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Ukrainian defense officials said Friday that Russia is using an ammunition depot in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria to smuggle arms across its borders.
Transnistria, which borders the Odesa region in Ukraine, has become a new focal point in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war as he looks to not only take eastern and southern Ukraine but has threatened to come for Moldova next.
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“Thirty years ago, the Russian Federation occupied the territory of Transnistria. Every year there are mobilization exercises with a task force of Russian troops stationed in this area,” Vadym Skibitsky, representative of Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the Defense Ministry, said in a statement Friday.
Skibitsky said Russian troops train with local separatist forces on defensive and counteroffensive operations using ammunition stored in a warehouse in the village of Kolbasna, which shares a border with Ukraine’s Odesa region.
“Part of the ammunition is used for combat training, part – according to military intelligence – for smuggling,” Skibitsky said.
Ukraine’s defense ministry warned Friday that recent actions from Russia show it is looking to use Transnistria as a “springboard for aggression” to attack Ukraine from another direction and to potentially hit Moldova.
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The ministry announced earlier this week that Russian-backed separatist forces in Transnistria are recruiting men for their ranks – a move that preceded two alleged “terrorist attacks” in the region this week.
Ukrainian and some Moldavian officials have accused Moscow of being behind the attacks to provide a pretext for the deployment of Russian forces under the guise of a “peacekeeping” mission – a similar tact that Russia took in Ukraine.
Russia has maintained a “peacekeeping” force in the Transnistria region since a 1992 peace agreement was brokered between the Moldovan government and regional officials.
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“We are monitoring the situation in Transnistria,” Skibitsky said Friday, noting there is now a “serious struggle” between Moldovan officials and the “special services of the Russian Federation.”
“The terrorist acts committed on the territory of Transnistria were aimed at forcing the Transnistrian leadership to agree to expand the presence of Russian troops,” he added. “The main goal is to keep the region completely under Moscow’s control, as it has been trying for 30 years.”