U.S. foreign policy is a shambles, driven mostly by increasingly divisive and vituperative special-interest domestic politics that are merely the flickering shadows of what my friend Mike Lofgren calls the Deep State. The mad rush to expand NATO and start a new cold war with Russia is a case in point. It would be a mistake to think that rush ends with Ukraine. There are, for example, ambitions in Congress to include Moldova, a tiny poor country wedged between Ukraine and Romania, about which most Americans know nothing.
Located between the eastern Carpathian Mountains and the River Dniester, the contemporary borders of Moldova, like the borders of Ukraine, are a complex legacy of history, including most recently: (1) the fall of empires in WWI; (2) the deal between Hitler and Stalin to divide up parts of eastern Europe (i.e., the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, August 1939) which precipitated the German and Soviet invasions of Poland; (3) the rearrangement of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union, after it emerged victoriously from the carnage of WWII; and (4) the chaos following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Delving deeper into history, modern Moldova includes parts of the old provincial regions of Bukovina, Bessarabia, and Moldavia, each of which also had a long, ethnically-complex history. (Wikipedia provides an easily accessible if mind-numbing introduction to these histories.) Today, these regions are divided among Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova. Almost three-quarters of Moldavians, however, are ethnically or culturally linked to Romania, now a member of NATO and the EU. One important exception is the impoverished eastern Russophile region known as Transnistria, a thin strip of land along the East Bank of the River Dniester, which became part of the Russian Empire in 1792. Today, Transnistria is squeezed between Moldavia and Ukraine, but most of its people want to maintain their close ties to Russia. After a short civil war in 1992, Transnistria, while technically part of Moldova, became quasi-independent of Moldova, and since then has been patrolled by Russian peacekeepers.
But, as the map below suggests, there is little Russia can do in terms of direct power projection to protect Transnistria, should, with NATO’s blessing, Moldova move to occupy it; or, in the less likely event that Ukraine moves to occupy it. (After all, the River Dniester is the western border of the Ukrainian steppe.)
Therein lies the potential powder keg: Geographical facts may tempt aggressive NATO expansionists and neo-con anti-Russia elements in the U.S to push a weak and overwhelmed President into doing something really stupid; perhaps believing that “reuniting” Transnistria with Moldova offers a free ride to humiliate Putin, or to poke him in the eye for his cautious, albeit increasingly effective, maneuvers to stymy U.S. ambitions to move Ukraine into the NATO/EU orbit.
This opinion piece summarizes this powder keg from a Russian point of view — which, of course, may be biased. But one should never dismiss the opposing point of view of an adversary as being irrelevant to the evolution of a future course of events. While Putin may not be able to protect Transnistria, it does not follow that he does not have other options for countering yet another U.S. provocation — e.g., Putin might shrug off the increasingly hollow threat of more sanctions, and use his control of gas supplies to drive a wedge between the United States and the EU, particularly with regards to the EU’s dominant country, Germany, where a recent poll sponsored by the German Marshall Fund suggests that President Obama’s declining favorability ratings may now be shifting into free-fall — declining from 87% in 2010 to 76% in 2013, then plunging to 56% in 2014.
Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org