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 Moldova may become Kremlin's next target, - WSJ

Western attention has been fixed on Ukraine as the field of Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Europe. But now the Kremlin is turning its attention to small, impoverished Moldova, where Moscow controls a breakaway territory called Transnistria.

It bears attention lest another Russian power play come to pass, Censor.NET reports citing The Wall Street Journal.

This week is the 10th anniversary of a bogus referendum held by the territory's pro-Kremlin regime, in which 97.2% of residents demanded to be annexed by Russia. To mark the occasion, Transnistria's "president," Evgeniy Shevchuk-even Moscow doesn't formally recognize his state-has issued a decree asking for full annexation. He also announced the formation of a committee to harmonize Transnistrian law with Russian law, and demanded a harmonization plan by November.

Transnistria is a sliver of land on the eastern side of the river Dniester, hence the name. The territory belongs to Moldova, but it emerged as a pro-Russian statelet soon after Moldova declared sovereignty in 1990 amid the Soviet Union's collapse. Moldova's campaign two years later to retake the territory resulted in a stalemate after Russia's intervention.

Read more: Estonia may lose Russian-speaking north-eastern region in case of conflict with Russia, - experts

Mr. Putin so far has kept mum on the decree, though it's unlikely Mr. Shevchuk would issue it without Kremlin approval. Russian media are enthusiastic about the annexation idea. So are the Kremlin-linked ideologues who believe that any part of Europe with pockets of Russian speakers properly belongs to the motherland. Roughly a third of Transnistria's 500,000 residents are ethnic Russian.

Moscow accuses Moldova and neighboring Ukraine of "squeezing" the territory. There is no love lost between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists in Transnistria, but the Kyiv government denies a systematic blockade other than the suspension of military cooperation that followed Moscow's illegal annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine.

Read more: Ukraine's blockade of Transnistria administered blow to Russian budget

As the political theater surrounding the annexation decree has escalated, Mr. Putin has been flexing his military muscles in Transnistria. In August Moscow held a tank drill in the territory, and about 400 Russian troops participated in a drill there in April 2015. They're part of a contingent of about 1,000 troops Moscow maintains in the territory, breaking earlier promises to remove them by 2002.

The exercises and Mr. Shevchuk's annexation decree suggest Mr. Putin is testing the climate in the West for a potential next move. Which is why the U.S. and European leaders must telegraph that any effort to make permanent Russia's occupation of Transnistria will be treated as an illegal encroachment on Moldovan sovereignty and trigger sanctions.
 
 
 
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