Former US commander predicts Ukrainians will be able to push back Russian troops this summer

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Moscow is displeased that Moldova appears to be moving closer to the European Union, Russian state media reports, amid growing US concerns that Russia could attempt to destabilize the small eastern European country.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Saturday that Moscow remains open to “constructive and pragmatic” dialogue with the Moldovan government in Chișinău, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

“Unfortunately, Chișinău’s course toward Russia is unlikely to change,” she continued. 

Moldova’s parliament this week approved a pro-Western government.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu has accused Russia of plotting to destabilize the country, which Russia’s foreign ministry has dismissed as “completely unfounded and unsubstantiated.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced “deep concern” this week about the prospect of further Russian meddling with Moldova.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola also expressed the body’s “unwavering solidarity” with Moldova in an open letter on Tuesday. “The place of the Republic of Moldova is with us, in the European family,” he said.

Why Moldova is important: The small country, situated between Ukraine and Romania, was part of the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a handful of “frozen conflict” zones in eastern Europe emerged, including a sliver of land along Moldova’s border with Ukraine known as Transnistria.

The territory declared itself a Soviet republic in 1990, opposing any attempt by Moldova to become an independent state or to merge with Romania. When Moldova became independent the following year, Russia quickly inserted a so-called “peacekeeping force” in Transnistria, sending troops to back pro-Moscow separatists there.

This supposed “peacekeeping” presence has mirrored Moscow’s pretext for invasions in Georgia and Ukraine.

Alarm bells in Moldova and the West grew louder when the Kremlin began to claim the rights of ethnic Russians are being violated in Transnistria – another argument used by Putin to justify his February 2022 invasion of Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine, which contained two breakaway Russian-backed statelets.

In the context of the war today, the Russian-backed separatist enclave at the southwestern edge of Moldova could now present a bookend to any westward Russian assault from eastern Ukraine.

CNN’s Elise Hammond and Michael Conte contributed to this report.

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