Where Is Moldova? And 5 Other Things You Should Know About Putin’s Next Target

is moldova in nato

Moldova is the latest relatively underreported nation on the far side of the world to make headlines and, as always, the motivation for coverage is not positive.

The tiny landlocked nation is in the spotlight for becoming the potential new battleground in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s illegal invasion of the sovereign nation, almost one year ago, was sparked by Russia taking issue with the pro-European stance of the country’s leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and their perceived issues with his legitimacy.

Now, Russia appears to be running the same playbook in Ukraine’s tiny neighbouring nation, with the Moldovan President, Maia Sandu, warning that there is a conspiracy at work to bring down the government.

Sandu has said a Russian intelligence plot has been uncovered that attempts to use foreign pro-Russian citizens to incite protest and attempt to “change the legitimate government to an illegal government controlled by the Russian Federation.”

Russia has denied the claims and the US has said that the reports have not been independently verified but that they are “deeply concerning” and “certainly not outside the bounds of Russian behaviour,” according to Reuters.

So, if this country is set to become the latest theatre in the Eastern European war, it’s probably best to brush up on your Moldovan history and hope that it doesn’t have to come into play anytime soon. Here’s what you need to know:

Where Is Moldova?

A map of Eastern Europe showing the country of Moldova in red.
Image: Getty

Starting with the basics, the Republic of Moldova is a landlocked nation sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine in Eastern Europe. Moldova is home to roughly 2.5 million people.

At 33,000 square kms, it’s about a third the size of Tasmania and has been invaded and occupied dozens of times over its turbulent, 700-year history.

It was annexed by the USSR in 1940 and regained its independence in 1991. Like all former Soviet territories, its historical ties to Moscow make it a prime target for retaking by Russia.

Is Moldova in NATO?

Moldova is currently not in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the primarily military alliance that decrees ‘a strike on one is a strike on all’ and necessitates military engagement.

That being said, Moldova is a NATO ally, has been in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council since 1992, and joined several NATO summits. They also contribute troops to NATO’s Kosovo peacekeeping force.

Neutrality is enshrined within the Moldovan constitution, which is part of the reason why they haven’t, thus far, been the subject of major Russian aggression. However, in 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, the government started to seriously consider changing their stance on neutrality.

“Now, there is a serious discussion … about our capacity to defend ourselves, whether we can do it ourselves, or whether we should be part of a larger alliance,” Sandu told Politico last year.

“And if we come, at some point, to the conclusion as a nation that we need to change neutrality, this should happen through a democratic process.”

Is Moldova in the EU?

Moldova is not in the European Union however it applied for EU membership in March of last year, just after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and was granted EU candidate status in June.

Countries normally take, on average, nine years between application and acceptance to join the EU, meaning Moldova won’t be part of the Union for some time. This being said, the EU appears keen on fast-tracking their application, moving it from application to candidacy status 11 times faster than the average.

The EU does have a mutual defence clause, like NATO, which would mean an attack on Moldova would require the 21 other member states to intervene.

Russia had hoped that by amping up its aggression in Eastern Europe, it would be able to dissuade countries from joining the EU and NATO. Instead, it appears to have pushed more countries into those organisations influence.

The Government of Moldova Has Resigned

Russia has been attempting to destabilise Moldova for quite some time as the country is heavily reliant on Russia for power.

Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian energy pipelines and power plants have hit the country hard, forcing Ukraine to save the power it would normally export to Ukraine. At the same time, Russia has cut its gas supplies to Moldova by a third, warning that they could shut the power off “at any time.”

“There are some political interests of Russia toward Moldova,” Moldovan Infrastructure Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spînu told Politico in November.

“They don’t want us to keep going on the European Union path … they want to keep Moldova under their zone of interest.”

The rising pressure on the country saw the entire Moldovan Government resign on Friday, with President Sandu naming her pro-EU national security advisor Dorin Recean as the new Prime Minister.

One of the first orders of the new PM was to summon the Russian ambassador to explain the “unacceptable violation of Moldova’s airspace by a Russian missile” that was shot over the country as part of an attack on Ukraine.













What makes a Russian overthrow of the Moldovan government likely is the fact that Moldova is, in a sense, actually two countries. The territory of Transnistria, along the northeastern border of Moldova, has historically been administrated by Russia since 1940 and, since independence, has been a de facto breakaway territory within Moldova unrecognised by virtually any other state.

There was a war over control of the territory in 1992 in which the USSR stepped in and opened fire on Moldovan troops. Since then, the country has had nothing to do with Transnistria or its government, despite claiming the territory as its own.

The population is nearly one-third Russian and Russia uses the territory as a military base, with “peacekeeping” forces stationed there. Moldova has claimed that Russia is using the territory to spark unrest throughout the rest of the country and could launch an attack from the region.

Transnistrian President Vadim Krasnoselsky, elected in 2021, has expressed support for the territory to become part of Russia on several occasions. However, Russia has yet to recognise the territory as a separate, independent country.

The Centre for European Policy Analysis believes that Moldova is already at war with Russia, dealing with its hybrid warfare-style attacks of blackouts, disinformation, protests, and incursions on its airspace and sovereignty.

However, while NATO believes Russia is trying to undermine Moldova, they state that they do not think Russia has the military buildup to launch an attack from Trasnistra just yet.

This being said, the Moldovans are concerned. They closed their airspace on Tuesday and have said they are expecting “diversionists with military training, camouflaged in civilian clothes, who will undertake violent actions, attack some state buildings, and even take hostages.”

What happens next is up to Moscow, but we could be about to see this war, which has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, spill over into another sovereign nation.

Related: Earthquake in Turkey: Here’s What You Can Do to Help

Related: The Big Question: Will Putin Use Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine and What Happens If He Does?

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.