Outside Ukraine, Russia Accused of False-Flag Attacks

Tension is brewing in Transnistria, bordering southwestern Ukraine
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 27, 2022 10:05 AM CDT
Russia Accused of False-Flag Attacks in Moldova
A view of the damaged building of the Ministry of State Security, in Tiraspol, the capital of the breakaway region of Transnistria, a disputed territory unrecognized by the international community, in Moldova, on Monday.   (Ministry of Internal Affairs of Transnistria via AP)

Two antennas that carried Russian radio broadcasts were destroyed in Transnistria, a sliver breakaway region of Moldova bordering southwestern Ukraine and controlled by pro-Russian separatists, on Tuesday. A day earlier, the region's state security ministry in Tiraspol was attacked with grenades, per the Guardian. While this might appear to be the work of anti-Russian groups, there is now talk of a false-flag operation by Russia. Here's what we know:

  • A 'concerned' Russia: Last week, a Russian commander said seizing control of southern Ukraine would improve access to Transnistria, also known as Transdniestria, where he alleged "the Russian-speaking population is being oppressed." And on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov and Russia's deputy foreign minister Andrey Rudenko both said Moscow was "concerned" by the string of explosions.

  • Blame on Ukraine: "The traces of these attacks lead to Ukraine," said Transnistria President Vadim Krasnoselsky, per Reuters. The leader of the pro-Russia republic in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, urged Moscow to "take into account what is happening in Transnistria" when planning its military's next moves, per the Guardian. While Rudenko said Russia "would like to avoid" drawing Transnistria into the ongoing conflict, he would not rule out that scenario.
  • Blame on Russia: Yet officials in Ukraine and Moldova blamed Russia. Ukraine's defense ministry called it a "planned provocation by the Russian special services," per Al Jazeera. Days after angering Russian officials by outlawing pro-war signs, Moldova President Maia Sandu added "these escalation attempts stem from factions within the Transdniestrian region that are pro-war forces and interested in destabilising the situation in the region," per Reuters.

  • Moldova prepares: Sandu said the Moldovan security council had recommended preparing for combat readiness and increasing border patrols, per Reuters. Meanwhile, Transnistrian officials announced the installation of military checkpoints at the entrances to cities and raised its terrorist threat level to red, increasing concerns of a possible escalation.
  • Deep ties: The region is home to 7,500 Transnistrian troops, 1,500 Russian troops, and a large arms depot. Though some experts believe there is little incentive for regional officials to join the war, Transnistria "has little leverage to refuse" Russian demands "as it remains economically dependent on Russia, including for free gas," per Al Jazeera.
  • Early target: Putin may have been eyeing Transnistria all along. A week into the war in Ukraine, he and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko were pictured next to a map "that appeared to indicate Transnistria as a potential target," per Al Jazeera. Though Belarusian officials later claimed it was a mistake, Ukraine now "fears the region could be used as a launch pad for new attacks," per Reuters.

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  • Potential decoy: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggested Tuesday that this effort "to destabilize the situation in the region" was punishment for Moldova's support of Kyiv, per Reuters. However, Moldova expert Bob Deen of the Clingendael Institute think tank tells the Guardian that there may be more to it. For instance, Moscow may be trying to push Ukraine's forces out of Donbas.
  • Washington observes: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that Washington would investigate the cause of the explosions, per Reuters, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged "all concerned to refrain from any statements or actions that could escalate tensions," according to a spokesperson.
(More Moldova stories.)

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