Threat of Transnistria «referendum», explained

On the eve of the presidential election, Vladimir Putin is traditionally sending macho vibes that are already familiar to many from his previous cadences.  However, now that Russia is going through an extremely challenging period, Putin is basically going wild. According to official statistics, almost 80% of Russians are ready to support their president for yet another re-election.

However, “machismo” in the eyes of “jingo-patriots” and power holders looks like an unnecessary and harmful “Western trend.”  Therefore, a different format for election campaigning and propaganda has been proposed.  Obviously, Putin decided to play the basic feeling inherent in the Russians — “Great Russia, or Russia expansion” and turned the idea of territorial annexations into his leading campaigning element.

Putin’s public “machismo” doesn’t work in the geopolitical dimension, therefore the presidential election campaign needs to strengthen its conceptual component.  Both “jingo-patriots” and “shadow cardinals” (such as Nikolay Patrushev) are pushing for more pressure on the occupied territories of Ukraine and “acquisition” of new ones.

In this regard, the question arises about the actual independence of Putin’s decision-making.  His entourage, including some “jingo-patriots”, may be pushing him to take demonstrative and risky steps like assassinating political opponents (the Navalny case), blackmailing the West with nuclear weapons in space, or seizing new territories, thus ensuring total approval from Russian citizens.

Intensifying the topic of annexing neighboring territories under plausible pretexts plays into the hands of both the Russian “jingo-patriots”, who do not even allow the thought of a “weak tsar”, and the “imperialistic statesmen” surrounding Putin, contributing to the strengthening of both groups.

Before our eyes, the ideology of “Russia’s expansion,” more common for the 19th century, is being revisited.  For the general public, this can be presented as “stopping the destabilizing influence of the West in collapsing the security system of the CIS countries”, as the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently claimed.  In fact, this poses a real threat to neighboring countries, destroys the existing security system not only in Europe, but also in Asia, and leads to the displacement of Western democracies from their traditional spheres of interest.

The intriguing statement by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan about the “freezing” of Armenia’s participation in the CSTO may signal Russia’s curtailment of this “cardboard” bloc project and the intention to use allies and satellites as a strike force to expand territorial and ideological influence.  The formal appearance of “unification” is set to be replaced by direct annexation.  In this case, Azerbaijan may play such a role, and European nations, for example, France, may unexpectedly be drawn into another protracted regional conflict.

However, in addition to restoring the status and size of the empire, this trend can lead to a rapid “overheating” of Russia’s economy (money is being spent on “new regions”, not on the development of Russia’s original territories), as well as further depletion of the army, which is forced to control vast areas.

Controlling borders and suppressing local discontent will also bear enormous financial costs and require significant human resources.  Considering that the Russian army has been bogged down in Ukraine for two years now, it will be difficult for the Kremlin to find extras for military service.  It is obvious that residents of the annexed territories can be considered as potential “cannon fodder”.  Also, the Kremlin will seek to compensate for the crisis of its own economy by mercilessly plundering annexed territories.

The “appropriation” of foreign regions would mark the transfer of destabilization to Russian territory (migrants who often do not speak Russian, militants, etc.).  The authorities are deliberately provoking domestic chaos.  However, this could become a signal for individual Russian autonomies, as well as provoke the emergence of local leaders willing to distance themselves from the government in Moscow.

Signals about the possible annexation of Transnistria are part of a continuous buildup of a “buffer zone” between Russia and the West, which Russian politicians have been seeking.  Russia plans to create a “gray zone” of destabilization, using and in every possible way fueling greed of local proxies.

The annexation of Transnistria would pose a direct military threat to Moldova and neighboring countries, being an attempt to completely destabilize the Danube and Black Sea region, which will have an extremely negative impact on trade in the area.

Reports about the possible annexation of Transnistria are testing the “annexation technique”, including from the point of view of the reaction from Europe and NATO as a whole.  The annexation of Transnistria puts NATO’s flank and the countries in the region at risk.

Efforts to modernize the infrastructure and deployment of NATO forces in this direction are jeopardized, and serious obstacles arise to the delivery of weapons to Ukraine and the development of infrastructure, in particular in the context of the F-16 coalition.

Another strike group of the Russian Armed Forces is being formed in close proximity to the borders of the Alliance.

At a lower level, the activation of the “annexation” trend may contribute to the rise of separatist movements and the divisive policies by local authorities within European countries.  The unhealthy effort by Transnistria representatives initiating territorial redistribution may send a signal for representatives at various levels in European countries seeking to resolve local issues, affirm themselves as a political force or full-fledged authority in the separatist enclave.  Against the backdrop of a large number of European elections scheduled for 2024, European populists may be inspired by the example of surrendering land in exchange for preferences to local separatists.

The strategy of annexation of territories could lead to the formation of a criminal hotspot in the central part of Europe.  The lack of legitimate government will lead to the transformation of Transnistria into a transit hub for drug, arms, and hunan trafficking.  Europe may face yet another wave of refugees.  The region will become a source of long-term tension.

Thus, by implementing the strategy of annexing territories, Russia seeks to spread chaos beyond its borders, bringing it to Europe.