January 28, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Kremlin puts new pressures on Moldova

Institute for the Study of War

Kremlin officials and mouthpieces continue to set information conditions to destabilize Moldova, likely as part of efforts to prevent Moldova’s integration into the EU and the West among other objectives. Alexei Polishchuk, the director of the Second Department of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Countries at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), claimed in an interview with Kremlin newswire TASS published on January 28 that Moldova has begun to “destroy its ties” with CIS member states and the Russia-led CIS organization as a whole and that there are rumors that Moldova plans to leave the CIS by the end of 2024. Polishchuk claimed that this decision would not benefit Moldovan interests or citizens and would be unprofitable for the Moldovan economy. Polishchuk also claimed that the settlement of the Transnistria issue in Moldova is in a “deep crisis” and that Moldova’s economic pressure on Transnistria since the beginning of 2024 has “further delayed” any solution. Polishchuk claimed that Russia is ready to fix deteriorating relations between Moldova and Transnistria “as a mediator and guarantor” to the settlement. Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian stated on January 28 that Moldova would not return to the 5+2 Transnistria negotiating process that included Russia as long as Russian-Ukrainian relations do not improve and Russia’s war in Ukraine continues.

A prominent Kremlin-affiliated Russian milblogger, who has recently fixated on the Moldova-Transnistria conflict, continued to highlight alleged discontent in Moldova’s breakaway and autonomous regions. The milblogger claimed that about 50,000 people in Transnistria participated in a rally protesting against Moldovan economic pressure on Transnistria on January 24. The milblogger also stated that Sergei Ibrishim, the Head of the Main Directorate of Agro-Industrial Complex of Gagauzia, sent a request recently to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for Russia to send fertilizer to Gagauzia as humanitarian aid. Ibrishim also reportedly claimed that Gagauzia’s agricultural producers are unable to sell their products to Russia after Moldova’s decision in July 2023 to leave the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly and asked Lavrov to abolish excise taxes and customs duties for Russian imports from Gagauzia. Polishchuk’s and the milblogger’s comments are likely aimed at dissuading Moldova from leaving the CIS and Russia’s wider sphere of influence, setting information conditions to create economic discontent within Moldova, and posturing Russia as an economic and security guarantor in Moldova.

Russia notably accused Ukraine of abandoning and disregarding the Minsk Agreements that had largely frozen the conflict after Russia’s 2014 invasion in the lead up to Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and Russia may be setting information conditions to make similar claims against Moldova. ISW previously assessed that the Kremlin is likely setting information conditions to justify future Russian aggression in Moldova under the guise of protecting its “compatriots abroad” and the “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir) – concepts that are purposely based on vague definitions of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in foreign countries. Russia may attempt to justify its aggression or destabilization efforts in Moldova by claiming that Transnistrian residents are in danger due Moldova’s alleged abandonment of the Transnistria settlement process. ISW recently observed suggestions that the Kremlin may be turning to rhetorical narratives that appeal to a wider audience beyond the “Russian World.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Kremlin officials and mouthpieces continue to set information conditions to destabilize Moldova, likely as part of efforts to prevent Moldova’s integration into the EU and the West among other objectives.
  • Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Director Sergei Naryshkin reiterated that the Kremlin is not interested in any settlements short of the complete destruction and eradication of the Ukrainian state, likely in an ongoing effort to justify the long-term and costly Russian war effort to domestic audiences.
  • The Kremlin also continues to frame and justify a long-term Russian war effort as part of an existential geopolitical confrontation with the West and Nazism.
  • Ukrainian Navy Commander Vice Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa emphasized the importance of Ukraine’s ability to technologically adapt and develop as Russian forces continue to adapt to Ukrainian operations in a January 27 Sky News interview.
  • The Kremlin will likely use the withdrawals of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to continue efforts to expand Russian influence in Francophone Africa.
  • Unnamed Indian government sources stated that India wants to distance itself from Russia, its largest arms supplier, because the war in Ukraine has limited Russia’s ability to provide India with munitions.
  • Russian forces recently advanced near Kreminna and Avdiivka amid continued positional fighting throughout the theater.
  • A Russian source claimed that Rosgvardia is forming the 1st Volunteer Corps with remaining Wagner Group personnel and newly recruited volunteers (dobrovoltsy) following the Kremlin adoption of the law allowing Rosgvardia to form its own volunteer formations in December 2023.
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