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Putin v. Sandu: Why Russia Is Moving Again On Moldova

Moldovan President Maia Sandu has warned that Russia aims to install a pro-Kremlin leadership in the former Soviet country across the border from Ukraine. Vladimir Putin has both the means and desire to do so.

photo of President Sandu in Kyiv in June

President Sandu in Kyiv in June

Hennadii Minchenko/Ukrinform via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — There are two ways to escalate a conflict. The first is "vertically," using new weapons or aiming at new targets, as Vladimir Putin has been doing for the past few weeks by striking Ukrainian cities and infrastructure.

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The second is "horizontally": extending the conflict to new territories, to new areas. This is the threat that hangs today over Moldova, this small state of the former USSR, which neighbors Ukraine and Romania, whose language it shares.

These fears were raised Monday by the President of Moldova, Maia Sandu, who was referring to a Russian plan to create unrest inside Moldova in order to install a government favorable to Moscow. The pro-European president said the civil unrest was being fomented by people from Russia, Serbia, Belarus and Montenegro.

The alarm about Moldova was raised by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during talks with European leaders in Brussels last week. And Sandu has now effectively confirmed Zelensky's warnings based on documents seized by Moldova's intelligence services.

A fragile nation

Is this scenario possible? That question has two components: does Putin have the means to destabilize Moldova? And does Putin have an interest in destabilizing Moldova?

To the first question, the answer is a resounding yes. Moldova is an extremely fragile country, with only 2.6 million inhabitants; there are thousands of Russian peacekeeper soldiers in a third of its territory, Transnistria, the thin strip of land between Moldova and Ukraine; and there is daily fallout from the war in neighboring Ukraine.

In recent days, Russian missiles have twice flown over Moldovan territory, and the country is regularly without electricity because of the bombing of Ukrainian energy facilities across the border.

The country is already very polarized politically, and subject to constant information warfare, which President Sandu mentioned during her visit to France in December. The president was democratically elected, and has just been forced to change her prime minister to face this challenge. But her resolutely pro-Western stance makes her a potentially prime target.

photo of Putin

Putin has his eye on Moldova

Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin Pool/Planet Pix via ZUM

Putin's interest in destabilizing Moldova

So what would be Putin's interest in destabilizing Moldova? It would be twofold: first, to "punish" the European Union for supporting Ukraine. Brussels granted Moldova the status of candidate to the EU at the same time as Ukraine last year, and Putin's orchestrating the overthrow of Moldova's leadership would inflict a slap in the face to those in Europe who oppose him.

But the temptation may go further, returning to the Kremlin's dream of conquering southern Ukraine and establishing territorial continuity between Donbas, Crimea and Transnistria. This was one of Putin's initial goals, but he failed because of the resistance in the city of Nikolayev, in southern Ukraine.

It is clear that for Putin, the modern state of Moldova is only a relic of a bygone empire. He would not hesitate to use force to wipe it off the map.

In the face of such a horizontal escalation, Europe would be drawn even further into Putin's war.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Settlers, Prisoners, Resistance: How Israeli Occupation Ties Gaza To The West Bank

The fate of the West Bank is inevitably linked to the conflict in Gaza; and indeed Israeli crackdowns and settler expansion and violence in the West Bank is a sign of an explicit strategy.

Settlers, Prisoners, Resistance: How Israeli Occupation Ties Gaza To The West Bank

Israeli soldiers take their positions during a military operation in the Balata refugee camp, West Bank.

Riham Al Maqdama


CAIRO — Since “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” began on October 7, the question has been asked: What will happen in the West Bank?

A review of Israel’s positions and rhetoric since 1967 has always referred to the Gaza Strip as a “problem,” while the West Bank was the “opportunity,” so that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005 was even referred to as an attempt to invest state resources in Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank.

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This separation between Gaza and the West Bank in the military and political doctrine of the occupation creates major challenges, repercussions of which have intensified over the last three years.

Settlement expansion in the West Bank and the continued restrictions of the occupation there constitute the “land” and Gaza is the “siege” of the challenge Palestinians face. The opposition to the West Bank expansion is inseparable from the resistance in Gaza, including those who are in Israeli prisons, and some who have turned to take up arms through new resistance groups.

“What happened in Gaza is never separated from the West Bank, but is related to it in cause and effect,” said Ahmed Azem, professor of international relations at Qatar University. “The name of the October 7 operation is the Al-Aqsa Flood, referring to what is happening in Jerusalem, which is part of the West Bank.”

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