IN FOCUS: Ukraine & Moldova Brief

Review of February 2024

Petra Bošková, Sára Gregová, Katarína Žiaranová. Lýdia Chobotová, Chiara Mihalčatinová


Photo: President of Ukraine – Press Office.

Zelenskyy replaces the popular “Iron General“ army chief at a difficult time in the war

Amidst broader military leadership changes, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, one of Ukraine’s most experienced commanders and the nation’s ground force commander since 2019, was named the new head of Ukraine’s Armed Forces on February 8. This marks the biggest shift in Ukraine’s military leadership since Russia began its full-scale invasion of the nation almost two years ago.

Zelensky chose to promote Syrskyi after he issued an order to remove General Valeriy Zaluzhniy, the longstanding commander-in-chief who was highly regarded by the Ukrainian military, society, and Western observers. The differences between Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi had been known for many months, but they seemed to widen at the end of 2023 after Zaluzhnyi declared that the fight had come to a stalemate. This did not sit well with Zelensky’s office, which said such commentary is unnecessary and dangerous, as it only benefitted Russia. The leadership shift comes at a challenging time for Ukraine in the war: tensions between the country’s military and civilian leadership, heightened Russian strikes, and party bickering in the US over providing aid to the Kyiv administration.

Zaluzhniy will now be replaced by the 58-year-old Syrskyi, who played a decisive role in Ukraine’s fight against Russia in the eastern Donbas region in 2014 and 2015. In February 2022, as Russia launched a full-scale invasion, Syrskyi took the lead in defending Kyiv. Later that year, he led the victorious counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, forcing Russian soldiers out of hundreds of communities. But Syrskyi has also come under fire for his involvement in the conflict to protect Bakhmut, where both Russia and Ukraine have reported significant losses.

  • Sam Meredith, CNBC, Ukraine’s Zelenskyy takes one of his ‘biggest gambles’ yet by replacing top military commander“,
  • Mike Eckel & Todd Prince, RFERL, Battlefield Woes Mounting, Ukraine Gets A New Top General. Who Is He?“,
  • Viktoria Butenko et al., CNN, Zelensky fires Ukraine’s military chief in major shakeup nearly two years into war“,
  • Andrew E. Kramer & Marc Santora, NYTimes, “ Zelensky Removes His Top General, in Major Shake-Up of Ukraine Military“,
Some G7 leaders sign security deals with Ukraine

As some of the G7 leaders travelled to Kyiv to mark the 2nd anniversary of Russian full-scale aggression in Ukraine, they also signed bilateral security deals with Ukraine to show their continuing support of Ukraine and to act upon their promises from July to commit to long-term aid.

The G7 countries – namely Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK have all signed the security deals, aimed at diplomatic, funding, and military aid support, valid for 10 years. France, Germany, and the UK have also added a “24-hour clause” to their agreements. This provision binds the countries to consult with Ukraine within 24 hours to determine measures in case of future Russian armed aggression. Moreover, along with the 10-year security guarantee, Canada pledged $2.5 billion and France €3 billion in financial, defence and military assistance in 2024. Germany announced additional military support for Ukraine, worth €1.1 billion, including ammunition, air-defence system, and howitzers for 2024.

A similar 10-year security deal was struck by Ukraine with Denmark. The deal included the “24-hour clause”, securing F-16 capacities (fighter jets, ammunition, maintenance, etc.), and financing of 15,000 artillery shells Czechia has found in third-party countries and proposed sending Ukraine.

These security deals are intended to be a signal toward the US to fulfill their promise made at the G7 meeting in July 2023 and pass the $60 billion aid package through the US Congress. As Canadian PM Trudeau expressed, “despite Russia’s relentless assault, Ukrainians are standing strong. We need to continue standing with them”. President Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude for these deals and security guarantees and stated, “It’s important Russia sees these deals, so it knows we’re not alone”.

  • Nick Alipour, EURACTIV, “Germany becomes second country to sign security agreement with Ukraine”,
  • Théo Bourgery-Gonse, EURACTIV, “As Ukraine signs French security deal, Macron warns Russia risk reached ‘new phase’”,
  • Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV, “Ukraine and Denmark sign 10-year security agreement”,
  • Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV, “Zelenskyy hosts Western leaders, G7 talks in Kyiv as Russia’s war enters third year”,
  • Elsa Court, Kyiv Independent, “Canada, Italy sign security agreements with Ukraine”,

Photo: Youtube

Interview with Tucker Carlson: Unveiling Putin’s Historical Revisionism

 On February 6, Putin gave his first interview with a Western journalist since the Russian invasion of Ukraine two years ago. The Kremlin chose Tucker Carlson, a former Fox News star, who has downplayed the conflict, urged cutting aid to Kyiv, and insulted Zelenskyy. Carlson didn’t challenge Putin during the interview.

In the interview, Putin seemed determined to justify both his decision to start the war and his entire approach to relations with Ukraine. Carlson started the interview by asking the Russian president if NATO and the US were to blame for the ongoing invasion. However, Putin had a different agenda in mind.

Ignoring Carlson’s initial question, Putin embarked on a lengthy discourse spanning over a thousand years of Russian and Ukrainian history, asserting that the roots of the current conflict lie in ancient times. His fundamental message was clear: Ukraine lacks legitimacy as a state, and he justifies his aggressive actions as reclaiming historically Russian territory. Putin attempted to construct a narrative tracing Russia’s origins back to the 9th century. He reiterated the Kremlin’s manipulative perspective on Kyivan Rus, a medieval empire whose dissolution led to the formation of modern-day Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. According to Putin’s logic, Russia was the only legitimate successor to Kyivan Rus, and the very idea of Ukraine was “invented” by czarist Russia’s archrival – Austria.

Putin went on to claim that Ukraine is an artificial state created by the Soviet leadership in the 1920s and that it received lands to which it had no historical claim. The Soviet leadership indeed drew up the borders of Soviet republics, almost like the Western colonial powers drew up borders in Africa. However, that does not mean that the Ukrainian nation did not exist. Putin’s claims that Ukraine is not a real country because it was formed in its modern form in the 20th century are not correct. It overlooks the fact that countries are created as a result of a historical process.

Russian president claims that regions in southern and eastern Ukraine lack historical ties to Ukraine. He argues that these lands, conquered from the Ottoman Empire by Catherine the Great in the 17th century, rightfully belong to Russia. Putin even refers to them as “Novorossiya” or New Russia, using an 18th-century term. However, the inhabitants of these lands during their conquest were neither Russian nor Ukrainian but Ottoman, Tatar, or Cossacks—Slavic peasants who had fled to the frontiers. “Novorossiya” includes areas such as Crimea, Kherson, Mariupol and Bakhmut, which Putin declared part of Russia in 2022.

Putin also implied that Hungary, led by the nationalist Viktor Orban, who is known for his pro-Russian stance within the European Union, “has the right to reclaim its territories“.

At the outset of the war, Putin stated his objectives were to “demilitarise” and “denazify” Ukraine. In the interview, he suggests that neither goal has been accomplished. Regarding “demilitarisation,” Putin hinted that he still aims for assurances that Ukraine will never join NATO. Concerning “denazification,” he explicitly admitted that Russia has not yet achieved its aims, advocating for the prohibition of all neo-Nazi movements. In a rare admission, Putin acknowledged Ukrainians’ right to define themselves as a distinct people, albeit not based on Nazi ideology, contradicting his historical viewpoint dating back to the 9th century.

In the interview, Putin aimed to persuade the US to halt its support for Ukraine and focus on addressing its domestic issues, such as border security, migration, and the national debt. According to Putin, the US should prioritise negotiations with Russia over involvement in Ukraine. When Carlson suggested that the Russian president could directly contact US President Biden to resolve the conflict, Putin declined but asserted that the solution was straightforward – halting weapon supplies. He stated that this action would quickly end the fighting, paving the way for negotiations.

If Putin is not defeated in Ukraine, it’s unrealistic to expect him to abandon his aggressive historical revisionism voluntarily. Instead, it’s more probable that other countries will also suffer from Putin’s imperial ambitions. Naturally, Putin assured Tucker Carlson that he has no such intentions, but he has issued similar denials prior to each new stage of his escalating Ukraine invasion. Putin has consistently mourned the collapse of the USSR throughout his rule, referring to it as the demise of “historical Russia.” Recent events make it clear that anything Putin regards as “historical Russia” is potentially in danger.

Farmer protests in Poland and possible border closure with Ukraine

On February 22, farmer protests took place across Europe. In Poland, where nationwide protests kicked off on February 9, the dumping of Ukrainian food products on the Polish market is the source of much of the anger. By February 21, Polish farmers were stopping traffic at all border crossings with Ukraine; the rule of the blockades is that only one truck is allowed to pass per hour both ways, except for humanitarian aid, military equipment, and fuel. The Polish farmers complained that they were forced to sell their products at between half and two-thirds of the price they used to get before the war in Ukraine started because supermarkets and intermediaries could now buy much cheaper Ukrainian products after the EU dropped import duties to support the Ukrainian economy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently called the protests an “erosion of solidarity” by Poland with Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and said they were “about politics, not grain”.

The Polish government started to negotiate a temporary closure of its shared border with Ukraine. This should reduce the destabilisation of the Polish market. These negotiations began at the end of February.

“Quotas are a good solution, but they must be proportionate for all the countries so that we can avoid a situation in which the whole quotas enter the Polish market only,” said Andrzej Danielak, head of the Polish Union of Poultry Breeders and Producers.

  • EURACTIV,2024. Poland and Ukraine negotiate temporary border closure to stabilise the Polish market.
  • EURACTIV,2024. Protesting farmers not backing down as Poland designates Ukraine border as ‘critical infrastructure’.



Transnistria Congress Gathers Amidst Tense in Relations with Moldova

Recent developments in the breakaway region of Transnistria highlight ongoing tensions with Moldova. During a congress held on February 28, 2024, delegates from all levels of government in Transnistria expressed concerns about Moldova’s policies, particularly what they termed as an ‘economic blockade’ against the region.

Discussions during the Congress revolved around the challenges posed by Moldova’s imposition of taxes on imports and exports to/from Transnistria, which came into effect on January 1, 2024. This move has stirred anger in Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, as businesses in the region were previously exempt from trade taxes, causing economic strain.

The separatist leader, Vadim Krasnoselsky, accused Moldova of consistently leveraging global crises to undermine Transnistria’s economic stability. He pointed out historical instances such as the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pandemic, and the conflict in Ukraine, where Moldova allegedly used adverse circumstances to disadvantage Transnistria.

Despite speculation, Congress refrained from addressing rumours regarding the possible recognition or annexation of Transnistria by Russia. While Moscow offers support to the breakaway region, it has not extended formal recognition as an independent state.

The Congress instead focused on enhancing negotiations with Moldova, highlighting Transnistria’s desire to continue the 5+2 negotiation format. However, with Russia and Ukraine, two of the guarantor countries, engaged in full military conflict, the negotiation process faces significant challenges.

In response to allegations of escalating tensions, the spokesperson of the Moldovan government, Daniel Voda, emphasized the government’s commitment to stability. He dismissed claims of destabilization, attributing them to sensationalism, and emphasized the need for calm observation.

Despite speculations raised by certain politicians, including Ghenadie Ciorba, regarding potential Russian recognition of Transnistria, such scenarios have been dismissed by Ukrainian intelligence services, senior NATO officials, and Moldovan authorities. However, some Romanian media outlets have sensationalized the possibility of Russian annexation, drawing attention to the complex dynamics in the region.

Moscow threatens Moldova with a “military scenario” to further undermine its integrity

 Several Russian high-ranking officials have been waging the possibility of a military attack if Moldova attempts to resolve the problem of the breakaway Transnistrian region by force. Meanwhile, on February 14, the Institute for the Study of War issued an analysis suggesting that the Kremlin is preparing a hybrid operation in Moldova.

 The Transnistria territory is located directly across the Ukraine-Moldova border and has been occupied by Russian military forces since 1992, which has maintained its presence consisting of two motorised rifle battalions of the Western Military District – more than 1500 troops. The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 increased separatist tensions, which have been persistently maintained since then mostly because of the harsh rhetoric coming from the Kremlin. Recent remarks made by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Galuzil, followed the aggressive narrative when he said: (we) have always made it clear that attempts to resolve the Transnistrian issue by force are counterproductive. We expect Chisinau to understand what a military scenario could mean for Moldova,”. Likewise, his superior, Minister Sergey Lavrov, warned that Russia will defend its nationals in Moldova (more than 220,000 holders of Russian passports) against any purported threats from the Chisinau regime or its US and EU backers.

Meanwhile, a US non-profit organisation, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), published a report that focused on increasingly aggressive Russian rhetoric and disinformation. According to the ISW, the Kremlin was “creating conditions” in the media environment that were a lot like what Russia had been doing before its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in January 2022. Also, the institute warned that Transnistria may call for or organise a referendum on Transnistria’s annexation to Russia during the previously announced Transnistrian Congress of Deputies on February 28.

These developments are most likely a reaction to the recent statements made by Moldovan president, Maia Sandu, in which she admitted that there is an ongoing serious discussion about the country’s security and the possibility of it becoming a part of a larger alliance, which would require a change of a constitution and resolution of Transnistria question.

  • Galiya Ibragimova, Carnegie Endowment, “Is Moldova Ready to Pay the Price of Reintegrating Transnistria?“,
  • Vitalie Calugareanu, Robert Schwartz, DW, Russia steps up threats against Republic of Moldova“,
  • Christopher Stewart, KYIV Post, Transnistria May Ask For Annexation by Russia Soon, ISW Warns“,
  • Madalin Necsutu, BalkanInsight, Russia Threatens Moldova With ‘Military Scenario’ Over Transnistria“,
The EU and the US sanction pro-Russian individuals for attempts at destabilisation of Moldova

The EU´s sanctions target six people and one organisation for their attempts to undermine or threaten Moldova´s sovereignty and independence. Similarly, the US sanctioned one person for undermining the electoral process in Moldova. These sanctions come amid speculations that Russia and its allies in Transnistria may again destabilise Moldova and pursue pro-Russian objectives.

Previously, the EU sanctioned several people for identical reasons, including fugitive oligarch Ilan Shor. The EU targeted people associated with Shor, a deputy head of Russia´s security service FSB, Dmitry Milyutin, and the People’s Shield Association. Their assets in the EU have been frozen, and they are banned from entering the Union. The EU considers this move as a “political signal of the EU’s unwavering support for Moldova”, as stated by EU´s High Representative Borell.

Moreover, the US also sanctioned Shor´s associate, Marina Tauber, who had been sanctioned earlier by the EU, for illegal purchasing of votes on behalf of the Kremlin. The US put forth their continued support of Moldova and its democratic transition.

These sanctions were welcomed by both President Sandu and Prime Minister Recean. They take this as their allies’ unwavering support for Moldova´s security, rule of law and fight against Russia´s hybrid war. The PM declared, “the support of our partners goes hand in hand with our continuous efforts to fight against the frauds and to protect the democracy.” On the situation in Transnistria, the government´s Reintegration Office stated it is closely watching the situation in the region, arguing that there seem to be no signs the situation in Transnistria could worsen.

  • Madalin Necsutu, Balkan Insight, “EU Sanctions ‘Pro-Russia’ Individuals for Attempts to Destabilise Moldova”,
  • MOLDPRES, “USA announces sanctions against Marina Tauber”,
  • MOLDPRES, “Moldovan leadership comes up with reactions after the US announced sanctions against Marina Tauber”,


Moldova’s Rejection of Russian Polling Stations in Transnistria

Moldova’s pro-European government has rejected a Russian request for polling stations in the separatist region of Transnistria during next month’s voting to formalise Vladimir Putin’s reelection as the President of Russia. Chisinau has previously objected to Russia’s attempts to distribute ballots to its nationals in the region, where secessionism is supported by a small contingent of Russian troops whose presence has persisted since 1992.

The decision is unlikely to significantly impact Russia’s presidential election on March 15-17 or the Kremlin’s ability to leverage pro-Putin sentiment among the approximately 220,000 Russian citizens in Transnistria. However, Moldova’s resistance signifies the determination of countries on Russia’s periphery to resist Russian influence amidst its ongoing unprovoked war on Ukraine.

Moldovan officials concede their limited ability to stop the movement of Russian ballots via diplomatic channels to Transnistria. Former deputy prime minister Alexandru Flenchea describes ballots arriving from Russia and being transported to Tiraspol in Russian Embassy cars.

In the 2018 election, over 96% of votes at Transnistrian polling stations were for Putin. Three years later, Russia opened more stations for its legislative elections. Putin’s expected victory in March marks the first election since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Despite complaints from Moscow about voting obstacles, Moldova remained inactive until February 7, when it declined Russia’s request for polling stations.

International law allows voting within diplomatic premises such as embassies and consulates with prior notification to the host country. However, opening additional polling stations requires consent from the host country, which is responsible for ensuring safety at such locations.

Russian election laws mandate the finalisation of all polling station lists at least 45 days before an election, which was late January for the March 15-17 elections. The Russian Central Election Commission retains the authority to unilaterally establish polling places up to five days before the election.

Russia is one of many countries from the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia that require in-person voting by its citizens abroad rather than utilising electronic or mail-in ballots.

Chisinau’s fear of destabilisation by the Romanian far-right party

Dorin Recean, the Prime Minister of Moldova, accused the AUR party leader George Simion of his involvement in “destabilising efforts in Moldova”. AUR – The Alliance for the Union of Romanians is a right-wing populist and nationalist political party. According to Simion, the party’s four pillars are the Romanian nation, the family, freedom, and the Christian faith. Lidia Vadim, the daughter of the late Corneliu Vadim Tudor, a former extremist politician, also became a member of AUR.

The ban on far-right AUR party President George Simion from entering the Republic of Moldova has been extended for another five years. This was confirmed by a representative of the General Inspectorate for Migration of the Ministry in Chisinau. Initially, he was expelled from Moldova on October 1, 2018 and declared persona non grata for five years. Back then, Simion had not yet entered politics and was a long-time activist in favour of Romania’s union with Moldova, organising numerous demonstrations in the latter country.

The initial reason for the expulsion was the inappropriate and provocative behaviour of some individuals, their refusal to comply with legal procedures and a series of threats during discussions with Border Police representatives. However, Romanian authorities denied these allegations, claiming the young people behaved appropriately. Despite the ban, Simion attempted to enter the Republic of Moldova in 2021 and 2022.

After Simion’s ban was renewed for five years, Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu called on both Ukraine and Moldova for an explanation. “The state institutions have determined that George Simion is part of the destabilisation effort in the Republic of Moldova”, Recean told ProTV Chisinau.

When Simion was asked if he wanted to destabilise Moldova, he said that his party had “a unification plan”, which “certainly, in the eyes of the authorities of the Republic of Moldova, is equivalent to destabilisation”. The Republic of Moldova “is not a country, it is a state”, he added.

  • EURACTIV, 2024. Moldova renews 5-year ban on Romanian far-right leader George Simion.
  • EURACTIV,2024. Romanian far-right party leader wants to destabilise Chişinău, warns Moldovan PM.
  • EURACTIV,2023. Romania’s AUR party launches sovereignist movement.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!