June 2, 2023

the Russian periphery

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
A pawn on the Russian periphery
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          CHISINAU, MOLDOVA — Unlit streetlights line the streets in this little-known outpost of democracy, this microcosm of resurgent post-Soviet dangers threatening the West. A non-NATO nation on the edge of conflict, Moldova is mostly separated from Ukraine to the east by Transnistria, the Russian-speaking breakaway strip of territory still home to Russian soldiers 30 years after they successfully intervened in Moldova’s civil war.
          Here as in Ukraine and elsewhere on the Russian periphery, language often stands as a verbal badge of loyalty in the nations of the former Soviet Union. These nations tend to be fiercely independent while simultaneously contending with a portion of Russian-speaking pro-Russian minorities. Most Moldovans speak Romanian, and most Russian speakers here are loyal to Moldova, the primary exception being those in Transnistria as is the case in Ukraine’s separatist Luhansk and Donetsk regions (oblasts).
          Vladimir Putin has sought to capitalize on these language-loyalty opportunities, which is why the war in Ukraine is a harbinger, not an isolated event. Had his forces been successful in Ukraine, there was no doubt that Moldova would be next, there being open talk about creating a land bridge between Russian-occupied Crimea and Russian-garrisoned Transnistria. And the full occupation of Moldova would have been the obvious next move on his European chessboard.
          The problem and the fear here is that if Western support for Ukraine falters, Russia could regain the upper hand and the Moldova pawn could yet fall, as could other pawns, namely Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — the NATO Baltic states.
         Clearly, Putin would follow the same game plan he employed in Luhansk and Donetsk. Russian-speaking separatists in the Baltic states’ border areas would be armed and assisted by his “little green men,” those out-of-uniform Russian soldiers who give him plausible deniability, an especially crucial element to avoid a confrontation with NATO’s Article 5 (an attack on one is an attack on all).
          So, in the end, this is not about Russian limited aggression; it is about Russian unlimited aggression.
         Moldovans understand this and have demanded the Russian withdrawal from Transnistria, first because it is Moldovan territory; second because Ukrainian forces are being tied up facing Russians there; third because Moldova cannot join NATO or merge with next-door NATO country Romania while Russian troops are on its land because once Moldova becomes a NATO member, NATO would be compelled to respond to the Russian occupation.
          Clearly, NATO is the bulwark against Russian expansionism, and both Putin and non-NATO countries know security lies within membership, which is why Finland and Sweden have applied to join. Both Georgia and Ukraine sought to join, and Putin responded with violence in both cases.
          So, here sits Moldova, a beautiful, cultured, educated, democratic country contending with Russian-speaking separatists, a Russian troop presence, the Russian invasion of next-door Ukraine, a generally overlooked interest from the West, and a reliance on diminishing Russian energy to keep the lights on.
See Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2022 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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