Transnistria Cancels May 9 Parade Over Mysterious Explosions

A series of blasts in Moldova’s separatist region have heightened fears of regional destabilisation.

Transnistria Cancels May 9 Parade Over Mysterious Explosions

A series of blasts in Moldova’s separatist region have heightened fears of regional destabilisation.

Monday, 9 May, 2022

Tiraspol’s central Suvorov Square was eerily quiet on May 9. Flowers were laid at the Memorial of Glory, commemorating those who died in wars, but no military parade took place after authorities in Moldova’s breakaway region called off the traditional event to mark the end of World War II and the defeat of Nazism.

The cancellation came after a series of mysterious explosions shook the sliver of Moldovan territory in late April, fuelling fears that the Russian invasion of Ukraine may spill into Moldova. Russian-speaking Transnistria proclaimed independence from Moldova in 1990, but it is not internationally recognised and it has been off Chisinau’s control after a brief war ended in 1992.

At the end of April, Transnistrian authorities said explosions targeted a state security ministry headquarters in Tiraspol, the territory's main city and home to over a quarter of its population; a military unit in Parcani village; and two radio towers belonging to Russia Today International. A shooting incident was also reported on the outskirts of the village of Cobasna, which houses one of Europe’s largest Soviet-era arms and ammunition depots.

On May 6, four more explosions were reported near the former airfield of Voronkovo, a village close to Cobasna.

Transnistrian leader Vadim Krasnoselsky pointed the finger at Ukraine, declared a heightened terror alert for 15 days and bolstered security measures. Media shared the location of bomb shelters across the region, law enforcement agencies were put on emergency mode, checkpoints were set up outside towns and children switched to online schooling.

“As the first findings of urgent operational and investigative measures showed, the traces of these attacks lead to Ukraine,” Krasnoselsky, who has led the region since 2016, said in a televised address to the region, adding,  “I assume that those who organised this attack are intending to drag Transnistria into the conflict, but I can say with confidence that they won’t succeed.”

He called on the Ukrainian authorities to investigate “the facts of the illegal movement of certain combat groups” and “the terrorist acts committed by them” and urged the authorities Chisinau, “Do not succumb to provocations and do not let Moldova be drawn into aggression against Transnistria."

The region shares a 450 kilometre border with Ukraine and Ukrainians make up about a fifth of the region’s population of around 473,000. 

RISING FEARS

“It is hard to make conclusions. Anyone can take advantage of this confusion,” sociologist Elena Bobkova, who heads the Tiraspol-based New Age Research Centre, told IWPR. “There was a quick response to these attacks, and they alerted Europe. In my opinion, a serious investigation will be carried out now.”

She added that “residents are frightened, because many of them know what the war is,” referring to the devastation of the 1992 conflict and its long-lasting impact.

Soon after the explosions, there were longer queues at Transnistria’s customs checkpoints and speculation that people were leaving the region began circulating. Bobkova said that those who could afford were indeed leaving.  

“I have recently quit my job at a Russian company that had a branch in Tiraspol, with about 20 employees,” 23-year-old IT developer Nikolai Privalov told IWPR. “[After the explosions], we were advised to leave, and the majority agreed. Now about 15 people are in Chisinau and about half of all employees are planning to leave for Russia.”

Uncertainty and disinformation divide public opinion over the future.

“The only one who benefits from destabilisation [in Transnistria] is the West, I believe just to show that Russia cannot ensure the safety of its friends,” Konstantin, a 48-year-old driver, told IWPR.

“I am inclined to believe that the Russian Federation is behind these explosions, and it is their attempt to drag us into this nightmare,” the 23-year-old construction worker said. Although I do not rule out that it could be Moldova or Ukraine.”

For Elena, a 59-year-old pensioner, Ukraine wanted “to provoke Transnistria, so that they could enter [our territory] later”.

“Russia is at war with Europe, with America,” she continued. “It’s scary to think about what is waiting for us next. I pray to God. We are pro-Russian, and we are waiting for Russia.”

Gleb (not his real name), a 23-year-old entrepreneur, told IWPR that the destruction in Kharkov and Mariupol had changed his view over the war in Ukraine.

“I am currently in Russia. People are presented with information in a perverted form, they do not understand what exactly is happening. I believe that war is wrong, and people should not die in vain,” he concluded.

DESTABILISATION ANXIETY

On April 22, the acting commander of Russia's central military district, Rustam Minnekaev, said that Moscow’s control over the south of Ukraine was “another way out to Transnistria, where there are also facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population".

His statement was the most direct threat to Moldova voiced by the Kremlin to date and echoed President Vladimir Putin’s use of the alleged discrimination against Russian speakers in Ukraine as one justification for invading the country. 

The explosions have drawn international condemnation and warnings against a dangerous spill-over.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky laid responsibility for the explosions on Russia to destabilise the region and threaten Moldova, while the country’s president Maia Sandu blamed “forces inside the region” and the OSCE condemned “all attempts to destabilise the situation”.

Alexandru Flenchia, Moldova’s, former prime minister for reintegration, argued that the explosions aimed at keeping Ukraine’s armed forces on their toes near the border with Transnistria and “prevent the transfer of Ukrainian troops, which are now located in the Odesa region, to the Donbass”.

“From February 24, Tiraspol’s authorities have simply ignored the topic [of the war] not to unnerve either Kyiv or Moscow…. because [they] depend on Kyiv and Chisinau too,” he told IWPR.  

Tiraspol and Chisinau have coexisted peacefully since the end of the conflict. Trade is common as it is travel across the Dniester River and about half of the breakaway republic’s population holds Moldovan passports.

Nonetheless, Flenchia argued the current situation offered an opportunity to solve the protracted conflict between Tiraspol and Chisinau.

He said that the war and “the changing architecture of European security” gave them a unique chance, to make very serious progress towards the final settlement of the Transnistrian issue.

“There is a window of opportunity, but it is very narrow…within months before the end of the year,” he concluded. “On the other hand, if this window of opportunity is not taken advantage of, the situation will worsen.”

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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