A Russian deputy military commander said Moscow could seize Ukraine’s Black Sea coast to create a corridor to a breakaway region of Moldova.
On Friday, Rustam Minnekaev, acting commander of Russia’s Central Military District, said, "control over the south of Ukraine is another way to Transnistria, where there is also evidence that the Russian-speaking population is being oppressed." He added, "One of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over the Donbas and southern Ukraine.”
Nearly 500,000 people live in Transnistria, a narrow section of Moldova that borders Ukraine. While no countries recognize its sovereignty from Moldova, it has been self-ruled since 1992. Russia has about 1,500 peacekeepers in Transnistria.
The Moldovan said the comments conflict with Russia’s stated policy. “These statements are unfounded and contradict the position of the Russian Federation supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, within its internationally recognized borders,” the Moldovan foreign ministry told the Washington Post.
It is unclear if Minnekaev’s comments represent official Kremlin policy. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin declared victory in the key city of Mariupol, giving Russia control of Ukraine’s Sea of Azov coast. Moscow recently announced a new phase of its military operations in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
Seizing the Black Sea coastline would likely be a more ambitious task, requiring the capture of the port city of Odesa. Since beginning the "special military operation" on February 24, Russia has captured only a small portion of Ukraine’s southwest.