Russia State Media Warns War is Coming to European Country

As the war between Russia and Ukraine is anticipated to escalate in the next few weeks, the neighboring nation of Moldova may be caught in the crosshairs.

Russian state-run news outlet RT claims Eastern Europe is on the verge of a war that includes Moldova and Transnistria, known officially as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic—a post-Soviet state internationally recognized as part of Moldova.

Tensions are rising after claims in recent weeks by Russian officials that Kyiv "is preparing an armed provocation against Transnistria in the near future," which would hypothetically be led by the Armed Forces of Ukraine in tandem with the neo-Nazi Azov regiment.

What the countries' officials are saying

Leaders of both Russia and Ukraine are countering the others' narratives about the importance of Moldova in the context of the overarching conflict.

"A staged Russian offensive from the territory of Transnistria is supposed to act as a pretext for the invasion," the Russian Defense Ministry said February 23 via Telegram. "Ukrainian saboteurs participating in the staged invasion will be disguised in the uniform of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation."

One day later, the Russian Foreign Ministry released its own statement alleging that a "significant accumulation" of Ukrainian military personnel equipment—including artillery in ready positions and "unprecedented" increases of unmanned aircraft—had exacerbated the situation on the Ukraine-Pridnestrovian border.

"We warn the United States, NATO member countries and their Ukrainian wards from the next adventurous steps," the Russian Foreign Ministry wrote, adding that the Russian Federation would "adequately respond" to any provocation but prefers peaceful, diplomatic solutions.

"The situation is turbulent and is being provoked externally," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on February 27, according to RT.

Moldova Ukraine Russia Putin Zelensky War EU
A woman (front) holds a sign that reads, 'Give us or leave', during a protest against the Moldovan Government and their pro-EU President in Chisinau on February 19, 2023. The protest was attended by about 2,000 residents of the impoverished Eastern European nation that has become a focal point of discussion in recent weeks by Russian and Ukrainian officials, due to potentially becoming violent. ELENA COVALENCO/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov told RBC Ukraine on Friday that his country may militarily assist Moldova and Transnistria if Moldovan President Maia Sandu made a request, Russian state media outlet Tass reported. Danilov reportedly mentioned being "neighbors."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that, unlike Russia, Ukraine values the independence of other nations and acknowledged that Transnistria is a part of Moldova.

"Russia is provoking us to enter the territory of the Republic of Moldova," Zelensky said, according to RT. "But Russia itself can invade from the territory of Transnistria."

Moldovan Prime Minister Dorin Recean has downplayed escalatory threats by Russian and Ukrainian counterparts.

"We sometimes have waves when the perception of risks and threats increases, but this is more part of an information war, a hybrid war," Recean said, as reported by Sputnik. "Today, there is no danger of military escalation in Moldova and risks can be prevented by the strong hand of the Kishinev authorities."

Candidate status weighed as security concerns increase

Moldova applied for European Union (EU) membership in March 2022 and was granted candidate status three months later.

Moldova Prime Minister Natalia Gavriliţa visited Brussels about one month ago to meet with senior EU officials, including Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, to discuss Moldova's candidate status among other things.

The meeting followed an increase of EU macro-financial assistance to Moldova, by up to 145 million euros.

"European integration is a guarantee of resilience, development, modernization and security," Gavriliţa said, according to Emerging Europe.

German publication Welt am Sonntag reported that "in early summer" the EU is planning a civilian mission for crisis management. It is reportedly part of a larger concept supported by Poland, the Baltic States, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Denmark and Germany.

Moldova also reportedly wants rapid sanctions from the EU against Russian oligarchs; more air surveillance including jets and radar; and provisions around air defense systems.

Threat of war in Moldova is 'extremely low'

A poll in December conducted by the International Republican Institute's Center for Insights in Survey Research found that two-thirds of Moldovans supported EU membership. The majority also expressed admiration toward Sandu. The main sample consisted of 1,233 permanent residents of Moldova aged 18 and older and eligible to vote and is representative of the general population by gender, region and settlement size (urban/rural), according to the Moldova Statistical Databank from 2019.​

Results from a newer poll released in late February found that 73 percent of respondents wanted their nation to remain neutral. About 60 percent of respondents express wariness about fighting spreading into their country, and just one in five respondents said Moldova should join NATO or another military alliance due to the Russia-Ukraine war. The poll was conducted in 89 Moldovan settlements from February 6 to 23 and involved 1,100 respondents.

Ryhor Nizhnikau, senior research fellow in the EU's Neighborhood and Russia Program at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told Newsweek that Transnistria is a client of Moscow "yet its elite has neither interest nor capacity to engage in any military conflict with Chisinau [the capital of Moldova]."

The relationship involved showing enough loyalty towards Russia while maintaining the status quo.

"The threat of the war spillover on Moldova is extremely low at the moment," Nizhnikau said. "Moscow simply has no resources and little interest to divert significant attention from the war on Ukraine."

That doesn't mean that Russia is not cognizant of the advantage it could potentially muster by destabilizing the region.

"The costs of putting additional pressure on the government are very low, whereas benefits can potentially be massive," he said. "So, spreading fears of possible spillover of the war on Moldova aims to set additional fear in the society—which indeed tries to keep distance from the war and overwhelmingly prioritize socioeconomic issues."

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Ukrainian Defense Ministry, and the Moldovan government for comment.