Russia has been using Transnistria, the pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, to smuggle ammunition for years, and that could have implications for Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate (GUR) claimed Friday, citing defense ministry official Vadym Skibitsky.
Transnistria, also known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic and located on the Ukrainian border, is a de-facto independent but unrecognized breakaway state from Moldova formed in 1990 originally as an attempt to remain part of the Soviet Union should the rest of Moldova achieve independence – an issue that soon became moot when the Soviet Union dissolved shortly thereafter.
According to Balkan Insight, Russia maintains around 1,600 soldiers in Transnistria, divided into peacekeeping troops and the Operative Group of Russian Troops,
Every year, these Russian forces hold drills where they simulate defense and counteroffensive operations.
According to Skibitsky, this includes the use of the many tons of ammunition left in the area since the collapse of the Soviet Union, part of which is smuggled rather than used for combat training. Much of this ammunition is in the village of Cobasna, with Transnistria's interior ministry citing "experts" as saying that Cobasna holds the biggest ammunition depot in Europe.
This announcement comes following increased tensions in the area, such as a recent attack on a government building in Transnistria's capital and reports from Transnistria that shots were fired from Ukraine into Cobasna.
Further, earlier this week, it was reported by Pravda that Transnistria's Defense Ministry ordered the mobilization of all men between the ages of 18 to 55 to "replenish the peacekeeping contingent," effectively meaning building up its military force.
This is worrying because, as the GUR claims, the ongoing situation in Transnistria signals not only Russia's readiness to use the area as a potential launching point for further attacks into Ukraine, but also for possible aggression against Moldova.
Ukraine has accused Russia of trying to mastermind false flag attacks in the region and has long worried about the breakaway region becoming the start of another front in the conflict.
"The terrorist acts committed on the territory of Transnistria were aimed at forcing the Transnistrian leadership to agree to expand the presence of Russian troops," the GUR claimed, saying that these attacks "will be presented as a threat to the region and a signal to Moldova's leadership to abandon pro-European policies. The main goal is to keep the region completely under Moscow's control, like it has been trying to do for 30 years."
While Transnistria has said they were not planning on joining the conflict, Ukrainian intelligence reports from the start of the Russian invasion indicated that part of Russia's plan was to create a land corridor connecting Russia, Donbas, Crimea and Transnistria.
According to Skibitsky, currently, "everything that is happening now in Transnistria is under the control of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)."
The worsening situation in Transnistria has led many countries, such as Israel, to urge their citizens to leave.
"Due to the deteriorating security situation in Transnistria and the Foreign Ministry's ability to assist Israelis there being hampered, [we] call on Israelis civilians should leave as soon as possible," Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
On Thursday, Bulgaria also cautioned its citizens to not only avoid traveling to Transnistria, but to Moldova, and urged all its citizens to leave the country by any means, The Sofia Globe reported.
Jerusalem Post Staff and Reuters contributed to this report.