In 1990, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the small eastern European nation of Moldova solidified itself as a sovereign nation for the first time and showed interest in reunifying with Romania. The Russian-speaking majority on the eastern banks of the Dniester River didn’t take kindly to this, and the pseudo-nation of Transnistria declared independence from Moldova in the same year. After a 2-year-long civil war in which hundreds were killed, a cease-fire was signed by both parties, and a tense but unbroken peace has reigned ever since. Roughly 1,100 Russian peacekeepers of the 14th Army are still present in the area and are without a doubt the next major threat to Ukraine in its ongoing resistance of Russian invasion.
With the Russia-Ukraine conflict erupting in early 2014, world attention was drawn again to Transnistria, a small country the size of Rhode Island with all the marks of a sovereign nation, except for the “sovereign” part. Transnistria was never truly granted independence, and the nation bears the same earmarks of Russian imperialism as the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. Russian military forces inhabit both areas, proclaiming to be peacekeepers, but investigations have shown indications that Russian paramilitary forces were contributing to military operations within Ukraine. Recently, the conflict in Ukraine has seen a slowing of hostilities, but only after over 30,000 casualties. If Russia is truly committed to reclaiming lost Soviet lands, the next step is obvious; It will rope in a pro-Russian ally on the other side of Ukraine, opening up a two-front conflict but still rely on NATO’s passivity. Maybe a little country like Transnistria, located on the south-eastern border of Ukraine opposite the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and chock-full of Russian soldiers, will fill this role.
As is typical of conflicts in smaller nations, the global community has largely overlooked the possibility of a secondary conflict between Ukraine and Transnistria. In 2016, NATO rotated four battalions through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in an effort to deter Russian aggression in the region. But what about deterring Russian aggression in Transnistria? Both Transnistria and Moldova are rarely, if ever, mentioned in the news along with the Russia-Ukraine conflict even though Transnistria poses a threat uncharacteristic of a state the size of Dallas. All it would take is Russia flying in a few thousand more troops under the guise of maintaining stability in a part of the world threatened by international conflict and another excuse about Ukranian separatists, and the Soviet nation would be making a comeback.
Without giving proper attention to Transnistria, Ukraine could be facing a situation even more dire than the one it’s currently in. Given the international communities involved, it’s illogical to expect full-blown, boots-on-the-ground military support on the front lines by the U.S., but it’s well within reason to ask for extra eyes on a country in which the majority of the citizens pledge allegiance to Russia rather than Moldova, their de facto homeland. Surely Moldova would welcome deterrent forces just as Poland and other eastern European nations did. Action should be taken to prevent further conflict and civilian casualties in the region, such as the 298 people that died on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, downed by Russian anti-air missiles over Ukraine. The absurdity of allowing Russia to venture into a foreign and sovereign nation, with or without an invitation from “rebels,” is apparent to most. But there are few who realize the shortsightedness of overlooking the tiny state of Transnistria, home to Russia’s next play.