CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldova’s pro-Russian separatist region criticized the EU on Wednesday for promising military aid to Chisinau, and warned of a danger of further escalation after what it has described as a week of terrorist attacks from Ukraine.
Fears have increased in recent days that Moldova could be drawn into the conflict in neighboring Ukraine, after pro-Russian separatists in Moldova’s Transdniestria region blamed Kyiv for what they said were shootings, explosions and cross-border drone incursions.
“The situation is alarming because Transdniestria has suffered terrorist attacks,” Vitaly Ignatiev, foreign minister of the administration of the self-declared breakaway Transdniestria region, told Reuters in an interview by video link from his office in Tiraspol, the region’s capital.
He repeated the separatists’ earlier accusations that Ukraine was behind incidents of unrest that Transdniestria has reported since last week, and said another drone from Ukraine armed with explosives had been brought down on Tuesday.
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“Honestly, I don’t see any reason why the Ukrainian side would use such methods against Transdniestria. Transdniestria does not threaten Ukraine,” he said. “I have said several times we are an absolutely peaceful state.”
Moldova, a tiny, mainly Romanian-speaking country wedged between Romania and Ukraine, has faced an unresolved separatist conflict for 30 years. A contingent of Russian peacekeepers is based in mainly Russian-speaking Transdniestria, which stretches along most of the Ukrainian border.
Moldova’s pro-Western government has strongly backed Kyiv since the Russian invasion, and on March 3, a week after Russian troops rolled into Ukraine, Chisinau submitted a formal request to join the EU.
Charles Michel, head of the EU’s council of member states, visited Chisinau on Wednesday in a show of solidarity, saying the bloc was considering additional military aid to support Chisinau. He gave no details, but Chisinau has said the aid it is seeking is non-lethal.
Referring to Michel’s promise of military aid, Ignatiev said: “Of course such statements, such actions do not add to the calm, but on the contrary contribute to tension and interfere with the normalization of the situation.”
The separatists denied a request from Reuters for permission to report from Transdniestria, saying all accreditations for foreign journalists had been halted in the wake of last week’s attacks.
Asked if he could rule out the possibility of Russia using its military base in Transdniestria to attack Ukraine, Ignatiev said he could not speak for Moscow.
He did, however, distance himself from remarks by a Russian general, who said last month that one of Moscow’s war aims was to seize Ukrainian territory to link up with Transdniestria.
“I think in these difficult circumstances, it is important to be extremely careful in one’s statements. And even more careful in actions,” he said of the general’s remarks.
Ignatiev dismissed Moldova’s bid to join the EU as “detached from reality”, and said it would create the additional risk of a resurgence in hostilities, because Chisinau had taken the decision “unilaterally”.
“Moldova and Transdniestria are in a state of unresolved conflict…An unresolved conflict probably means Moldova should first resolve the conflict and then decide its political future,” he said.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu said on Wednesday she did not see an “imminent” threat of unrest, but that the country was nonetheless prepared for the possibility of “pessimistic” scenarios in coming days.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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