The border report
April 23rd. Written by: Clary Estes
Today’s border report is a little different. In lieu of numbers for the week, we will focus on border activities over the Easter weekend.
Reports came out earlier today from the Palanca border crossing that authorities should plan for a large influx of refugees in the coming days. Things had slowed considerably over the last few weeks and there were even reports of Ukrainians returning home despite the ongoing war. Though the details of why there was an expected influx were not shared with border authorities, there were musings that it was a result of fighting in the Donbas. Three buses full of people from Mykolaiv are currently expected in Palanca.
However, with reports of civilian attacks in Odessa coming to light Saturday afternoon, there is a chance that higher-ups in the Moldovan and foreign governments might have caught wind of specific Russian plans given the timing of their warnings today. Indeed, the conversation around Moldova being the next domino in imperialist Russian plans may be coming to the fore once more. We had previously done a deep dive on Mariupol’ and Putin’s Novorossiya, as well as how that affects Moldova, if you would like a bit more context for Russia's hopes for the south.
Reports in the last 24 hours have surfaced that Russia may be taking more active steps towards their goals to create a land corridor in the south connecting Crimea with the break-away region of Transnistria in Moldova as a means to both secure the south away from Ukraine, as well as possibly spread their campaign past the border. Rustam Minnekayev, the deputy commander, let slip, "Control over the south of Ukraine is another way to Transnistria, where there is also evidence that the Russian-speaking population is being oppressed," It should be noted the latter statement of “Russian-speaking population being oppressed” is unfounded as the two countries have had a pretty live-and-let-live attitude since the ad hoc ceasefire from the 1992 Transnitria War when the region broke away. Transnistria is currently an unrecognized breakaway state that is internationally recognized as part of Moldova. Russia is one of the few countries that recognized Transnistria as an independent state and currently the region is backed by Moscow and hosts Russian troops.
Russian statements, and developments in Odessa, have Moldovan authorities and citizens worried. Moldova’s foreign ministry recently summoned the Russian ambassador, Oleg Vasnetov, over “deep concerns” regarding statements made. "These statements are unfounded and contradict the position of the Russian Federation supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova," the government said on its website. "During the meeting, it was reiterated that the Republic of Moldova ... is a neutral state and this principle must be respected by all international actors, including the Russian Federation."
Moldova has hoped to stay as neutral as possible in an increasingly impossible situation. Moldova gets its oil and gas from Russia and cannot support its population without it, especially during the winter months. And while Moldova has expressed much interest in joining the EU, they have not vocalized that same level of interest in joining NATO. Yet, Moldova is in generally a tough spot. In order to “stay neutral” Russia has all but required that Moldova have effectively no military to speak of. Currently, Moldova's military ground forces hover around 5000 men, while its Air Force Command hovers more around 1000 men, with nearly no planes to fly. (Even during the Transnistria war, much of the fighting was done by Moldovan police). This is all to say that Russia could walk through any door of Moldova and not be presented with much of a fight.
Now, Moldova and its 400,000 Ukrainian refugees find themselves watching the border and making sure their bags are packed in case the worst may come to pass. Only time will tell. But the border crossing at Palanca will surely feel the effects of the attack on Odessa in the coming days and may (though hopefully not) bear witness to the first steps of the Ukraine invasion coming home to Moldova.