The competition between Russia and the West in Moldova is important yet subtle. Like Ukraine, Moldova has a Western-oriented government that has tried to further integrate with the European Union. Russia has countered those efforts, as it did in Ukraine, by placing economic restrictions on Moldovan goods — as well as on goods from Ukraine and Georgia — just after those countries signed trade deals with the European Union.
However, Russian actions have not been limited to trade. Moscow retains a great deal of influence over Transdniestria, a breakaway region that fought a war with Moldova following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia keeps more than 1,000 troops in Transdniestria, and Moscow is the territory's principal political and financial backer. Since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine, Russia has supported Transdniestria even more. It has sent additional weapons to the region, and according to unconfirmed reports, it has also boosted its troop presence there. Meanwhile, Russian unmanned aerial vehicles have increased their surveillance activities over Transdniestria's border with Ukraine.
It is for this reason that Rogozin's upcoming visit to Transdniestria is significant. Rogozin, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has a reputation for provocation, especially in regards to Russia's position on Western-oriented former Soviet states. During his last visit to Transdniestria, Rogozin brought back with him thousands of signatures from Transdniestrian citizens calling for the territory's outright annexation by Russia. Such actions irritate Romania, which sees Moldova as part of its sphere of influence and is planning to operationalize a natural gas pipeline to the country around the same time as Rogozin's visit. Rogozin has since been banned from traveling to Transdniestria via Ukrainian or Romanian airspace, though he has pledged to find a way to make it there for the Aug. 24 celebrations.
Rogozin's visit is also important because it comes amid rumors of a possible military flare-up between Moldovan and Transdniestrian forces. Transdniestria's Tiras news agency reported Aug. 7 that the region's security forces have been put on alert due to what they called "unspecified military activity" starting Aug 26. This is the day before Moldova is set to celebrate its own independence anniversary, and it provides yet another point of friction between Chisinau and the unrecognized Transdniestrian republic. However, Moldovan authorities have denied such reports and accused Transdniestrian authorities of misinforming the public.
While small-scale skirmishes near Transdniestria cannot be ruled out, a full-scale military conflict remains unlikely for now. The Moldovan military is in no position to challenge Russian forces stationed in Transdniestria and is wary of triggering a direct conflict. While Ukraine's military has made slow but steady progress against Russian separatist forces, the conflict there (as well as the Russia-Georgia War of 2008) has shown that the West is not willing to get directly involved in fighting in the former Soviet space. Chisinau is thus likely to act cautiously to avoid a larger conflict with Transdniestria. Conversely, Russia's limited supply lines into Transdniestria greatly constrain Moscow's own appetite for war.
Despite the unlikelihood of a military conflict over Transdniestria, risks to Moldovan stability remain. Western integration efforts have already created tension in the country, not only from Transdniestria but also in the autonomous region of Gagauzia in the country's south. The region's leaders have criticized Moldova's free trade deal with the European Union, expressing a preference for joining the Russian-led Customs Union. Gagauzia could become an even greater problem for Chisinau, depending on how far Moldova goes with its Western integration drive.
There are also potential political problems brewing as Moldova prepares to hold parliamentary elections at the end of November. Recent polls conducted by the Moldovan group CBS-AXA put the pro-Russia Communist Party, which has also criticized Moldova's deals with the European Union, in first place with 21 percent of the vote. Currently, it is ahead of the Western-oriented coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (12.7 percent), the Democratic Party (6.5 percent) and Liberal Party (6.1 percent). Though the ruling coalition still has more support than the Communists overall, the competition between the two groups remains close. This goes to show that the Moldovan government itself may be subject to change, which indeed could jeopardize the country's Western integration strategy. Russia will work to exploit this dynamic in the coming months as Moscow tries to block the West and preserve its own influence throughout the former Soviet periphery.