vineri, 23 februarie 2018

Russians in Transnistria Remain Threat to Moldova

Moscow’s intensified troop movements and manoeuvres in the region of Transnistria are putting Moldova’s fragile security architecture at risk, a military expert says.

This interview I gave for the BalkansInsight, for what I thank Madalin Necsutu. More friends have asked me to republish it because not the entire interview is visible on the BalkanInsight page, but only for those who have subscribed.

Enjoy your reading!

For Rosian Vasiloi, the numbers speak for themselves. “I’ve done an analysis for the last few years, and anyone can see that Russia held 48 military exercises in Transnistria in 2016, while last year the number jumped to about 150 … but my estimate is that in 2017 there were in fact 200 military manoeuvres,” he told BIRN.
The 44-year-old retired Colonel from Moldova’s Border Police who worked also for the OSCE mission in Bishkek, is now a security and military analyst associate to the Chisinau-based Institute for Development and Social Initiatives – IDIS Viitorul.
Moscow maintains some 1,200 troops of the 14th Soviet Army, now called the Operative Group of Russian Troops, OGRT, in the so-called Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic.
The Kremlin says it deploys soldiers in the breakaway region to keep an eye on the biggest Soviet-era ammunition depot in Eastern Europe, located in Colbasna.
Russia also has 400 peacekeepers in Transnistria, ostensibly there to ensure an uneasy 25-year-old ceasefire that ended a bloody conflict between Moldova and its eastern separatist region.
They have often been a subject of dispute between the Moldovan government and the administration in Tiraspol.
In October, Moldova tried to obtain a resolution from the UN General Assembly to force Russia to honour a commitment it undertook and pull out its soldiers.
At a 1999 summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, in Istanbul, Moscow pledged to withdraw its troops from Transnistria by 2002, but it never followed up.
Moldova says a solution to the situation may be facilitated by transforming the Russian peacekeeping force into a multinational mission under an international mandate.
In the meantime, Moscow’s military exercises, carried out jointly with Transnistrian forces, have been synchronized with other Russian military exercises, including the large-scale military exercises Zapad – 2017 [West - 2017] organized in September in Belarus, the Kaliningrad Baltic exclave and other north-western areas of Russia.
Moreover, Vasiloi argues that Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria are in fact integrated into the OGRT, and all have the same routine in training, logistics, and communications.
These exercises have implied destroying tanks, anti-aircraft, guiding the reaction to destroy the enemy, and deployment on the other bank of the Dniester River that divides Transnistria from Moldova.
During the manoeuvres, Russian soldiers have also used new equipment, such as semi-guided anti-tank missile systems, including the Fagot, Maliutka, and Konkurs systems, which they had not used before in exercises in Transnistria.
On the other hand, the condition of the Moldovan army seems weak.
It consists of only 5,300 soldiers. According to official figures, in an emergency, some 700,000 Moldovans could be called to arms, but critics doubt this number. Besides, its weapons are old and in poor condition, mostly coming from the inventory of the former Soviet Red Army.
For its part, Transnistria has more than 7,500 soldiers whose equipment has been modernized with the help of Russia.
The complicated geopolitical situation caused by the fighting in neighbouring Ukraine has added to worries in Moldova.
Vasiloi sees Russian military exercises in Transnistria as part of a broader regional scenario, whose objective is to create an environment of permanent unrest and conflict within an ”enemy state”
„This idea has already been promoted by Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff. Let’s not forget that such hybrid war tactics, with small military components of diversion, have actually been used in Crimea,” Vasiloi said.
He envisages a strong possibility of Russia using the same tactics in Moldova, and even in Romania.
But Moldova, he notes, has only limited resources to face such a challenge.
The army budget amounts to barely 0.4 per cent of gross domestic product, GDP, and barely covers soldiers' food and lodging. 
Moreover, the military faces an uncertain future, caught between the pro-EU government, which shows little interest in security issues, and a pro-Russia president, who is determined to stop a potential Moldovan partnership with NATO.
Since President Igor Dodon assumed office in December 2016, he has prevented six military exercises from taking place that would have involved troops from countries with which Moldova has military partnerships – using the pretext of an absent defence minister and respect for the country’s policy of military neutrality. 
Vasiloi maintains that all of Dodon's actions have been coordinated with the Kremlin, with the apparent aim of eroding Moldova’s political and military cooperation with Euro-Atlantic partner states.
„It is a deliberate plan, guided by Russia, a plan which wants to destroy everything related to defence and security in Moldova”, he said. 
He added that Dodon has always been against NATO and even said in a recent interview for a Russian TV station that „NATO means war”, and that he does not want Moldovans to end up serving as „cannon fodder”.
Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has been badly affected not only by the frozen conflict with Transnistria, but also by widespread corruption and high migration.
Analysts warn these issues will remain among the hottest topics this year, when Moldova holds important parliamentary elections.

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