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Putin threatening European nation looking to join NATO, EU: ‘strategic signaling’

Tensions are rising between Moldova and Russia as Moldovan President Maia Sandu pursues closer ties with the EU and NATO. At a recent OSCE conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of waging “hybrid warfare” against Russia using Moldova.

Analysts note that President Vladimir Putin has shown willingness to use military force to oppose NATO expansion near Russia. Moldova, a former Soviet republic, is seen as a crucial fault line between East and West.

The country has a sizable ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking minority population. Pro-Russian protests against Moldova’s EU ambitions have occurred in the capital Chisinau, fueled by economic factors like inflation and energy prices.

Moldova, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, was part of the Soviet Union from 1940-1991. It has endured a turbulent history, including World War II occupation and a bloody 1990s conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the Moldovan government that created the breakaway Transnistria region.

1,500 Russian troops remain stationed in Transnistria, guarding a Soviet-era arms depot. Analysts say the unresolved conflict presents an obstacle to Moldova’s EU aspirations. President Sandu has Romanian citizenship and Russia accuses her of anti-Russian policies.

However, Russia’s leverage may be declining as Ukraine’s border closure has increased Transnistria’s economic reliance on Moldova. Moldova is also seeking energy independence from Russian gas giant Gazprom.

Sandu recently announced she will seek a second term in 2024 after Moldova was granted EU candidate status. Some analysts warn Russia could take military action to prevent further Western integration. Sandu remains favored to win again despite protests.

Her predecessor Igor Dodon maintained closer Russia ties and now faces charges of corruption and treason that supporters allege are politically motivated. The situation remains tense as Moldova balances its Western leanings against Russian influence.