Moldova—Russia’s Next Conquest?

The Kremlin has plotted to overthrow the European nation’s government in order to put it fully ‘at the disposal of Russia.’

Russian operatives planned to violently topple Moldova’s pro-European government and replace it with a pro-Russian puppet regime, Moldovan President Maia Sandu said in a February 13 press briefing. The news came just days after Moldova’s pro-European prime minister resigned under heavy pressure linked to Russia’s war on Ukraine and has many in Molodova and beyond convinced that the nation could be Russia’s next target.

The elaborate plot called for “diversionists with military training, camouflaged in civilian clothes” to “attack some state buildings and even take hostages” in order to derail Moldova’s plans to join the European Union and to instead put the country “at the disposal of Russia,” Sandu said.

Why would Vladimir Putin’s Russia go to such trouble over a Maryland-sized sliver of a nation that just 4 million people call home?

The answer is geography. Moldova’s strategic location between the Carpathian Mountains and the Black Sea means whoever controls it can help determine the direction armies may move through the region. This makes it one of nine corridors through which Russia has historically been vulnerable to invasion. For this reason, Russia has long sought power over Moldova and succeeded in establishing it throughout most of the 1800s and again in the Soviet era starting in the 1940s.

After the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Moldova declared independence. But Russia set to work immediately to reassert control over it.

Russia, though reeling from internal chaos, mustered the wherewithal to send 14,000 troops from the 14th Guards Army to fight the Lilliputian Moldovan Army. Hundreds were killed on both sides, and by July of 1992, the Russians had succeeded in slicing off an area on the eastern edge of Moldova called Transnistria. This became a de facto Russian enclave and has remained so ever since. Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps a military garrison of some 1,500 troops there to ensure that Transnistria stays under his thumb.

In addition to the military occupation of Transnistria, the Russians have also maneuvered behind the scenes since 1992 to keep Moldova’s overall government as nonfunctional as possible. “They would much rather have a Russian-influenced weak statelet between them and the European space than anyone with any sort of independent opinions,” geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan said in a February 15 briefing.

But despite Russia’s best efforts, the people and government of Moldova have increasingly unified behind a pro-West vision, particularly since Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine began a year ago. In June 2022, the nation was granted candidate status with the European Union. And last month, President Sandu said “a serious discussion” is underway about Moldova possibly joining the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Moldova’s increasingly pro-Western direction is anathema to Russia and is believed to be the impetus behind the Kremlin’s plan for a coup d’état. Even though this plan failed, Moldova remains a major target for Russia largely because of its location. “If we do get into a situation where Ukraine falls,” Zeihan said, “Moldova is absolutely going to be the next target.”

In 2008, long before Russia’s Moldova plot or its war on Ukraine, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry said Putin’s Russia had just brought the world into a “dangerous new era.” He pointed to Russia’s attack on the nation of Georgia that had occurred earlier that year and said that attack was only the start of such aggression:

Russia’s attack on Georgia in August marks the beginning of a dangerous new era in history. This was the first military strike of a rising Asian superpower—and there will be more! It is critical you understand the meaning behind this attack. …Vladimir Putin … called the breakup of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the [20th] century.” That gives you some insight into his thinking. He is trying to resurrect the Soviet empire. … Russia is challenging America. The Soviet empire is making a comeback! … Will a crisis occur over Ukraine? That area is the breadbasket of Russia, and surely it is willing to wage war over that as well.

Time has vindicated Mr. Flurry’s 2008 prediction about Russia’s attack on Georgia signaling a “dangerous new era.” Five years after that article was written, just as he forecast, a crisis did occur over Ukraine. And that crisis expanded into a full-blown war last year. Meanwhile, Russia has worked to assert control over several other nations, from Syria and Belarus to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. And now Moldova is moving higher up on this list.

Despite the failure of the Russian plot in Moldova, the very fact that it was planned shows that Russia is more determined than ever to undermine the West and to reassert control over the nations in its periphery. Russia today is more determined than at any time since the Soviet Union’s collapse to assert control and expand its power. As Mr. Flurry said, this intensifying determination has led the world into a “dangerous new era.”

To understand more, read Mr. Flurry’s booklet The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia.’