Putin’s Next Military Move: Attacking Moldova and Georgia?
Is Putin planning an attack on Moldova and Georgia? There are growing fears in the West that Russian President Vladimir Putin could expand his unprovoked war in Ukraine to other countries like Moldova and Georgia.
Vladimir Ashurkov, a top aide to imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, told Insider such scenarios “are not off the table”.
“This full-scale invasion of Ukraine came as a shock to me. I didn’t think it would be possible, but two months ago it happened. To think whether Putin is able to push the attacks towards Transnistria and Moldova, etc. — if he can, he probably will,” warned Ashurkov, executive director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. “It’s not on the table that things like this can happen.”
The warning follows mysterious and unexplained explosions this week in Transnistria, a Moscow-backed separatist territory where around 1,500 Russian troops are stationed. Transnistria, considered part of Moldova by the international community, shares a 250-mile border with Ukraine.
Major General Rustam Minnekayev, a senior Russian commander, said last Friday that the takeover of southern Ukraine would link Russia with Transnistria. This suggests that Putin could factor the separatist territory into his war plans, and has raised alarm across the region. Ukraine said on Thursday it was moving more troops to the border with Moldova. Meanwhile, Nicu Popescu, Moldova’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, told reporters on Thursday that his country was facing “a very dangerous new moment”.
Moldova, like Ukraine, is a former Soviet republic that is not part of the NATO alliance.
“I think Mr. Putin always intended to take control of Moldova, Georgia and the Baltic states. He is certainly capable of horizontal escalation…if he thinks he can deter the West,” Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told CNN earlier this week.
Similarly, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland in a tweet said on Monday that if Ukraine is Russia’s current target, its defeat by Russian forces would mean that “Moldova, Georgia and other countries, including NATO allies, are at risk of a Russian invasion”.
Neither Moldova nor Georgia are foreign to Russian aggression. Russian forces intervened in 1992 in a war in Moldova on behalf of pro-Russian rebels and have occupied Transnistria ever since. Georgia was invaded by Russia in a short but formative war in 2008. Russian troops continue to occupy around 20% of Georgian territory – the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The governments of Georgia and Moldova have been pushing for more Western support since Russia invaded Ukraine, and both formally applied for EU membership last month. Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili traveled to Washington on Thursday for this purpose, Tweeter that she spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “about Ukraine and unwarranted Russian aggression and the importance of continued U.S. support for Georgia at this crucial time.”
Zourabichvili also spoke on the phone with Moldovan President Maia Sandu on Thursday. Following their conversation, Sandu tweeted that she thanked the Georgian president for his country’s “solidarity with Moldova in these difficult times for the whole region”.
Earlier in the week, the Moldovan leader said the explosions in Transnistria were carried out by “pro-war factions”.
“We condemn all challenges and attempts to lure the Republic of Moldova into actions that could jeopardize peace in the country,” Sandu said.
“We are dealing with a desperate rogue operator”
Despite growing concerns in Moldova and Georgia, it is also debatable whether Russia could succeed in pushing the conflict beyond Ukraine. The war has been disastrous for the Russian military so far, while leaving Moscow economically and politically isolated. Russian troops are also concentrating their efforts in the eastern region of Donbass in Ukraine.
“It’s a question of the situation on the battlefield. It is a question of the economic damage that the sanctions cause to Russia. It is a question of the flow of armaments that Western countries supply to Ukraine,” Ashurkov said.
Ashurkov lives in exile in London but continues to focus on exposing corruption in Russia, particularly in relation to the activities of those close to Putin. He is acutely aware of how ruthless Putin can be, as someone who works closely with the Russian leader’s most prominent critic.
Before being thrown behind bars last year on charges widely decried as politically motivated, Navalny in August 2020 was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok and nearly died. Leaders around the world condemned Putin for the poisoning. The Russian leader has denied any involvement, despite stark similarities to past Moscow-linked operations that targeted Putin’s critics.
Since his poisoning and imprisonment, Navalny’s political network has been branded “extremist” and banned in Russia, forcing his foundation to relocate staff and open a new office in Lithuania. And last month Navalny was given an additional nine years in prison by a judge whom Putin had promoted to a higher court days earlier.
As evidenced by the brutal war in Ukraine, Putin’s aggression and cold-blooded leadership style has also extended well beyond Russia’s borders.
“I don’t think anyone on planet Earth has a secure future when there’s a maniac with a nuclear bomb hitting him,” Ashurkov said of Putin. “The situation is serious enough for everyone.”
“Over the years, Russia has been increasingly assertive in foreign policy. The war in Georgia was kind of the first example, but then we saw the annexation of Crimea, the interference in eastern Ukraine. We have seen a number of cyberattacks, including interference in US elections. We have seen a number of assassinations in different countries. We have seen Russia take the site of a brutal dictatorship in Syria,” Ashurkov said, adding, “It was met with a fairly indecisive response from Western countries. More could have been done. »
Perhaps aiming to avoid the mistakes of the past, Western governments have in recent days begun to stress the need to prepare Moldova and Georgia, among other countries, for possible Russian attacks.
“Now is the time to be brave, not cautious,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a speech on Wednesday. “And we must ensure that, alongside Ukraine, the Western Balkans and countries like Moldova and Georgia have the resilience and capabilities to maintain their sovereignty and freedom.”
“We are dealing with a desperate rogue operator who is not interested in international standards,” Truss said of Putin.
John Haltiwanger is senior political reporter at Business Insider. It reports on all things political with a particular focus on national security and foreign policy.