Author: Tata Gelashvili



On February 28, 2024, in Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria, hundreds of representatives from the local congress convened and appealed to Russia for assistance. The claim that the Moldovan authorities had imposed restrictions on theirfreedom was the basis for their appeal. Shortly afterwards, similar statements were made in another autonomous region of Moldova, Gagauzia, where the pro-Russian leader appealed to the Russian president for protection against actions from Chisinau.

Moldova, with two of its regions “protected” by Russia, faces significant threats, among them escalating internal tensions and disruptions in its relations with the European Union. In our blog, we will delve into recent developments in Moldova’s Transnistria and Gagauzia regions, examining Russia’s motives, the existing threats, Moldova’s responses, and, ultimately, based on these factors, we will evaluate how much the tension in these regions hampers Moldova’s European integration.


A new period of escalation in relations between Moldova and Russia began at the end of February. The situation has grown tense in Moldova’s Russian-backed separatist region of Transnistria, which is not recognized by any UN member state, and where Russia has up to 1,500 military personnel. According to the Transnistrian Congress, the Moldovan authorities have undermined the region’s economy and significantly worsened the social situation of the population through political and economic pressure. Notably, Chisinau canceled customs and tax benefits for businesses registered in Transnistria. Previously, businessmen in the separatist region exclusively benefited from tax benefits on imports from the EU; now, they will have to pay taxes to both Tiraspol and Chisinau. This decision aims to create a level playing field for all economic entities throughout Moldova, ensuring fair competition and establishing control over state borders. By implementing stricter customs duties in Transnistria, Moldova strengthens its position as a sovereign state and reinforces its pursuit of EU integration, which requires compliance with trade regulations and customs procedures.



The strained situation unfolding in Transnistria was followed by the leader of another Moldovan region, Gagauzia, visiting Russia. Evghenia Guțul, on March 6, 2024, attended the Global Youth Forum in Sochi, where she met with Vladimir Putin. During the discussion, the leaders addressed the Moldovan government’s actions restricting the region’s autonomy. Guțul accused Ukraine and NATO of seeking to involve Moldova in the war, and dismissed the country’s potential EU membership as a mere ‘fairytale’. Putin pledged his support to the Gagauzian leader in defending the region’s rights and international position, promising to raise the issue of Moldova’s violations of Gagauzian people’s rights at the United Nations. Additionally, Putin discussed economic benefits, such as the region’s access to the Russian market and discounted natural gas supplies. He also committed to supporting Russian-language schools in the autonomous republic, aiming to enhance cultural integration and strengthen ties between the autonomous region and Russia. This positioning depicts Putin as a defender of the region’s autonomy, posing a significant challenge to Moldovan authorities.

The speculations that arose during Guțul’s visit to Russia about her arrest upon returning to her homeland are noteworthy, to which the leader of Gagauzia herself responded. Guțul employed a narrative of political persecution and victimization to garner public support and discredit the Moldovan government.

Guțul’s next visit to Russia took place on April 8. This time, the leader of Gagauzia signed an agreement with the Russian bank “Promsvyazbank”, which will allow the residents of the region to use Russian “Mir” bank cards. The connection with the Russian tax system will further deepen ties between the autonomous region of Moldova and Russia.

Russia’s Motives and Existing Threats

It is interesting to observe what strategic goals Russia is pursuing by creating tension in the regions of Moldova. It is evident that the Kremlin aims to delay Moldova’s integration into the European Union, to destabilize the country, and to strengthen its influence over Transnistria and Gagauzia.

The Kremlin is attempting to achieve these goals by interfering with Moldova’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2024-2025, as well as in the referendum on joining the European Union. In such a situation, there is a greater chance of political uncertainty arising in Moldova and weakening the government’s ability to effectively implement pro-Western policies.

Recently, there has been a significant rise in Russia’s interference with Moldova’s internal affairs, particularly through its exploitation of the Gagauzia region. For instance, Guțul’s team is currently conducting pre-election coordination meetings with Moldova’s pro-Russian parties. Guțul actively cooperates with figures such as the leader of the Socialist Party of Moldova, Igor Dodon, the leader of the Communist Party, Vladimir Voronin, and the pro-Russian oligarch and politician, Ilan Shor. Up to the point, Moldova’s pro-Russian opposition was divided into two main groups: On one side stand Voronin and Dodon, and on the other side Shor and his associated parties. However, on April 22, Moldovan opposition parties visiting Moscow announced the formation of a joint electoral bloc named “Pobeda” (Victory). The alliance opposes Moldova’s EU membership and supports closer ties with Russia. For the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, the Kremlin plans to unite these factions into a single electoral alliance to increase their chances of victory and ensure the desired results in the Moldovan political landscape.

Additionally, Moldova is concerned that Russia might exploit the situation in separatist Transnistria to create a new war front, targeting the Ukrainian city of Odessa. However, Moldova’s Foreign Minister, Mihail Popșoi, rejected the assumption regarding the deployment of additional Russian troops in Transnistria, and emphasized Moldova’s sovereignty and resistance to external pressure. Despite Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s threat that Moldova may share the fate of Ukraine, there are also expectations that Russia will annex Transnistria. Yet, despite Transnistria’s request to Moscow following the 2006 referendum, Russia refused to annex the region. It is possible that the Kremlin will focus on strengthening spheres of influence in Moldova instead of pursuing territorial expansion. Additionally, Transnistria lacks significant geopolitical advantages, such as being landlocked or possessing rich natural resources. However, the potential annexation of Transnistria could serve as a basis for Putin to pursue further territorial ambitions, particularly in creating a land corridor with southern Ukraine.

As a result, the current situation presents a risk of opening a new springboard of Russian influence in Moldova and potentially creating a new war front.

Moldova’s Politics and Response to Threats

The Moldovan government’s diplomatic engagement and cooperation with the Transnistria and Gagauzia regions underscore the country’s commitment to regional stability and its efforts to strengthen ties with the EU.

For years, Moldova has been engaged in negotiations with Transnistria in the “5+2 format,” but the ongoing war involving Russia and Ukraine has cast doubt on the effectiveness of this format. Simultaneously, Moldova pursues a policy of dialogue and cooperation with Gagauzia, ensuring the autonomy of the region and the rights of its minority population through legislation.

At the end of last year, President Maia Sandu outlined Moldova’s two-stage strategy for joining the European Union. The first stage involves integrating the territory on the right bank of the Dniester River, controlled by the central government, into the EU. The second stage, integrating the left bank, depends on resolving the Transnistrian conflict. This plan demonstrates how Moldova balances its aspiration to join Europe with the challenges in Transnistria. Joseph Borrell, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, considered Moldova’s accession to the European Union under this model possible. He referenced Cyprus as an example, which successfully joined the European bloc despite territorial challenges.

In March 2024, Moldova signed a defense cooperation agreement with France, encompassing an assessment of Moldova’s military needs, the initiation of negotiations on arms contracts, and the training of the Moldovan Armed Forces. Furthermore, Moldova purchased a radar system manufactured by the French company Thales in 2023, signaling an effort to modernize Moldova’s defense capabilities with Western technologies.

The diversification of gas imports marked a significant step forward for Moldova. In 2023, Moldova opted to cease buying Russian gas and switched to importing gas from the EU, thereby reducing its dependence on Russia and adhering to EU energy standards. This move weakens Russia’s leverage to put pressure on Moldova.

A few months ago, the President of Moldova introduced a new national security strategy, with a focus on countering the aggressive policies of the Russian Federation in Moldova. These changes in the national security policy are particularly significant in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential elections, as concerns about Russia’s potential interference prompt Moldova to take decisive measures to safeguard its democracy and sovereignty. There are fears within the country about a repeat of the scenario seen during last year’s local self-government elections, where Russia actively sought to destabilize Moldova. In response to Kremlin propaganda, Moldova has since banned several pro-Russian parties, including Ilan Shor’s party, blocked Russian-controlled media websites, and suspended the licenses of six disinformation television channels owned by Shor and the Russian-linked bank fraud oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. At the US Institute of Peace (USIP), on December 5, 2023, Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mihail Popșoi, announced that the parliament would implement measures to strengthen Moldova’s state institutions. He also emphasized that declaring the Ilan Shor party unconstitutional was a necessary step to protect democracy. While election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and other European institutions supported Moldova’s actions against electoral corruption, they expressed concerns about the scope and timing of these restrictions.

Moldova has recently taken two major steps to enhance its efforts against Russian disinformation. First, President Sandu established the National Information Defense and Counter Propaganda Center, known as PATRIOT. Additionally, the European Union Civilian Mission (EUPM Moldova) was launched in Moldova, with a mandate that includes countering cybersecurity challenges and foreign information interference. The mission is set to operate for two years, from April 2023 to May 2025. During this period, the European Union Mission will provide additional support to the National Center for Information Defense and Combating Propaganda through training programs and grants.


The process of Moldova’s integration into the European Union is occurring despite a number of threats. The emergence of pro-Russian regional leaders and political parties, coupled with Russian political interference and propaganda campaigns, threaten Moldova’s stability and democratic advancement. The upcoming presidential elections and the EU membership referendum further complicate this situation. Despite these internal and external challenges, Moldova has made evident progress through international and domestic initiatives and strategic decisions, among them diplomatic engagement with pro-Russian regions, energy diversification, and combating Russian political interference and disinformation/propaganda. These efforts, along with international support for Moldova’s European aspirations, form the foundation for managing thecurrent tensions and preventing the risks from escalating.

Despite Russia’s active efforts to hinder Moldova’s European integration process, the country is more or less successfully moving towards its goal at this stage. The effectiveness of Moldova’s foreign and domestic policy, its commitment to European values, and compliance with EU standards, is confirmed by the country’s progress on the path to European integration – the opening of accession negotiations.