The glamorous foreign minister of a breakaway region of Moldova is calling on Vladimir Putin to make her country his next conquest in eastern Europe.
Few may have heard of Transnistria, the unofficial and fictitious-sounding statelet whose head of international relations is 36-year-old Nina Shtanski.
However, senior Western figures are alarmed that following the annexation of Crimea it is step two in a Kremlin masterplan to redraw the frontiers of Europe.
This top diplomat in staunchly pro-Russian Transnistria, who has a penchant for revealing black dresses, is gushing in her praise of Putin’s takeover of the Black Sea peninsula.
She openly invites him to make the same move in her landlocked territory of 509,000 people, wedged between strife-torn Ukraine and Moldova.
“We are pleased to say that the outcome of the Crimean referendum almost fully coincides with the results of the Transnistrian referendum of 17 September 2006, when over 97% of voters chose independence and the prospect of voluntary unification with Russia,” she said in a statement.
“The obvious match of the will expressed by people in Crimea and Transnistria demonstrates that the Russian World is uniting and the people’s wish for unity cannot be stopped.”
Russian troops are assembling on Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia. An annexation of Transnistria would be a significant expansion of Russian territory.
A Russian force of 1,300 troops – currently on high alert – is already on the ground as “peacekeepers” in the self-declared state – which boasts the hammer and sickle on its mainly red flag.
Under international law, the unofficial country is part of Romanian-speaking Moldova, but after a war as the USSR broke up, Ms Shtanski and the local population have never accepted rule by Moldova.
They are now bent on being formally integrated as a region of the Kremlin, which has long subsidised this outpost.
The fear for Western military planners is that after taking Transnistria, Putin could then seize an arc from there to Crimea, sealing off the southern Black Sea regions of Ukraine.
In the process, he would grab another old Russian jewel, the port city of Odessa, and cripple Kiev’s economy.
“Unity and integration, as shown by today’s realities, are not always associated with geography,” explained mother-of-one Ms Shtanski in the district’s capital Tiraspol.
‘We are a striking confirmation of this fact. We consider ourselves part of the Russian world. We do not separate ourselves from the Russians and Russian civilization.
‘We consider ourselves part of Russia, and not without reason. This has legal and historical background.’
Transnistria was originally seized by Russia in 1792 under Catherine the Great but is today a Soviet timewarp with Lenin statues and military checkpoints.
Like many others, Ms Shtanski cannot use her Transnistrian passport to travel and instead relies on her Russian citizenship, for example when travelling to Moscow to complete her doctorate in international relations.
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Tranistria is part of a pre-1917 area called Bessarabia that was part of Russia. From Wiki:
Bessarabia (Romanian: Basarabia; Russian: Бессарабия Bessarabiya, Ukrainian: Бессарабія Bessarabiya) is a historical region in Eastern Europe, bounded by the Dniester river on the east and the Prut river on the west. Nowadays the bulk of Bessarabia is part of Moldova, whereas the northernmost regions, as well as the southern regions bordering Black Sea (Budjak), are part of Ukraine.In the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War, 1806-1812, and ensuing Peace of Bucharest, the eastern parts of the Principality of Moldavia, an Ottoman vassal, along with some areas formerly under direct Ottoman rule, were ceded to Imperial Russia.
The newly acquired territories were organised as the Governorate of Bessarabia, adopting a name previously used for the southern plains of the Dniester-Prut interfluve. Following the Crimean War, in 1856, the southern areas of Bessarabia were returned to Moldavian rule; nevertheless, Russian rule was restored over the whole of the region in 1878, when Romania, which had emerged from Moldavia’s union with Wallachia, was pressured into exchanging those territories for Dobruja.
Geography is unstable in this area.