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Tensions rise as pro-Russian rebels in Transnistria seek protection amidst fears of escalation

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Pro-Russian rebel officials from Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria issued an appeal to Russia for “protection” on Wednesday, raising concerns that the territory might become a new focal point in Moscow’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine.

Russia swiftly responded, citing the protection of Transnistria as one of its “priorities.” The thin strip of land, though de facto controlled by pro-Russian forces since the Soviet Union’s collapse, is internationally recognized as part of Moldova.

Lawmakers at the congress accused the Moldovan government of unleashing an “economic war,” alleging the blocking of vital imports with the intention of turning Transnistria into a “ghetto.” The resolution passed at the congress requested Russia’s parliament to intervene and safeguard Transnistria from what they perceive as mounting Moldovan pressure.

“The decisions of the current congress cannot be ignored by the international community,” emphasized Vitaly Ignatiev, the breakaway republic’s foreign policy chief, during the meeting, calling it an “appeal for diplomatic support.”

This appeal echoes events in February 2022, when Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine sought protection against alleged attacks and shelling by Kyiv’s forces.

The timing of Transnistria’s plea coincides with President Vladimir Putin’s annual address to Russian lawmakers and Ukraine facing setbacks on the battlefield.

Delegates at the congress directed their criticism towards Moldova, attributing the territory’s economic challenges to Chisinau. Moldovan officials downplayed concerns, asserting that “things look calm” from their perspective and dismissing it as an attempt to create hysteria.

Moldova has accused the Kremlin of stoking tensions in Transnistria, fearing it could be used as a new front in the southwest, toward Odesa, especially since unexplained blasts in 2022 raised suspicions of Russian involvement.

The pro-Russian leadership in Transnistria previously accused Kyiv of an assassination attempt in March 2023, an allegation rejected by Ukraine. The Kremlin, maintaining a military presence with around 1,500 soldiers in the region, has warned against attacks on Transnistria, promising serious consequences.

While Russia continues to support Transnistria’s economy with free gas supplies, the breakaway republic has faced increasing isolation from Moscow since the conflict in Ukraine began. This development unfolds as Ukraine grapples with intense pressure on its frontlines, marked by recent territorial losses to Russia and mounting ammunition shortages.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Albania for a summit of southeastern European nations is anticipated to involve renewed calls for additional aid as the region navigates heightened geopolitical tensions.

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