Russian missiles land less than 100 miles from Moldova’s borders. Last month, mysterious explosions rocked the headquarters of a security agency in the Russian-backed separatist enclave. An economic crisis is looming. And a Russian general has threatened to extend the war in Ukraine to the Moldovan border.
Unlike other western neighbors who host Ukrainian refugees, Moldova is not a member of the European Union and lacks the resources the bloc has to house and absorb the rapid influx of asylum seekers. Yet Moldova has taken in more Ukrainian refugees per capita than any EU state, in an accumulation of crises that has raised fears that the tiny southeastern European country could become the first site of spillover of violence from Ukraine.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Nicu Popescu, Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, called on the United States and the EU to pay more attention to Moldova’s struggle, in order to maintain the country’s economy and security. He called for “flexible and rapid aid to Ukraine’s most vulnerable neighbour”.
Since the first Russian bombs fell on the Ukrainian city of Odessa on February 24, Moldova, a country of around 2.6 million people, has taken in more than 400,000 refugees fleeing Vladimir Putin’s devastating war. Most end up transiting to other countries, but around 100,000 remained. Ukrainians fleeing violence to Moldova warmly welcomed; volunteers awaited the refugees with homemade food, a friendly hug and accommodation in private homes. But resources are stretched.
Unlike Germany, where the average monthly salary is around 3,900 euros, Moldovans earn around 500 euros per month. It is an agricultural country whose economy is largely dependent on fruit and vegetable exports to Russia via Ukraine, a trade now interrupted by the war next door. Prices for food, clothing, and gasoline rose dramatically during the 77-day war.
Additionally, Moldova was recently rocked by a series of mysterious explosions in its breakaway territory of Transnistria, the base of around 1,500 Russian troops. “We were deeply concerned,” Popeskto said. “There are a range of scenarios, threats and risks.”
Just days before the explosions, Russia’s top commander Rustam Minnekayev spoke of linking the breakaway Moldovan zone to a Russian-occupied area in Ukraine along the Black Sea, essentially suggesting an extension of the conflict into Moldova. It remains unclear who was behind the rocket-propelled grenade attacks on Transnistria’s security service headquarters and some Soviet-era radio towers. Moldova’s reformist President Maya Sandu condemned the attacks as “attempts to lure the Republic of Moldova into actions that could jeopardize peace”.
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Authorities say there are no imminent risks of an expansion of Russia’s war, but the fear that Moldova could turn into the next Ukraine certainly affects citizens. The country already has its own internally displaced people, who are moving west to avoid possible attacks. Several thousand people have moved since the start of the war in Ukraine, Popescu told the Daily Beast.
Moldova also faces internal political divisions. According to a study conducted by the research agency CBS with the help of the Moldovan Institute for Strategic Initiatives, only 40% of the population believe that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia was not provoked, while 23% of Moldovans accept the Russian justification for the war, namely that Moscow defends the Donbass region.
Moldovan Newsmaker media founder Vladimir Solovyev told The Daily Beast that Moldova’s problems had “piled up” quickly and the West should realize that “Moldova has virtually no army, its security threats are enormous and there is an economic crisis.
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Moldova has allies in Europe. The European Parliament adopted a resolution to welcome Moldova’s membership application, which was signed by President Sandu earlier this year. But each application takes time. “Every Moldovan institution — our intelligence, our defense ministry, our economy ministry, the police — everyone is on high alert,” Popescu said.
“Our society votes strongly for independence, for democracy, to join the European Union as soon as possible,” the minister told the Daily Beast. “The absolute majority of Moldovan citizens, as well as the people of Transnistria, want peace. We hear voices from Russia, ideas for rebuilding the Soviet Union. But the Soviet Union is dead.
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Putin’s nightmare that blew up while we weren’t watching – Reuters News in France and abroad
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