Ukraine War Day #368: Transnistria the next front?

Dear Readers:

Today I have this piece by reporter Alexander Grishin. Who reminds us that we need to keep our eyes on that slice of territory wedged between Ukraine and Moldavia (=Moldova). Nobody can predict the future, but it is very possible that a new front will open there, in the current war. Hence, if you are a worrier, like me, then here is something else to worry about.

First recall that, like Russian dolls, there are several levels here: Transnistria is a break-away region from Moldavia; which, in turn, is a break-away from Romania (well, at least according to the Romanians). In the end, Romania would like to have all of these lands under its belt. Problem: Romania = NATO. Meanwhile, poor old Moldavia is squeezed from all sides: Russians in its break-away, Ukrainians to the East, Romanians to the West. Trying to be all things to all people, trying to please everybody, and just stay out of trouble. But staying out of trouble is impossible!

Exhibit A: In this piece from Gazeta, we see our old friend, Alexei Arestovich assuring the odious blogger Mark Feigin that Ukraine will be able to seize Transnistria in “three days max, no problem.” Arestovich lays out the casus belli trick very clearly: The Moldavian government (which claims this territory) has the right, as a sovereign nation, to ask Ukrainian troops for assistance in clearing out the Russian garrison that is stationed there. (Which the Russians call a “peacekeeping” contingent.) Then Ukrainian troops move in, and all hell breaks loose. The Russian government, for its part, has warned that any attack against Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria, will be regarded as an attack against the Russian Federation. But the Russian army is far away, still bogged down in the Donbass.

Why does a dragon guard the hoard? Because somebody has to…

Those not in the know, may ask the logical question: Why are 1,500 Russian peacekeepers stationed in Transnistria? Well, ever since 1992 these soldiers have been guarding a cache of weapons left over from World War II. Not since the dragon Fafner spent his multi-centuries life guarding the Nibelung hoard, has so much time and effort been spent guarding a single cache. But, in this case, not Gold, nor an invisibility cap, nor a magic Ring; just lots of artillery shells. Some weapons experts estimate, that if the cache were to be blown up, it would be like Nagasaki…

Moldavian Prime Minister Dorin_Recean is pro-West, pro-NATO. He has stated that he wants to see the 1,500 strong Russian garrison leave Transnistria. And he would like them to take all their weapons and cache with them.

At the same time, the Moldavian authorities have been calling for calm and rejecting the idea of an armed conflict in their region. However, Russian authorities are worried that the Ukrainians will attempt some kind of provocation or false flag attack, in order to open this second front in the war.

On The Brink?

Dorin Recean

The Russian word for this region is Pridniestrovie (=”near the Dniester River”), but I’ll stick with the Latin version Transnistria, it’s all the same thing. The capital city is Tiraspol. In shape, this autonomous region looks sort of like a broken and battered snake or worm (or sick dragon), with its mouth open, tongue hanging out, and a hunched back.

Grishin: The Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) has observed a significant accumulation of Ukrainian personnel and equipment building up near the Ukraine-Transnistria border. Even more worrisome: Ukrainian artillery positions being set up on the border; not to mention frequent fly-overs by Ukrainian drones. In conjunction with this, the MOD issued a statement, warning NATO and its Ukrainian vassals to not even think about launching an adventure in this direction.

The situation is quite serious. The crisis began around 3 months ago. Let us recall that on February 8 Zelensky arrived in London with his entourage, spoke before Parliament, met with the King, and, according to certain reports, went with his sidekick Andrei Yermak, for a rendezvous at MI-6 HQ.

The very next day, after returning to Ukraine, he declared the Ukrainian Intelligence had purportedly captured some documents, to the effect that “Russian terrorists”, more specifically Chechen Spetznaz, were preparing a coup in Kishinev; and that he had reported all of this to Moldavian President Maia Sandu. It goes without saying that Zelensky was making all of this up, out of whole cloth.

Moldavian President Maia Sandu

Since nobody was buying this nonsense, Kiev came up with another story. In this one, the Russians were allegedly going to seize the Kishinev airport. [Kishinev being the capital of Moldavia.]

Next, the Russians put out their own conspiracy theory, this one intended to warn the Ukrainians not to try this one: In this version, Ukrainian Spetznaz would dress up in Russian uniforms and perform an act of aggression against Moldavia, thus repeating one of Hitler’s old tricks and drawing Moldavia into the war against Russia. The plan was a good one, but Moscow found out just in time and published it to the world, thus averting it. The plausibility of this theory being contained in the proven fact that Ukrainian forces truly are building up on the Moldavian border, in significant quantities.

Unfortunately for Russia, all these shenanigans led to some internal changes in the Moldavian government. In which, the pragmatic economically-minded Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilitsa was replaced by a person with a defense background and more hawkish views. Namely, Dorin Recean. Whose first act was to announce that Kishinev will seek the “de-militarization” of Transnistria and the removal of Russian peacekeepers from this strip of territory.

Next Grishin points out an interesting discrepancy between the “wish-lists” of the various sides. The Moldavian government clearly wants the Russians to just leave, and to take with them (or destroy) this enormous cache of WWII-era weapons. They don’t want the weapons, they just want this land back (along with whatever people still live there).

The Ukrainians, on the other hand, would like to get their hands on the weapons. And Grishin believes that this subplot was clearly spun “in the land where gentlemen observe their 5:00 o’clock while wearing perfectly groomed suits, and not worn-out khaki tee-shirts, as was worn by their recent guest.”

Who Needs Kolbasna?

Grishin: Kiev does not even bother to hide its desire to seize the giant Soviet weapons cache stored in the town of Kolbasna. [yalensis: In all Slavic languages, Kolbasa means sausage, just FYI.] Experts have varying opinions. Some believe that all the weapons and ammo have gone way past their expiration dates and are simply not usable. But others believe that the Ukrainians could still make some use of the Soviet 122 and 152 mm shells for artillery. These are precisely the calibers for which the Ukrainian army is experienced a hunger. Not to mention 82 and 120 mm shells for grenade-launchers. Doing the math, if even 10-15% of this old ammo is still in working order, then it could get the Ukrainian army through another 6 months, possibly even a whole year, of fighting.

[yalensis: Doing the math, I think the Ukrainians might have a good plan here. Soviet stuff, however old, was built to last. Who wants to bet that Boris Johnson came up with this lunatic idea? But even lunatic ideas are sometimes good. A broken clock is right twice a day.]

Grishin: Ukraine’s secondary goal, in undertaking this scheme, would be to capture the Russian garrison in Transnistria. As POW’s they would beef up Ukraine’s cache of “exchangeable” prisoners. Killing or capturing these 1,500 Russian soldiers would also give the Ukrainian Nationalists a huge morale boost, of which they are sorely in need. Their last big victory was Kherson, but nothing since then.

Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria: Their job is to guard the hoard.

And the third goal — this one is really sinister — is to drag NATO into the war in a much bigger way, than it is already. Here is how it works:

After whatever Ukrainian false-flag operation, then Moldavia, rudely aggressed upon by the Russian army, will formally request assistance, either from Romania, or Ukraine, or both.

Recall that Romania is already a NATO country. Dragging Romania into this conflict would already constitute a huge escalation. But escalation is precisely what Zelensky and his London curators want to see. Zelensky’s only chance for survival is if NATO joins the war directly, with its own forces and equipment.

Returning to Moldavia: Recall that Sandu herself, the President of Moldavia, is actually a Romanian citizen. The enigma here, is whether or not she has decided, or will decide, to take the plunge into such an adventure. Factors include her low popularity rating and serious problems with the economy. Here, an “external enemy” and a quick victorious war might serve to bring her ratings up. On the other hand, there is no guarantee that the war would be victorious. Because she doesn’t know what Russia will do. If she tries, and loses, then she might have to flee back to Romania.

Which raises the all-important question: What will Russia do? In the face of such a provocation?

[to be continued]

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29 Responses to Ukraine War Day #368: Transnistria the next front?

  1. michaeldroy says:

    Well this would be a way to stir things up.
    But my impression is that things are winding down with Ukraine running out of troops even faster than their last remaining conscription candidates are running out of Ukraine.


  2. Liborio Guaso says:

    The need to raise the media importance of the war means that all the bordering countries can be used to extend the territory at war, but the most important thing is the money to pay politicians supposed to be freedom fighters and mercenaries who kill for money. In addition, a large part of the money will be the booty of the brains that from afar direct the operation against Russia.
    These expenses increase the western economic crisis which allows recruiting more mercenaries, but also increases the protests in the streets.


  3. the pair says:

    i actually recall seeing reports months and months ago about ukie soldiers massing in moldova (while dressed as romanian soldiers if my memory isn’t failing). i thought of transnistria as “moldova’s donbass” and expected similar issues. plus its proximity to odessa and the general slimy corruption of the romanian and moldovan “governments”. other than a steady supply of trafficked humans neither has much to offer besides serving as more cannon fodder. given that russia’s armed forces haven’t been fully utilized yet any attack on those 1,500 guys would range from “suicidal” to “f_cking stupid”.

    [side note and context: 15ish years ago when i was going to teach english in the general region even ukrainians and bulgarians i talked to warned me to avoid romania and moldova. the phrase “shallow grave” came up a few times.]


  4. peter moritz says:

    We live in interesting times…just arrived in my mailbox:


    • I was just going to mention Simplicius’ article.


    • I don’t know where he came from (a look at the list of articles he’s published on Substack shows that he only popped up on that platform at the end of January 2023 and his bio there reveals almost nothing about his background) but Simplicius is a shrewd writer about military tactics. Maybe even better than Big Serge! It seems like a lot of people twigged to him all at once. A day or two after I stumbled across the first thing by him that I read, (courtesy of an Internet comment — one of the reasons I like reading comment sections) Simplicius got a major shout-out from Larry Johnson’s blog. Now I see citations of him in lots of places. The guy’s more military-focused than you, Yalensis, because your writing is more about the way of life than the means of death. But he makes a meaningful addition to the sources I use to try and understand what’s happening (and what’s GOING to happen) in that part of the world.


      • Jen says:

        My understanding is that Simplicius was previously Nightvision on Moon of Alabama and The Saker.


        • Joseph says:

          That would be great news indeed! Nightvision was an outstanding military analyst; his abrupt disappearance was a significant information loss. Can you share any of the reasons why you think Simplicius might well be Nightvision redivivus?


        • That’s fascinating to learn, Jen. I remember Nightvision from The Saker — great sitreps as the conflict unfolded. Then he ghosted, about the same time that Gonzalo Lira got subSBUsumed. Glad if it’s Nightvison resurfaced under a new guise. I wonder what kind of pressures pro-Russian bloggers are under? If is happens to Yalensis, I hope he’ll tell us, except that then They would have to kill him.


      • yalensis says:

        Simplicius probably has a military background. I don’t, so I try to focus on side things.


  5. This is what I wrote on Larry Johnson’s site on 21 Feb, and was called a “troll” by the Putin cultists in consequence:

    Also let me predict the next thing: Ukranazistan, with or without Moldovan participation, will attack Transnistria. The small Russian garrison can’t hold out for long. Ukranazistan gets the contents of the largest ammunition dump in Europe, Moldova occupies Transnistria, immediately demands NATO membership, or failing that, NATO forces stationed in the country.

    Again, anyone thinking NATO will just give up is as delusional as the blowhard armchair generals (Bernhard of Moon Of Alabama is a prime instance) who claimed back in March last year that the Ukranazis in Donbass were already in a cauldron.

    So far, it seems to me, it is almost always the people who have pessimistic views on the course of events who have been proved right; and of course for their pains they’re called “idiots” or “trolls”, and blocked by these self styled oracles, for example Martyanov.

    Being proved right is an unforgivable thing.


    • Several points in reply to that, Fiend. #1 about the Nagasaki potential of all that boom-boom stuff. A commenter on Naked Capitalism pointed out that in ammo dumps (at least the ones designed for that, not short-term piles on a battle front) the munitions are stored in separate concrete bunkers. The people who make these things know they can explode. Separation lessens the chance of a chain reaction. The commenter had no familiarity with the storage area in Sausage-town, but he expected that conditions there would be the same. So no chance of a mile-wide crater when it all goes up at once.

      I’ve seen various estimates of the “shell-f” life of shells. It depends on the storage conditions, natch. Are the bunkers moist? Is there mould? Deterioration rates vary for the shell casings (longer-lived, because they’re metal) or the propellant (powder that ignites to shoot the projectile down the artillery tube) and the high-explosive in the killing tip. The latter two substances are chemically unstable, which is why they make good violent bangs. But unstable stuff degrades faster than brass casings. There is supposedly everything from grenades to missiles in storage. The latter of which would have electronic parts that do not age gracefully.

      And if I was running an army in a battle situation, would I trust such old stuff? Watching “Best In Hell,” I was impressed by the fact that if you’re shooting big guns at someone, they’ll be shooting back, and you’d better be quick to get them before they get you. If you’re engaging with counter-battery fire, you don’t want to take a chance that 1 out of 6 pulls on the lanyard — or maybe 5 outta 6 — is going to be a dud. You might be dead before you get one that works. Shells have fuses attached. If one fails to shoot, you have the dodgy situation of extracting it from the gun barrel and defusing it, hoping it doesn’t blow up the warhead, while you’re potentially under fire. If your propellant is only 75% good, your shell might fall short, killing people on your own side, or at the very least, helping expose your position to counter-batteries without getting any good out of your shooting. I could go on about more angles, but I’m just an Internet loudmouth with no military experience aside from spending a lot of time on bases where my dad was stationed.

      Lastly, about the 1,500 Russians in Transnistria. I’ve seen comments to the effect that 3,000 more soldiers have been slowly infiltrated in there posing as tourists. Who knows? Maskirova? It’s no secret that the Ukes might attack there as a diversion. I was tossing that around at one of my discussion groups last year when many of the guys didn’t know where Transnistria was. If an isolated blowhard like me is aware, the Stavka would be orders of magnitude more on top of it than me. I would imagine they have gamed out lots pf possibilities, so they won’t be sitting ducks.


      • Dumps can actually be triggered to explode catastrophically if so desired.

        In the mid 1980s the Reagan regime grew concerned that all the weapons it was shovelling into Afghanistan via Pakistan were not getting through to the CIA’s pet al Qaeda and Mujahids. They surmised that Pakistan was skimming off a goodly amount to give to anti Indian insurgents in Kashmir and Punjab. So they ordered an audit of the main dump where all these munitionswere stored, outside the Pakistani garrison city of Rawalpindi.

        On the eve of the audit, the entire dump “coincidentally ” and “accidentally” exploded. It didn’t go up like Nagasaki, naturally, but it kept exploding in a chain sequence for days. Several hundred civilians were as I recall killed.

        The CIA kept provi munitions anyway.


      • yalensis says:

        Great comment, Bukko. You make a lot of good points, for an “isolated blowhard” !
        Just one point, in regard to the “isolated concrete bunkers”. I hope you’re right that the soldiers there are storing everything completely up to specifications and not just tossing things in a pile.
        But you have to remember, these are Russians we are talking about, so… (khalatnost? hopefully not, but never assume…)


    • yalensis says:

      Right. It really boils my grits when honest commenters are called “trolls” and other names, just because people don’t agree with their particular analysis. Honest discussion is a good thing.


  6. MrDomingo says:

    I would think that Russians guarding the dump would have arranged for the stuff to be blown-up on command, should there be danger of its capture by Ukrainians. Even just claiming this to be the case might discourage adventurism since nothing would be gained by having it all go up in smoke, if true.


  7. countrumford says:

    Isn’t the solution for the Russian garrison to blow up just the artillery shells and leave? I taught in a law school in the US and had a Romanian student that said professors didn’t always show up for class and required bribes for grades. I was shocked. I am also a fan of Henri Coanda.


    • yalensis says:

      Hi, countrumford, I am shocked, simply shocked, to learn that Romanian professors demanded bribes for grades. How much did they charge for a 5?

      In other news, your idea about blowing up the shells and leaving, might just be the right one. I’m not sure though. Some armchair generals believe that the Russians need to hold Transnistria at any cost, in order to use it for the “pincer operation” against Odessa.
      Don’t ask for my opinion, I’m just glad I’m not Surovikin (or Gerasimov, or Shoigu)!


  8. whocanibenow says:

    Who can say what the true state of a Soviet ammo dump can be? Probably the Ukrainians. Definitely the Russians.

    As ammo storage is, above all else, intended to be a safe place to store extremely dangerous items, I would be shocked! shocked I say! to learn that they had any prior detonation sequence or capacity embedded. I have no doubt that Russian sappers are more than capable of disposing of these assets with minimum disregard for human life, unlike their western ™ counterparts.

    I imagine (literally) that should the stavka conclude an attack is imminent, they will act to forestall such behavior much the same way they did to forestall the Ukie invasion of the Donbas just over a year ago. Whatever the Ukrainian tactic is, I have utmost confidence that the Russian High Command are not surprised by this feint or folly at all.


  9. James K says:

    Chances are Russia will simply end up doing nothing about the provocations against Transnistria whether from the “Moldovan” fronts or the “Ukrainian” ones but it will remain to see whether those munitions end up in the hands of Ukraine or simply demolished as necessary (hint: there is zero point for Russia to have any ammo caches it completely cannot use one way or another).

    It’s pretty simple, folks — Russia is not “picking up the pace” in the SMO merely because it “wants” to go slowly. It *has* to play conservatively simply because, unlike the NATO empire, it does *not* have tons of “disposable colonies/personnel/population” to throw around all willy-nilly however it wants to.


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