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The Cold War powder keg is on the border with Ukraine

As long as the tension between Russia and Ukraine On the rise, the Moldovan enclave of Transnistria is home to more than 20,000 tons of weapons stored by the Soviet Army since the end of the Cold War, a veritable tinderbox a few kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

“When Moldova left the USSR in 1991, we stayed. That gave us legitimacy to seek self-determination later, “said Vitali Ignátiev, Foreign Minister of Transnistria, whose independence has not been recognized by the HIM-HER-IT.

Transnistria, which is separated from Moldova by the Dniester River and by a Russian peacekeeping force due to the war that broke out in 1992, shares more than 400 kilometers with Ukraine.

Explosive Soviet arsenal

The arsenal was built for the Soviet 14th Army, but was converted at the end of the Cold War into a warehouse for weapons and ammunition for Soviet troops who hurriedly left East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland.

Now, a military contingent is in charge of his protection and Russian specialists guarantee his safety in the small town of Kolbasna, where the press is not welcome.

“We inherited them from the USSR. They are ammunition and weapons of different types. Now everything is owned by the Russian Defense Ministry, ”Ignatiev explained.

Some 20,000 tons were destroyed or removed between 2000 and 2004, but then the Transnistrian authorities suspended the process after the worsening of relations with Chisinau.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu raised the issue again in September when she demanded before the UN General Assembly the withdrawal of both Russian troops and weapons, which she considered “very dangerous for the security and ecology of the region.”

According to the Moldavian Academy of Sciences, in the event of an explosion, its power would be equivalent to the atomic bomb that exploded in Hiroshima.

The Russian foreign spokeswoman, Maria Zajárova, admitted that some 11,000 tons correspond to obsolete weapons.

“It’s not dangerous. I was there myself. They are stored in the same conditions since Soviet times. The place is dry and airtight. The complex is very deep ”, replies Ignátiev.

The Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, was willing to resume the destruction of weapons in August 2019 when he met with the then Moldovan president, the pro-Russian Igor Dodon, but everything came to a stop with the coming to power of the European Sandu a year ago. anus.

Withdrawal or recycling of weapons

Moldova considers the presence of this arsenal a threat, which, according to the local press, is also a source of arms smuggling for armies and terrorist groups around the world, including pro-Russian Donbas militias.

Instead, Ignatiev warns that “the dangerous thing” is trying to get them out of there without respecting the opinion of Russian specialists.

“How can you remove 20,000 tons of ammunition with your hands? How is that possible? A settlement mechanism needs to be worked out. They cannot be removed just like that, they can explode on the way to Moldova or Ukraine ”, he warns.

Transnistrian President Vadim Krasnoselski, who will stand for re-election on December 12, supports the destruction of weapons, but opposes their transfer.

“It is an internal matter of Transnistria and Russia. The ammunition must be analyzed by Russian specialists and then already decide how to destroy it. It will be done in the same place or it will be necessary to build a plant, “he said recently.

A Cold War frontier

To cross from Moldova to Transnistria you have to cross a triple border. Moldovan border guards only check cars coming from Transnistria for contraband.

The next step is the security zone that separates both territories and that is guarded by Russian peacekeeping forces that rotate every six months.

All you have to do is stop at the Transnistrian checkpoint, where the Moldovan military is checking the reason for entering the militarized strip of land, which is half the size of the island of Cyprus.

Sandu demands that the Russian troops be replaced by a group of civilian observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), something that Moscow considers irresponsible.

“There has been no danger of a military confrontation for a long time,” said the president.

The General Assembly in July 2018 called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Transnistria.

Instead, the Transnistrian authorities maintain that, whatever they say in Chisinau, the Russian troops do not pose “any military threat.”

“Yes, they are Russian soldiers. Yes, they are part of the Russian Army. But it is something that must be understood and accepted ”, said Ignátiev, who considers that said contingent is a guarantee of security, since“ as long as the conflict is not resolved, the threat of a military conflict will always exist by default ”.


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