In remarks that will cause concern in Chisinau, a senior Russian commander said Russian speakers were being “oppressed” in a rebel region of Moldova.
By establishing control over southern Ukraine, Russia will secure “another route” to Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria, where Russian troops have been based since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a senior Russian military commander was quoted as saying on Friday.
“Control over southern Ukraine is another route to Transnistria, where there is also evidence that the Russian-speaking population is being oppressed,” Russian news agency TASS quoted Major General Rustam Minnekayev as saying.
Such comments, echoing part of the Kremlin’s official rationale for invading Ukraine on February 24, will fuel concern in Moldova about Russian intentions in the rebel region.
By seizing parts of southern Ukraine, Russia wants a land corridor between Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine where Russian forces are now concentrating their efforts.
Minnekayev’s words may indicate even greater ambitions. Some Ukrainian and Moldovan military analysts suspect that Russia plans to involve its forces, as well as local paramilitaries, in Transnistria in an attack on the nearby Black Sea port of Odessa.
Russia has had around 2,000 soldiers in Transnistria since 1992. One part belong to a peacekeeping mission which has a mandate to be on Moldovan soil; the other is the Operative Group of Russian Troops, OGRT, which guards a massive ammunition depot and is considered illegal by Moldova and the West.
OGTR falls under the Russian army’s Western District, based in Saint Petersburg.
Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s Central Military District, was speaking at the annual meeting of the Union of Defence Industries of the Sverdlovsk Region.
“It seems that we are now at war with the whole world, as it was in the Great Patriotic War, the whole of Europe, the entire world is against us. They never liked Russia anyway,” he said.
“We didn’t start this war, but we will finish it.”