BRUSSELS – A series of explosions on Monday and Tuesday rocked Transnistria, a small breakaway region of Moldova and bordering Ukraine, raising fears that the nearby war could spread to neighboring countries and escalate into a wider conflict. .
It was unclear on Tuesday who was behind the attacks in Transnistria, a self-declared republic allied with and heavily dependent on Russia. Local authorities blamed Ukraine, while Ukraine accused Russia of orchestrating the explosions as a pretext for further aggression.
Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday that Russian troops stationed in Transnistria had been placed on high alert. Some Ukrainians have expressed fears that with Russia already invading their country from the east, south and north, they could add a new front from Transnistria, also attacking from the west.
Moldova, a former Soviet republic, said the blasts were still under investigation, although an Interior Ministry official said some initial evidence suggested Russian involvement.
When the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s, heavily armed separatists from Transnistria, which has a large Russian-speaking minority, fought to break away from Moldova. With the support of Russia, they did indeed achieve independence, but Transnistria is not officially recognized internationally.
There are at least 12,000 Russian troops stationed in Transnistria, which reaches within 25 miles of Odessa, Ukraine’s main port and third-largest city. Odessa is potentially a major target in Moscow’s stalled push to seize Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
A Russian general said last week that Russia intended to take control of a swathe of land stretching not only to Crimea, the peninsula it seized from Ukraine in 2014, but as far as Transnistria. But it was not clear that his statement reflected Kremlin policy.
The attacks in Transnistria were carried out against empty or unused buildings during a holiday, and there were no casualties, Moldovan Deputy Interior Minister Sergiu Diaconu said. He said the blasts appeared to be an attempt to destabilize the country and possibly serve as an excuse for a military response from Russia, not a serious attempt to harm.
Furthermore, Diaconu said, the grenades that were used are produced by Russia and are used only by the armies of Russia, Transnistria and Gabon. He said of the attackers: “I don’t think they are Gabonese.
However, the Moldovan authorities have not accused Moscow of being behind the explosions. The country’s president, Maia Sandu, did not mention Russia when asked about the attacks on Tuesday, saying only that there were “tensions between different forces within the regions, interested in destabilizing the situation.” .
There were three separate explosions, local authorities in Transnistria said. One targeted a security agency building in the capital, Tiraspol. The other explosions hit the local airport and a radio station in the village of Mayak.
Vadim Krasnoselsky, the chairman of the separatist government of Transnistria, called the explosions “terrorist attacks” and blamed Ukraine. “Traces of these attacks lead to Ukraine,” he said in a statement, without providing details. “I assume that those who organized this attack aim to draw Transnistria into the conflict.”
For their part, Ukrainian officials were quick to point the finger at Russia. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said its intelligence indicated the blasts were “a planned provocation” by Russia aimed at stoking “anti-Ukrainian sentiments”.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said on Tuesday that “forces disinterested in regional stability and willing to create another hotbed of tension are behind this.” He did not say who these forces were.
Transnistria, with a mixed population of Romanian, Russian and Ukrainian speakers, has been a problem for the Moldovan government for more than three decades, ever since retired Soviet military officers led the rebellion there.
“Transnistria was created artificially to keep Moldova under constant threat,” said Alexandru Flenchea, former deputy prime minister of Moldova.
Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Moldovan authorities have become increasingly concerned about the possibility of Russia activating its troops based in Transnistria, either to attack Ukraine or to invade Moldova, which is not a member of NATO or the European Union, and has limited military forces.
Mr Flenchea said the rulers of Transnistria might not like the war because it would interfere with one of the region’s main economic activities, smuggling.
Iulian Groza, director of the Institute for European Policies and Reforms, a research institution in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, said a Russian invasion of Moldova did not appear imminent. The Russians’ short-term goal, Groza said, appears to be to destabilize the region and undermine Moldova’s pro-European government.
Whether the threat of invasion is real or not, Moldovans are worried. Many people reacted to the news of the explosions in Transnistria in the same way as to the outbreak of the invasion of Ukraine, fearing the worst.
“People are panicking again,” said Carmina Vicol, director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Chisinau. “The worst case scenario is that the war starts here and disrupts everything.”
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Tbilisi, Georgia.