U.S. Has the Russian Military Presence in Transnistria in Sights

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The cold war in miniature – so you can call the processes taking place recently in the Black Sea area. Military equipment and personnel of the US Army in Romania, NATO vessels in the Black Sea, long-range aviation of the Russian air force in the Crimea – the mutual concentration of forces confirms that this assessment of the situation is rather justified.  Why is this happening and how real is the threat to regional security? Coming of new combat units in the Black Sea region is accompanied by strong diplomatic statements, which only increases the fears of experts. Recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that NATO allies will soon announce new actions against Russia in connection with the Crimea and the Sea of Azov incident. The senior official responsible for American foreign policy stressed that the planned measures will be taken to push back Russia. It is one thing when such rhetoric comes from officials in military uniforms, and quite another when the words “push back” come from the main diplomat of the superpower. Moscow also participates in this war of words. A week earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry commented on the strengthening of the US and NATO military presence in the Black Sea. The Foreign Ministry accused NATO of “active militarization of the region” and came up with its arguments: strengthening intelligence activities, deployment of US missile defense in Romania, extended presence of NATO naval groups in the Black Sea. The United States is actively working to legitimize its military presence in the region. Statements by the leaders of Ukraine and Romania on the need to involve NATO in “ensuring security” to “counter the Russian threat” untie Washington’s hands, allowing the Americans to build up forces without costs in public image. Control over positions on the geopolitical chessboard is perhaps one of the main priorities of the United States in foreign policy. It’s not just about containing Russia. The military presence in the Black Sea area strengthens Washington’s position in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. The joint NATO-US military exercises with the armed forces of Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia are meant to emphasize and safeguard this legitimacy, while the Operational Group of Russian Troops (OGRT) in Transnistria is used as one of the arguments of Russia’s “aggressive conduct”. In this regard, the question arises whether the frozen Transnistrian conflict can influence on the processes of increasing military presence in the Black Sea area? Military exercises of the OGRT, involving Pridnestrovian troops as well, are primarily an asymmetric response of the Russian Defense Ministry to the strengthening of the United States in the region. However, the OGRT is not a significant combat unit capable of conducting extensive military offensives. Units of the US Army participate in military exercises in the territory of the Republic of Moldova and are even involved in annual inspections of military units near the so-called “security zone” of the Transnistrian conflict. Military base in Bulboaca, which is officially modernized under the programme to enhance  the UN peacekeeping capacity, is primarily used for maneuvers, which are held on the territory of Moldova together with the armies of the United States and Romania. It is also close to the “security zone”, and it’s highly likely that NATO troops accidentally cross its perimeter. It is not surprising that Transnistria has stated its intention to appeal to the mediators in the conflict settlement and to warn about the dangers of military exercises in the immediate vicinity of the peacekeepers’ area of responsibility. Despite the fact that Bulboaca is not the only military training ground in Moldova, Moldova-NATO joint military exercises take place there. Over the past few years, their number has increased markedly, and an incident in the “security zone” is likely to occur. This scenario, however, may actually be more beneficial for Washington. The destabilization of the situation can be interpreted as the failure of the peacekeeping operation on the Dniester, carried out under the auspices of Russia. Together with the UN and PACE resolutions adopted last year on the need to withdraw Russian troops from Transnistria, this will become one more argument of the Americans in the game against the geopolitical opponent. There is an opinion in the expert community that the OGRT in Transnistria is the main reason for strengthening the US and NATO military presence in Moldova. However, it seems that the loyalty of the Moldovan authorities to Washington in military matters is not due to this factor. The support of Washington in the framework of their demonstrative ‘pro-European’ rhetoric is necessary for the Moldovan authoritarian elites to hold power for as long as possible under the direct patronage of Washington and Brussels. It is clear that in these favorable conditions for its military and political expansion, the US is trying at any cost to gain a foothold in Moldova on a permanent basis: for example, to facilitate the transformation of the current peacekeeping operation and the creation of a new model under the auspices of the OSCE or NATO, which is constantly advocated by the official Chisinau. However, despite the pressure exerted on Russia’s peacekeeping presence on the banks of the Dniester, the operation continues, remaining quite an effective tool for maintaining peace in the region. There is every reason to believe that the Western partners of Chisinau also understand this, which means that they are fully aware of the possible risks and negative consequences of breaking the long-term regional balance. Meanwhile, in recent years there have been clear trends to change the military-strategic situation in the region under pressure from Washington, which requires significant Russia’s strengthening and practical measures in order to avoid escalation of the conflict.