Not too far away from where his troops are locked in combat with those of Russia, Ukraine’s President Zelensky addressed a summit of European leaders in Moldova as he sought to up the pressure on the West to provide weapons and materiel for his country.
Holding the summit in Moldova, a small country on Ukraine’s south-western border and a former Soviet republic of around 2.6 million people, was a not-so-subtle message to the Kremlin from both the EU and the pro-Western Moldovan government, which received EU candidate status in June last year at the same time as Ukraine.
Zelensky once again spoke of the need to overturn Russian air supremacy with a combination of Patriot missile defence systems and F-16 jets provided by Western nations. While his allies have hesitated, Zelensky knows that speed is important – given both the barrage of Russian missiles and drones that are hitting Ukrainian cities, and the preparations being made for a long-awaited counteroffensive to try to retake land occupied by Russian forces in the country’s east and south.
A number of nations, including the UK and the Netherlands, have said they want to help Ukraine procure the jets, but pilot training programmes could take months to complete. However, President Biden has signalled that the USA will not stand in the way of any programme to donate the jets and training to Ukraine, which is a sign of progress. Indeed, the training of the first batch of Ukrainian pilots is already underway.
It is also significant because tensions are mounting in Moldova, where Russia has been accused of stirring up sentiment for a coup that could pull the nation into the Russo-Ukraine war. Moldova’s President, Maia Sandu, has accused Russia of using “saboteurs” disguised as civilians to stoke unrest amid a period of political instability, echoing similar warnings from Zelensky.
There has been consistent speculation that Russia would use the war in Ukraine as a bridgehead for taking control of Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria, where Russia already has a military contingent. Meanwhile Putin has accused Kyiv of planning its own assault in the region, where Moscow has a military foothold, heightening fears that he is creating a pretext for a Crimea-style annexation.
The head of the defence committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, Viktor Bondarev, has called for strengthening Russia’s military presence in Transnistria citing the growing malign influence of the United States in the region.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu has warned of plots by Moscow to overthrow her government using external saboteurs. Several incidents have also occurred in recent months involving missiles that have traversed Moldova’s skies and apparent debris from the war in Ukraine that has been found on its territory.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk
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