over the objections of President Dodon). Moldovan airspace has been closed to Russian aircraft that aid the illegal occupation army in the Trans-Dniester region. on 28 July 2017, the Moldovan and Romanian governments closed their airspace to a flight carrying sanctioned war criminal Dmitry Rogozin, who was trying to meet with President Dodon.
Putin’s efforts to place Igor Dodon in the presidency of Moldova have not been rewarded. Dodon is ineffective in turning Moldova towards Russia. The Moldovan government that controls parliament and the ministries has been much more effective. Moldova is following a pro-EU and pro-NATO path, isolating Russia’s illegal occupation army in the Trans-Dniester region, and working in concert with ally Ukraine to assert Moldovan sovereignty.