“If Odessa falls, the next target will be Moldova”

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Pasha, 68, sells food and items on the street for profit to add to his pension of less than 90 euros. / ds olabarri

Thousands of citizens of one of the poorest nations in Europe live in fear of suffering a new offensive from Moscow

Pasha is 68 years old and has a pension that does not reach 90 euros. Every Sunday she stands in the corner of a flea market to sell things. On Sunday she had socks, spices, oil, salt, olives and even a wreath for a funeral. Pasha sells what falls into his hands. “You don’t live here, you survive here,” he says.

This woman watches the nearby war taking place in Ukraine from a distance. She worked for twenty-eight years paving roads. She has a daughter and three grandchildren, but they reside in Madrid, several thousand kilometers from Moldova. She is widowed and lives alone. What she really cares about is getting ahead. In recent weeks, prices have skyrocketed, especially for gas and electricity.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it was already struggling to make ends meet, but now it is reaching the limit. And, like Pasha, thousands of citizens of Moldova, one of the poorest nations in Europe. “I don’t know if it’s because of Putin, but we can’t go on like this,” she reflects. A few meters away, in another street stall, is María. She sells chickens. They are breeding. Each one costs forty lei (just over one euro). Her son also lives in the European Union. When she is asked about a possible invasion, she replies with the price of gas and food. “Here we have no future,” she warns.

Economic crisis

Pasha and Maria live in Congaz, a town not many kilometers from the Ukrainian border. In just three weeks, the war has already affected all of Europe. But for many citizens of Moldova, a small country of just three million people, the start of the fighting has been much worse. Something much more disturbing than an economic crisis.

To begin with, the invasion has cast doubt on the future of a landlocked state, in which a significant part of the population is close to the poverty line and whose economy is largely based on agriculture. But, in addition, the doubts that hang over Moldova are not only economic, but also territorial. “If Odessa falls, the next target will be Moldova,” says Alana Balatel emphatically. This 33-year-old woman is a tourism teacher and guide. She lives in Chisinau, the capital.

Since the invasion began, he has devoted much of his time to helping manage the reception of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have arrived from Ukraine. “We have suffered a lot during our history. We have been attacked by Mongols, Turks, Russians… The Moldovan people decided a long time ago that they want to be independent”, underlines Alana.

Like her, thousands of Moldovans live in fear that they may be Putin’s next targets. When the war began, the Chisinau government decided to close the airspace and declared a state of emergency in the face of what it considered a flagrant violation of international law. That did not prevent several missiles launched from the Black Sea from flying over the skies in early March in the direction of the Ukrainian airport in Vinnytsia. Those shells passing over their heads further fueled the feeling that Putin’s next victims will be the Moldovans.

past in common

Experts insist that there are important similarities between Ukraine and Moldova. “We have our past in common,” explains Alana. The two countries achieved independence after the collapse of the USSR.

In recent years, both have been governed by pro-European leaders who have moved away from Moscow’s sphere of influence. Neither is part of NATO. But there is more. In the collective imagination of a large part of the Russian population, the two states are part of what was the “great Russian empire”. Another similarity: both Ukraine and Moldova – whose mother tongue is Romanian – have a significant part of the population that speaks Russian and customs.

Where they have nothing in common is their dimensions, their strategic resources, or their ability to resist. Moldova has an Army of just 6,000 troops.

Many residents of Chisinau understand that there is no reason to be alarmed since they consider that Putin already has enough with Ukraine. Other Moldovan citizens – especially those from Russophone areas – directly believe that the only thing that Putin is doing is “putting order” in the neighboring country. What no one has a doubt about is one thing.

– Alana, what will you do if there is an attack on Moldova?

– Russia would not need to attack. We can’t defend ourselves. They would just take us.

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