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After Ukraine, Europe wonders who’s next Russian target


Nepalnews
AP
2022 Mar 10, 14:06, Belgrade, Serbia

For some European countries watching Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine, there are fears that they could be next.

Western officials say the most vulnerable could be those who aren’t members of NATO or the European Union, and thus alone and unprotected — including Ukraine’s neighbour Moldova and Russia’s neighbour Georgia, both of them formerly part of the Soviet Union — along with the Balkan states of Bosnia and Kosovo.

But analysts warn that even NATO members could be at risk, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on Russia’s doorstep, as well as Montenegro, either from Moscow’s direct military intervention or attempts at political destabilization.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “has said right from the start that this is not only about Ukraine,″ said Michal Baranowski, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw office.

“He told us what he wants to do when he was listing his demands, which included the change of the government in Kyiv, but he was also talking about the eastern flank of NATO and the rest of Eastern Europe,” Baranowski told The Associated Press in an interview.

- A woman walks past the Operational Group of Russian Forces headquarters in Tiraspol, the capital of the breakaway region of Transnistria, a disputed territory unrecognized by the international community, in Moldova, Nov. 1, 2021. For some European countries watching Russia's bloody invasion of Ukraine, there are fears that they could be next. Western officials say the most vulnerable could be those who are not members of the NATO military alliance or the European Union, and thus alone and unprotected — including Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova and Russia's neighbor Georgia, both of them formerly part of the Soviet Union — along with the Balkan states of Bosnia and Kosovo. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)
- A woman walks past the Operational Group of Russian Forces headquarters in Tiraspol, the capital of the breakaway region of Transnistria, a disputed territory unrecognized by the international community, in Moldova, Nov. 1, 2021. For some European countries watching Russia's bloody invasion of Ukraine, there are fears that they could be next. Western officials say the most vulnerable could be those who are not members of the NATO military alliance or the European Union, and thus alone and unprotected — including Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova and Russia's neighbor Georgia, both of them formerly part of the Soviet Union — along with the Balkan states of Bosnia and Kosovo. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)

As Ukraine puts up stiff resistance to the two-week-old Russian attack, Baranowski said “it’s now not really clear how he’ll carry out his other goals.”

But the Biden administration is acutely aware of deep concerns in Eastern and Central Europe that the war in Ukraine may be just a prelude to broader attacks on former Warsaw Pact members in trying to restore Moscow’s regional dominance.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said that “Russia is not going to stop in Ukraine.”

“We are concerned for neighbours Moldova, Georgia, and the Western Balkans,” he said. “We have to keep an eye on Western Balks, particularly Bosnia, which could face destabilization by Russia.”

A look at the regional situation:

MOLDOVA

Like its neighbour Ukraine, the ex-Soviet republic of Moldova has a separatist insurgency in its east in the disputed territory known as Trans-Dniester, where 1,500 Russian troops are stationed. Although Moldova is neutral militarily and has no plans to join NATO, it formally applied for EU membership when the Russian invasion began in a quick bid to bolster its ties with the West.

The country of 2.6 million people is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and it’s costing tens of thousands of Ukrainians who fled the war. The invasion has prompted heightened concerns in Moldova not only over the humanitarian crisis but also because of fears that Putin might try to link the separatists east of the Dniester River with Ukraine via the latter’s strategic port of Odesa.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Moldova last week and pledged: “We stand with Moldova and any other country that may be threatened in the same way.”

Moldovan President Maia Sandu said there was no indication yet the Russian forces in Trans-Dniester had changed their posture but stressed that the concern was there.

“In this region now there is no possibility for us to feel safe,” Sandu said.

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