Alerts are on the rise. As the Russian army retreats to eastern Ukraine, Vladimir Putin could be tempted to give new impetus to his military operation launched on February 24. This is in any case what fears the boss of American intelligence, Avril Haines, who declared that the Russian president “still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbass” – especially in the south-west of Ukraine, as far as neighboring Moldova.
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More cautious, France still remains concerned about a possible invasion of Moldova, which it has repeatedly assured of its support in the face of “risks of destabilization” by pro-Russian elements. Franceinfo takes stock of the scenarios envisaged by Westerners concerning Russia’s military strategy vis-à-vis its neighbors.
US intelligence talks about a “land bridge” project in southern Ukraine
Facing the US Congress on Tuesday, the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, warned that despite heavy losses on the Russian side, the war was far from over in Ukraine, according to her services. “We believe that President Putin is preparing for a protracted conflict”she said, adding that the Russian military may very soon want “extend the land bridge” in southern Ukraine, to link Russia with Transnistria.
This disputed territory, which has been demanding its separation from Moldova since the breakup of the USSR in 1991, is located on the border with Ukraine. The pro-Russian feeling is very marked there, and more than a thousand Russian soldiers are deployed there continuously, explained to franceinfo Vincent Henry, researcher at the University of Paris Est Créteil.
During her hearing, Avril Haines however explained that such an operation currently exceeds Russia’s military capabilities. Russian leaders “will not be able to reach Transnistria and include Odessa [ville du sud de l’Ukraine] without decreeing a form of general mobilization”, she added. A war effort which, according to American analysts, the establishment of martial law in Russia as well as a reorientation of the country’s industrial production.
The Quai d’Orsay “worried” but cautious
On the French side, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not expect a rapid resolution of the conflict in Ukraine either. “There is a kind of confinement of Putin in the war”lamented Monday on BFMTV Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, for whom “There’s nothing new” in the course of the conflict. “Russian aggression continues, the war continues, it continues in Donbass, it still continues in Mariupol (…), the war objectives are the same“, did he declare.
Regarding Moldova, Jean-Yves Le Drian clarified somewhat the nature of his concerns. “We have to be concerned about the situation in Moldova as there are Russian forces stationed in Transnistria for historical reasonshe pointed out, adding that at this stage, [la France] does not have any elements which allow us to think that there is a will of aggression of Russia on Moldova”.
A slightly nuanced position the next day by Anne-Claire Legendre, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, still on BFMTVwho mentioned “points of concern” concerning this scenario, starting with the series of explosions which occurred on April 26 in Transnistria, which notably affected broadcasting antennas. France reacted immediately by assuring Moldova of its support.
Vladimir Putin remains silent on the subject
These Western concerns are manifesting themselves despite a more measured speech than expected from Vladimir Putin on Monday, May 9. On the occasion of the commemoration of the victory over the Nazis in 1945, the latter was eagerly awaited on possible announcements of military objectives. Nothing happened, the Russian autocrat contenting himself with justifying the invasion of Ukraine to counter a “unacceptable threat”. “The NATO countries did not want to listen to us. Everything suggested that a confrontation with the neo-Nazis, supported by the Americans and their little friends, would be inevitable”, said the head of the Kremlin.
Is this silence hiding a new military operation? After the invasion of Ukraine, which surprised even French intelligence, Moldova in any case does not want to take any risks. Since it cannot join NATO, under article 11 of its Constitution which imposes a “permanent neutrality”, Moldova hopes to get closer to the Europeans as soon as possible. At the beginning of March, the small country of 2.6 million inhabitants submitted its application to join the EU, a request welcomed on May 5 by the European Parliament (document in English) “on the basis of merit”.
Pending the examination of this request, which requires the Commission’s agreement and generally takes several years, MEPs voted for financial aid and better integration into the European market for Moldova, in the face of “serious concerns” concerning the integrity of its territory.