When Putin said, in 2005, the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, the US and NATO should have known the Russian president would try to reclaim the lost power. Despite Moscow’s presently stalled offensive in Ukraine, there is a pattern emerging that the US should understand. Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and the occupation of its breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the invasion of the Donbas region, and the illegal annexation of Crimea were just warmups for the brutal and unprovoked Ukraine invasion. If it’s not obvious Russia is planning a new enslavement of Eastern Europe, it should be. This time Moldova and all of Georgia are in the crosshairs.
These two countries are particularly ripe for Russia’s picking because both were members of the former Soviet Union and both contend with breakaway regions with high concentrations of ethnic Russians, and a Russian military presence within their borders. Moldova shares a frontier with Ukraine, but the separatist region of Transdniestria, shown as the lighter pink area on the accompanying map, presents the immediate issue for Ukraine and could be the focus of Russian aggression from the west.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, eastern Moldovan separatist forces loyal to Russia in 1991 fought an intense and deadly conflict with regular Moldovan military forces. The remnants of Russia’s army there helped establish a ceasefire and remained as “peacekeepers.” Though recognized as part of Moldova by the United Nations, Transdniestria was formed and named after the Dniester River, separating the region from the rest of Moldova.
As Reuters recently reported, “Tensions are rising in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniestria, adjacent to Ukraine, where authorities say explosions have hit radio masts and the state security service headquarters in the space of a day.” The Kyiv government has expressed concern that Kremlin agents in Transdniestria conducted the attacks, attempting to execute a false flag operation. Typical of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tactics, Russia first establishes a ruse of ethnic-speaking Russian being in jeopardy, which is the pretext for engaging in aggression. Lending credence to such a maneuver, the Russian news agency TASS quoted Rustam Minnekayev, the deputy commander of the Russian central military district, describing the Kremlin’s operational goals. Russia does not intend to “wind down,” instead it plans to take the Donbas and all of southern Ukraine. “Control over the south of Ukraine is another way to Transdniestria, where there is also evidence that the Russian-speaking population is being oppressed,” Minnekayev said. Moldova would then have a significant threat to its sovereignty right on its doorstep.
Georgia is also particularly vulnerable, sharing a border with the Russian Federation. Georgia is no stranger to Russian aggression. “On August 7, 2008, Russia launched a full-scale land, air, and sea attack against its tiny neighbor, across an internationally recognized border,” a Voice of America [VOA] editorial remembers. Over 70,000 infantry troops, tanks, and fighting vehicles took on a Georgian military less than half that size in an unprovoked invasion. After five days of bloody fighting, a ceasefire agreement was put in place. However, as VOA recounted on the 10th anniversary of Moscow’s invasion, the Russian army “not only failed to live up to this and other requirements of the ceasefire agreement; On August 26 , it exacerbated the situation by recognizing Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries.”
If this sounds familiar, the sequence of events leading up to the invasion of Georgia is precisely what Ukraine experienced before Russian forces invaded on Feb. 24 of this year. Putin declared the Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine independent states. Then, using as a pretext the fabrication that ethnic Russians living in the Donbas were being persecuted, started the brutal war of aggression in Ukraine.
Consequently, it is highly likely the same tactic will be used against Moldova and Georgia. Both nations meet the criteria for Russian hostilities and stand in the way of an expanded Russian Federation, USSR 2.0 by any other name. NATO and the Biden administration must not wait and watch circumstances go from bad to worse in the two former Soviet Bloc nations. While Russia is occupied in Ukraine and has not invaded yet, the Alliance and the US should consider putting forces on the ground in Moldova and Georgia with military exercises. Moldova’s and Georgia’s sovereignty should not be another case of Europe and the Biden administration standing by, indulging Putin’s vicious land-grabbing appetite.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.