The breakaway region of Moldova, known as Transnistria, is a small region that borders Ukraine on the east and the Dniester River on the west. The river separates the region from the rest of Moldova. From 1924 to 1940, this region held autonomy before becoming a part of the Moldova SSR after World War II. This brief period of statehood was sufficient to create a strong cultural identity that survived until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, tensions rose between Moldova and Transnistria. A nationalist movement focused on embracing a Moldovan identity caused backlash from the pro-Russian supporters. The central government instituted laws in Moldova that recognized the official language of the newly independent nation as Romanian and Moldovan. Desiring to keep the status quo, the separatists engaged in a brief conflict with Chisinau, resulting in a ceasefire in July 1992. Since then, a tripartite Joint Control Commission (Russia, Moldova, Transnistria) has supervised the lasting security in the region. Yet, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has put Transnistria under the spotlight due to its borders with Ukraine and the presence of Russian troops on its soil.


The fears of a destabilization effort from the Kremlin linger in Chisinau as Russia conducts its war against Ukraine and attempts to secure a land bridge toward Transnistria. However, Ukraine continues to repel Russian advances and make successes in its counteroffensive—providing hope for a future where Moldova peacefully solves the Transnistria problem.

The pause of Russian progress in the Ukrainian battlefield has also gifted Moldova a much-needed respite. Almost immediately, the West identified the need for increased support to Moldova.

Moldova’s Opportunity for Change

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has provided Moldova with a unique opportunity to resolve its frozen dispute. The negotiations to end the conflict have been on an indefinite hold since Russia invaded Ukraine, with both nations serving as mediators in 5+2 negotiations.

Since the Transnistria Conflict, around 1,500 Russian troops have maintained a presence in the region, constantly reminding Chisinau about Russia’s potential to undermine their national sovereignty. One historical precedent is Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea in Ukraine in an alleged attempt to protect the Russian minority groups. Similarly, Russia conducted its 2022 invasion of Ukraine under the pretence of protecting the autonomy of the Russian minority oblasts Donetsk and Lugansk.

Transnistria would have followed suit in being annexed by the Russian Federation were it not for Ukraine halting the progress of Russia’s occupation. The fact remains that the Kremlin props up the region through foreign aid. Namely, Transnistria receives gas subsidies from Russia, making the price virtually zero.

The energy situation of Transnistria influences the entire country. 80% of Moldova’s electricity is generated from a power plant in the breakaway region. Therefore, the whole country remains dependent on Russian gas. With the breakout of the conflict in Ukraine, Moldova and Ukraine made efforts to align their energy networks with that of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E).

Although connected to European energy, Moldova and Ukraine require further infrastructure to make electricity commercially available. Presently, electricity is being provided through an emergency mode. Many international organizations are essential in helping Moldova sever its Russian energy dependence, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Among other initiatives, USAID supports Moldova as it increases its self-reliance. One of the main focuses to obtain this objective is through cooperation with the Moldovan government by developing the society to become a more participatory democracy. USAID supports Moldova in its efforts to educate its citizens against disinformation. Countering malign foreign influence is among the top priorities of USAID and is achieved through the support of independent news agencies and by improving the country’s media literacy.

Ukraine discovered the threat of malign foreign influence in Moldova, which sought to disrupt the governmental order. The plot included locations and logistics of where to commit the subversive conspiracy. Actors to participate in these disruptive acts would be military personnel disguised as civilians. Citizens from Kremlin-sympathetic nations, such as Belarus and Serbia, were expected to elicit riots from Moldovan citizens to demand a change of government. Moldovan authorities seized over 220,000 euros designated to fund these seditious acts.

On June 5th, 2023, the United States Treasury Department sanctioned seven members associated with organizing dissent in Moldova. Several individuals maintained an association with Russian intelligence services and were used to plan, staff, and fund the protests. These sanctions are part of a sustained effort to counter the foreign influence of Moldova, including multiple attempts at manipulating elections.

Culminating the efforts of Russia’s plans to undermine Moldova’s sovereignty was the missile campaign against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Although the Ukrainian energy infrastructure was the primary target, Russia fired missiles that violated Moldova’s airspace. The orchestrated missile attacks were conducted in tandem with Gazprom’s reduced supply to Moldova by 49%.

The coercive tactics taken by the Kremlin resulted in two unique consequences. Firstly, Moldova managed to substitute its gas needs from the EU to survive the winter. Aiding their survival was an initiative from Chisinau to invest heavily in renewable energy. Renewable energy outputs increased by over 300% since 2022, which equates to about 6% of total energy output. However, Moldova remains deeply reliant on gas for energy needs.

The second unintended consequence of Russia’s attempts to compel Moldova through gas reduction caused Transnistria’s revenues to decline. The output of energy production has suffered with the conflict in Ukraine, and consequently, there has been a reduction in tax revenues for Transnistria. This situation has prompted the central government and the breakaway region to strike a deal where Moldova would receive gas from the breakaway area at a discount, and Transnistria would receive all the gas from Gazprom.

Another measure the small nation took to improve its circumstances was bolstering its defences, specifically air defences. Russia’s missile campaign shows that Moldova cannot protect its airspace. To rectify this, Moldova has increased its defence budget by 68% for 2023, which only equates to 55% of Moldova’s GDP.

International efforts are being made to help Moldova achieve its goal of modernizing its military. In August 2023, the U.S. provided Moldova with military equipment, continuing its efforts to assist the European nation. The U.S. also increased its investment in Moldova from $3 million to $30 million in response to the Ukraine war. Additionally, $600,000 was provided to bolster Moldova’s cyber security. The European Continent also supports Moldova’s defence revitalization, with Germany providing 19 armoured vehicles, Romania delivering body armour and SUVs, and Poland contributing to Moldovan defence with weapons and ammunition.

The European Union has similarly taken an active role in supporting Moldova. In the area of defence, the EU has provided Moldova with 47 million euros to help increase medical services, as well as cyber security. Also, the EU has nearly doubled the macro-financial assistance to Moldova to 295 million euros. As part of a 7 million euro package, Moldova received drones and laptops with sapper robots, radars, and vehicles due to the country at the end of the year. These concerted efforts of Western allies ensure that Moldova can make necessary changes to its ageing military equipment.

While Moldova is receiving substantial support from its allies, the war in Ukraine has provided Chisinau with the means of ending its decades-long frozen conflict. Due to its war efforts in Ukraine, Russia delays its welfare payments to the people of Transnistria. The delays prompted the government to turn to the private sector for contributions to keep the economy afloat.   For example, Sheriff, the largest company in the region with many monopolies, including communication networks, fuel, and food, provides equipment to hospitals and improves infrastructure.

The Sheriff company allegedly made its fortune through the black market sales of tobacco, alcohol, and fuel across Ukraine’s border. With Ukraine’s borders closed and the smuggling operations impacted, exports are directed to the West. Since 2014, companies registered with the central government have access to the EU. An estimated 76% of Transnistrian exports now are funnelled through Moldova into the EU. Stemming from this is a pathway for incentivizing the breakaway region toward the West.

Facing insufficient investment from its primary benefactor, Transnistria may turn to the West for survival. Although the economic models of Transnistria and Moldova differ, there are still more options for continued financial success. Moldova maintains sufficient leverage to align Transnistria with the central government. However, Moldovan President Maia Sandu has stated her priorities on reforming the present government institutions and then focusing on a reintegration strategy.


Although the war in Ukraine continues, there is a silver lining to be found. As a result of closed borders and insufficient aid from the Kremlin, Transnistria is left with few options for survival. These circumstances have forced the breakaway region to turn toward its parent government for respite. A solution to a decades-long war can be found through stronger economic cooperation and a future through new markets.

The West’s vested interest in the small European nation has resulted in significant equipage for Moldova to make necessary improvements. Efforts such as finance packages for defenses, military equipment, and a strong trade relationship provide Moldova with a clear pathway to align with Western countries. The continued support of its allies ensures Moldova can counter foreign influence and preserve its independence.


Joshua Perkins is a research assistant intern at Beyond the Horizon ISSG. He is also pursuing a degree in Homeland Security with an emphasis in International Relations through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.