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The “tinderbox” on Ukraine’s border

Transnistrian soldiers celebrate the 25th anniversary of their unofficial state. The sign – in Russian – says “Love your country!” Sander de Wilde/Corbis/Getty

If Russia’s war crept further into Europe, it would start in Transnistria, says Monika Pronczuk in the Slate podcast What Next. The sliver of land, which shares a border with Ukraine, is technically part of Moldova, but it feels more like Moscow. Transnistria gets Russian-language TV, the locals speak Russian, its currency is the rouble, and its flag is emblazoned with a hammer and sickle. Last month a series of mysterious explosions rocked the area. The Russians blamed the Ukrainians, the Ukrainians blamed the Russians, and the Moldovans didn’t blame anyone – “because they are trying to walk this very delicate line”.

And no wonder. If Russia invaded Transnistria, it would be a nightmare for Moldova. The tiny country is one of the poorest in Europe and gets almost all of its gas from Russia. Moldova’s constitution forbids it from joining military alliances or strengthening its troops – so as it stands, the army has just 6,000 soldiers, “no sophisticated equipment”, and only six helicopters. The war has only made things worse. Moldova has so far accepted more than 450,000 Ukrainian refugees (the most of any nation per capita) and it’s proving “an immense economic burden”. The country has a bad case of “war jitters”: business owners say they have to beg employees not to flee. For years, Transnistria has been a tinderbox. “It’s so close to exploding right now.”

🇲🇩🇷🇴 Moldova might be forbidden from joining Nato, but half of its 2.6 million residents have Romanian passports, says Pronczuk. Given Romania is part of Nato and the European Union, that technically makes those Moldovans EU citizens. War in Moldova would quite literally be “on Nato’s doorstep”.