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News & Blog > Blogs: "Perspectives, Provocations & Initiatives" > Moldova and their forgotten struggle against Russian Occupation

Moldova and their forgotten struggle against Russian Occupation

Madeline McGrath (MADev14) discusses the history of Moldova and their forgotten struggle against Russian Occupation.
View from the "Lumânarea Recunoştinţei" or Candle of Gratitude which means the candle of remembrance
View from the "Lumânarea Recunoştinţei" or Candle of Gratitude which means the candle of remembrance

Moldova is a post-Soviet nation that often is not discussed in global politics, but as the neighbor to Ukraine, it has recently reached some notoriety due to Russia’s recent attack. The nations have a mirror history; both have lost territory, Transnistria in Moldova and Crimea in Ukraine, due to Russian occupation, and both have a multi-level platform of control since the dissolving of the Soviet Union. These ongoing efforts, along with the western tactics to push the nation to remain democratic, have contributed to ongoing corruption and have suppressed the nations from reaching their potential. While Russia has yet to attack Moldova to the same caliber as it has Ukraine, there is reason to believe that Russia’s threats to utilize Transnistria as a means to continue attacking Ukraine, or to expand its attacks to Moldova, are a possibility.  


Moldova has fluctuated between independence and occupation throughout its history, which has created a region with a unique history and a diverse population. The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 was highly influential, though it was largely decided without the input of Moldova (then Bessarabia).[1] The Pact divided the united state of Romania and Bessarabia and pushed the notion that Moldova had a distinct national identity; this forced Romanian to give up Bessarabia to Soviet control and unified two distinct entities in Bessarabia, one part of which was largely rural, agricultural, and indigenous area, and the second area, Transnistria a more urban, Slavic, and immigrant population. [2] Soviets used immigration as a means to continue the divide and create political and cultural changes within specific areas, with Transnistria being a large target due to industrial development.[3] As the Soviet Union started dissolving in 1990, particular regions, specifically Transnistria, grew concerned that Moldova would gain independence and seek reunification with Romania.[4] This led to the Transnistria War and the eventual declaration of independence of Transnistria. Though Russia declared itself officially neutral, in actuality, Russia's financial and military support overwhelmed the newly established Moldovan army. Despite never officially recognizing Transnistria, Russia is highly influential in the region.

Utility Control 

Controlling Transnistria allowed for the continued control of Moldova in that it allowed Russia to maintain control of the industrial sector located within the region. Moldova has one large power plant, which is located within Transnistria and owned by a Russian company. Russia is the exclusive provider of gas for Moldova. While there have been expanded efforts to establish a connection with Romanian, the amount provided would not be sufficient to provide all fuel necessities. While there is an exploration of projects with Ukraine, tensions between Russia and Ukraine minimize this possibility. When Moldova tries to explore these options, Russia has continually shown a willingness to remove access if Moldova is not compliant with its demands. Russia also uses this unofficial territory status against Moldova; despite Russia’s occupation of Transnistria, Russia considers the territory to be part of Moldova when considering Transnistria’s debt for gas supplies which is currently worth 4 billion US dollars.[5]   

Trade, Banking, and Occupation 

In 2013, Russia imposed a trade embargo on Moldovan wine, as their largest trade partner and their primary source for processing wine, this was a devastating hit to the economy, and in 2014, the embargo expanded into a variety of other domains. While Russian claims the ban was due to quality issues, the timing of events indicates that it was politically motivated and connected to Moldova’s interest in the European Union (EU). The EU intervened and created a trade agreement that expanded trade with Moldova, and Russia subsequently began reducing the embargo on Moldovan goods.[6] Not only has Russia utilized products as a means of control, but it has also utilized the product of labor to continue its control. In 2014 it was estimated that 400,000 Moldovans were working in Russia, which was incredibly important to a nation that relies on emigration for a significant part of the GDP; Russia adjusted its Visa allowance from six months to just 90 days, in what was likely a continued effort to punish Moldova from EU connections.[7]

Beyond trade, Russia continues to influence the banking and criminal sector. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project helped to uncover a money-laundering scheme, and involving secretive offshore companies, largely controlled within Russia, which led to one billion US dollars missing from three Moldovan banks, while this scheme has been linked to companies and bank accounts within many nations, the largest beneficiary were those within Russia.[8] While some local Moldovan officials and law enforcement attempted to intervene, they were blocked by corruption and bribery. The central bank was forced to issue these banks nearly 870 million dollars in emergency loans to keep the economy from collapsing, but Moldova was unable or unwilling to hold those responsible accountable.[9]

The Russo-Ukrainian War 

Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and continued their occupation by annexing Crimea. This occupation, much like the occupation of Transnistria, was largely ignored by the world. While some sanctions were put in place, Russia was able to take over the area and continue the war with Ukraine with minimal intervention. Ukraine continually acts to defend their nation, but it lacks the leverage necessary to resist Russia. By 2020, 14,000 people had died in the conflict, 140,000 had been displaced from Crimea, and 250,000 migrated from Russia to Crimea.[10] Russia's decision to invade Ukraine in 2022 marked a dramatic escalation in the conflict. Russia’s previously slow and tactile invasion of Ukraine had been largely ignored by other nations, seemingly showing acceptance of such actions. Recently Western powers and their allies have responded with increased aid to Ukraine and vastly expanded international sanctions on Russia, however, this is viewed by some as too little too late. There has also been minimal support for countries surrounding Ukraine’s boarder who are also experiencing consequences form the ongoing conflict. While Moldova has not faced the level of violence, the war has had extreme economic and social impacts. Moldova has a massive influx of refugees and has taken in the largest amount of Ukraine refugees when considering the population size.[11] As a nation of approximately 2.6 million, nearly 450,000 refugees have passed through their nation, and approximately 110,000 refugees remain; reports estimate that one out of eight children in Moldova are from Ukrainian.[12] While Moldova may be showing their humanity by offering their home, they do not have the budget to support this exponential influx of refugees.  

European Union  

Mia Sandu, the President of Moldova,[13] and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have requested membership to the EU[14] and both nations have been granted candidate status.[15] While there may be difficulties for EU memberships, it’s essential to remember that the EU continues to benefit from Moldova without providing the same benefits. While the EU and individual member states may provide support in the form of loans and grants, they come with conditions that are not necessarily favorable to Moldova.[16] While immigrants are working within EU nations, they are providing service to these nations, acting as a citizen, without the protections of a citizen. Data suggests that Moldovans make up a significant portion of immigrants, especially within certain nations, with the majority having jobs outside their education or qualifications, often within minor sectors which are underpaid compared to nationals.[17] Nations benefiting from the labor of Moldovans without returning the same level of protection. Moldovans enter these nations, making their contributions as a citizen, working a job, and obey laws while not being given the protections of a citizen such as legal status, voting rights, pension protections, or family unification. While some member states may act towards reform, Moldovans remain disadvantaged due to their disqualification from EU country status.  

Where do we go from here? 

Russia’s threat on Ukraine continues to not only devastate their nation but continues to hurt the surrounding nations, their recent strikes against the area of Odessa, which would grant additional connections to the Black Sea, as well as Moldova, threatens to pull Moldova into war, and would cause a significant increase to the humanitarian crisis already going on within Moldova.[18] Russia is empowered by the lack of intervention by other nations and the lack of allies leaves them vulnerable not only in terms of military strength but also limits their financial and social status, which in turn causes conditions where poverty, corruption, and unrest fester. These nations need an alliance, and they have overwhelmingly chosen EU and western support; it's time their call is answered.  

This is one of a series of blogs supported by the IDS alumni office and written by current IDS students and PhD Researchers from academic year 2021-2022 Spring Term. 

[1] Octavian, Ticu. The Molotov Ribbentrop Pact and the Emergence of the “Moldovan” Nation: Reflections after 70 Years., Accessed 10 July 2022.

[2] Octavian, Ticu. The Molotov Ribbentrop Pact and the Emergence of the “Moldovan” Nation: Reflections after 70 Years., Accessed 10 July 2022.

[3] Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project - OCCRP. Accessed 10 July 2022

[4] Anderson, Gordon L. “NEWS.” International Journal on World Peace, vol. 6, no. 4, 1989, pp. 67–75. JSTOR, Accessed 3 Jul. 2022.

[5] Urse, Cristian. “Solving Transnistria: Any Optimists Left?” Connections, vol. 7, no. 1, 2008, pp. 57–75. JSTOR, Accessed 19 Jun. 2022.

[6] How the EU Is Supporting Moldova | News | European Parliament. 18 May 2022,

[7] Russian Sanctions against Moldova. Minor Effects, Major Potential.” OSW Centre for Eastern Studies, 6 Nov. 2014,

[8] Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project - OCCRP. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[9] Coalson, Robert, and Liliana Barbarosie. “Secret Audit Report Links Missing $1 Billion To Moldovan Businessman.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 07:29:07Z.,

[10] Pifer, Steven. “Crimea: Six Years after Illegal Annexation.” Brookings, 17 Mar. 2020,

[11] Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. “Ukrainian Refugees Find Warm Welcome in Neighbouring Moldova.” UNHCR, Accessed 19 June 2022.

[12] Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. “Ukrainian Refugees Find Warm Welcome in Neighbouring Moldova.” UNHCR, Accessed 19 June 2022.

[13] How the EU Is Supporting Moldova | News | European Parliament. 18 May 2022,

[14] H ow the EU Is Supporting Moldova | News | European Parliament. 18 May 2022,

[15] Treisman, Rachel. “Ukraine Wants to Join the EU. Here’s How That Would Work.” NPR, 28 Feb. 2022. NPR,

[16] Pifer, Steven. “Crimea: Six Years after Illegal Annexation.” Brookings, 17 Mar. 2020,

[17] Mosneaga, Valeriu. Moldovan Labour Migrants in the European Union: Problems of Integration. p. 20.

[18] Yanovich, Liza. “Children Left Behind: The Impact of Labor Migration in Moldova and Ukraine.” Migrationpolicy.Org, 23 Jan. 2015,


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