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The Unseen Side of the Moldovan Protests and the Grain Corridor Controversy

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Anti-government protests were held in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, between February 28 and March 1, 2023, and thousands of people took to the streets to express their opposition to the policies implemented. The Moldovan Government, on the other hand, held the pro-Russian Shor Party responsible for the demonstrations in which the police intervened.[1]

In this sense, it should be stated that the occurrence of anti-government demonstrations in Moldova is an extremely important development. As a matter of fact, after the events, it was claimed by various sources that a pro-Russian revolution or military coup might take place in the country in question.[2] At this point, it should be emphasized that the participation of thousands of people in the protests and the emergence of the effectiveness of a party described as pro-Russian in Moldovan politics and its capacity to steer the streets by mobilizing the masses is an extremely important event. Because what happened can be interpreted as Moscow’s warning about Chisinau, which has come to the fore with its pro-Western policies. In other words, Russia may have wanted to send a message about the preservation of the status in Transnistria, ending the discussions of Chisinau’s attachment to Bucharest, and Moldova’s turn to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

To explain the aforementioned situation, it should be reminded that there are pro-Moscow separatists in Transnistria and the Russian Peacekeeping Force is on duty. However, Russia also thinks that NATO’s enlargement process means its encirclement over the Black Sea. As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons for Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. Therefore, developments such as Moldova’s orientation to NATO or its union with NATO member Romania serve to reinforce Moscow’s perception of siege. In the event of such a development, it is even claimed that Russia may intervene in Transnistria after Ukraine. In other words, it can be stated that Russia has chosen to put pressure on the Moldovan Government over the protests that it has a finger on.

However, although the possibility of a military coup in Moldova is discussed, it is not a very realistic scenario. As a matter of fact, it is known that after the aforementioned country gained its independence, the military-security bureaucracy was built on a distancing tendency to Moscow after the Transnistria Question. In the current situation, the country is turning to NATO. Therefore, it is thought that Russia does not have the capacity to organize a military coup in Moldova.

Another option is that Russia may intervene militarily in Transnistria. That’s why from time to time, Russian authorities state that if the Russian Peacekeeping Force in Transnistria is targeted, they will respond in kind. There are also statements from the Kremlin that Ukraine may target Transnistria from time to time. Essentially, through such exits, Moscow implies that it may intervene in Transnistria, that is, that the area of the Russia-Ukraine War may expand, and tries to create a legitimate justification for its own possible interventions. For this reason, it is seen that the Moldovan-themed statements of Russian officials have increased recently. However, considering the reality that the Russian Peacekeeping Force is in the region, it can be stated that Moscow will not want to change the status in Transnistria.

Undoubtedly, the increase in Moscow’s exits to Moldova is closely related to the Western states’ increasing military aid to the Kiev administration. As can be expected, these aids cause great discomfort in Russia. That’s why the Kremlin raises its hand by addressing various issues such as nuclear weapons, energy, the food crisis, and the expansion of the field of war.

In this sense, Russia’s statements about triggering the food crisis cannot be read independently of the Transnistria Question. Therefore, the statement of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 3, 2023 about the Grain Corridor is very important. In the said statement, the Moscow administration claimed that the agreement on the Grain Corridor did not function properly and that the Western states sabotaged the memorandum signed between Russia and the United Nations.[3]

As can be understood, the main message given by Russia over the Grain Corridor is that its expectations in grain exports are not met and therefore it can turn food into a bargaining chip. Therefore, Russia is implying that it may trigger a global food crisis. But the issue is not limited to this. Because the issue of the Grain Corridor is also important for the future of the Transnistria Question. Because the fact that the Grain Corridor, and especially the Port of Odessa, remains open is at one point an assurance given by Russia to Moldova and the West that the war will not spread to Transnistria. For this reason, opening the future of the Grain Corridor to discussion may result in the expansion of the war zone and the transformation of Transdinyster into an area of conflicts, threatening the territorial integrity of Moldova.

On the other hand, it should be noted that such a scenario does not seem rational for Russia. Because, as stated above, the current status quo in Transnistria is in line with Russia’s interests. It is not thought that the Kremlin will want to change this status quo. Because there is no guarantee that things will go as planned by Moscow in case of conflicts. Ukraine is the most vivid example of this. Moreover, it can be predicted that Russia, which has a shortage of personnel and ammunition even in the war in Ukraine, will further divert its attention and energy to Moldova.

In addition to all these, the fact that Moldova has a tendency to unite with Romania, which is a part of the alliance, although it is not a NATO member, makes the option of Russian intervention in Transnistria unreasonable. Because, if Chisinau decides to join Romania and the said decision is recognized by Bucharest, there is a possibility that Romania will operate the fifth article of the NATO Treaty. This may open the door to a Russia-NATO war that will evolve into the Third World War. Considering that states are rational units that take decisions based on their own national interests, capacities, potentials and limitations, it can be argued that such a war is not rational for Moscow. Despite this, it is obvious that Moscow will continue to make hints about Transnistria. Rather, it can be read as a message to the West that if Russia is defeated in Ukraine, the whole world will lose. In other words, Moscow is raising its hand at the point of bargaining against the West and implying that conflicts may spread to other countries by expanding the field of war.

As a result, although Russia hints that it can both deepen the food crisis and attack Transnistria via the Grain Corridor, this is not realistic. Despite the exits of Russia, which has already used the Grain Corridor as a bargaining element, the agreement on the Grain Corridor was extended for two months. However, the protests in Chisinau are very important in that they indicate that Russia may increase the pressure of the Moldovan Government to limit its geopolitical choices. All these points show that the Transnistria Question will be discussed more frequently in the context of Moldova.


[1] “Does Russia Have Plans for a Coup in Moldova? Anti Government Protest in Moldova’s Chișinău”, Poland Daily 24, https://polanddaily24.com/does-russia-have-plans-for-a-coup-in-moldova-anti-government-protest-in-moldovas-chisinau/politics/19342, (Date of Accesssion: 03.03.2023).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “В МИД РФ заявили, что зерновая сделка не работает”, AİF, https://aif.ru/politics/world/v_mid_rf_zayavili_chto_zernovaya_sdelka_ne_rabotaet, (Date of Accesssion: 04.03.2023).

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN, 2014 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2017 yılında Giresun Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası Güç İlişkileri Bağlamında İkinci Dünya Savaşı Sonrası Hegemonik Mücadelelerin İncelenmesi’’ başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora derecesini ise 2021 yılında Trakya Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı‘nda hazırladığı “İmparatorluk Düşüncesinin İran Dış Politikasına Yansımaları ve Milliyetçilik” başlıklı teziyle alan Başaran’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, İran araştırmaları ve Afganistan çalışmalarıdır. Başaran iyi derecede İngilizce ve temel düzeyde Farsça bilmektedir.