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Transnistria, which borders Ukraine’s Odessa region, has become a new focal point in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war as he looks to not only gain control of eastern and southern Ukraine, but threatens to come to Moldova next.
“Thirty years ago, the territory of Transnistria was occupied by the Russian Federation. Every year there are exercises with a task force of Russian troops stationed in this region,” Vadim Skipetsky, representative of the Main Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, said in a statement. Friday statement.
Skipetsky said Russian forces are training with local separatist forces in defensive and counter-attack operations using munitions stored in a warehouse in the village of Kolbasna, which shares a border with Ukraine’s Odessa region.
“Part of the ammunition is used for combat training and part – according to military intelligence – for smuggling,” Skipetsky said.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry warned Friday that recent actions from Russia show it is looking to use Transnistria as a “staging point for aggression” to attack Ukraine from another direction and possibly hit Moldova.
The ministry announced earlier this week that Russian-backed separatist forces in Transnistria are recruiting men – a move that preceded two alleged “terrorist attacks” in the region this week.
Ukrainian and some Moldovan officials accused Moscow of being behind the attacks to provide a pretext for deploying Russian forces under the guise of a “peacekeeping” mission – a similar tactic Russia has used in Ukraine.
Russia has maintained a “peacekeeping” force in the Transnistrian region since a 1992 peace agreement was reached between the Moldovan government and regional officials.
“We are monitoring the situation in Transnistria,” Skipetsky said on Friday, noting that there was now a “serious conflict” between Moldovan officials and “special services of the Russian Federation.”
“The terrorist acts committed on the territory of Transnistria were aimed at forcing the Transnistrian leadership to agree to the expansion of the presence of Russian forces,” he added. “The main goal is to keep the region completely under Moscow’s control, as it has been trying for 30 years.”