Moldova and Ukraine: Is it really a problem for Vladimir Putin?

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The fighting in Moldova – pictured here in November 2017 – is just one of a series of issues Putin has tackled head-on So is the violence in…

Moldova and Ukraine: Is it really a problem for Vladimir Putin?

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The fighting in Moldova – pictured here in November 2017 – is just one of a series of issues Putin has tackled head-on

So is the violence in Eastern Europe really a headache for Vladimir Putin?

The FTSE 100 share index fell by 3% on Friday as investors fretted about developments across the region, where Russian tanks have crossed the border.

Violence in Moldova, an ex-Soviet republic sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, is not the only problem.

Crimea is still held by Moscow; Ukraine and Moldova have accused Russia of supporting separatists; and – worst of all – Russia has ignored a new round of Europe-wide sanctions, partly in retaliation for Ukraine.

‘Putin’s chosen proxy’

Russia has powerful allies too. Some argue that Kiev’s sacking of pro-Russian president Petro Poroshenko is part of a Moscow-backed plan to divide Kiev and turn the country into a full-scale pro-European Union state.

Mr Poroshenko has since accused Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, an ally of Mr Putin, of deliberately expelling Russians “in order to become a western-oriented Ukraine”.

Moscow made a similar accusation of Western meddling when France and Germany cosied up to Russia and Minsk to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine, with an agreement that Ukraine had to sign up to by September 2015.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko (left) has accused Ukraine Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman of being a “propaganda tool” for Russia

Nowhere is Mr Putin’s influence stronger than in Moldova, another post-Soviet state, where Russia has invested heavily.

The Moldovan president, Igor Dodon, has been a loyal customer of Russian money for decades and now needs Mr Putin’s support to fix Moldova’s dysfunctional economy.

Even though he lost the elections in March, Mr Dodon remains the country’s prime minister and will be the next president in 2020.

As late as April, Mr Dodon accused the EU of trying to “exploit” Moldova’s economic problems to “occupy” the country by creating an illusion of democratic development.

Some claim Russia is trying to exploit the security situation, particularly Moldova’s concerns about control of its territory by Nato and Brussels, to save some of its troubled economy.

The military zone of Moldova, which is located in southern Europe, sits between Russian and Nato frontiers. The region houses more than 20% of Moldova’s population of about 4.4 million.

Image copyright AFP Image caption The violent clashes in Ukraine are seen by many analysts as a red herring

The crisis in Moldova and Ukraine will, to be frank, not have much effect on Russia’s relations with Europe and the US. After all, it is president Donald Trump who has taken a tough line on Moscow and plans to withdraw the US from the INF treaty, which banned a range of nuclear weapons launched from land-based launchers.

Moscow will however continue to underline how important Moldova and the region is to its security. To that end, its army will likely mass on the Ukraine border.

The timing of this is important, because it is earlier than anticipated that European and American leaders have made clear to Mr Putin that new sanctions are coming unless he takes decisive action to improve its ties with the west.

Thus, some analysts argue, Mr Putin has chosen to show how strong his country is by having his troops fight – just not in Europe.

The meddling from the west in Moldova, Ukraine and – to a lesser extent – Poland is used by Russia as a way to keep its territory within its borders.

It’s a clever strategy because chaos there is always more attractive to the Kremlin than peace.

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