When Maia Sandu was elected President of Moldova on November 15, 2020, Russia kept its fingers crossed. It hoped that Moldova's economic dependence on Russia would counteract Sandu's pro-Western leanings. However, Sandu quickly called for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping forces from the breakaway region of Transnistria prompting a rebuke "Calls to 'withdraw the Russian military' have been made periodically by Chisinau [capital of Moldova] for many years and have turned into a kind of ritual. It's like the code 'friend or foe', if a politician is 'pro-Western', then he should say it. But it's one thing when a politician makes such statements while standing on a barricade or even a parliamentary rostrum. And it is completely different when the head of state says something like that. Sandu may not have realized this yet, but she is no longer speaking in front of the street crowd." Senator Alexey Pushkov commented: "Sandu calls for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Transnistria. But their presence for almost 30 years was a guarantee of peace in the region and protection for the people living there."
Sandu's call set off alarm bells in other Russian-allied breakaway regions. Igor Strelkov, the former defense minister of the Donetsk People's Republic that broke away from the Ukraine predicted "There will be violence against the Russian-speaking population of Transnistria after the seizure of region by Moldova. A significant part of it [Russian-speaking population] will be forced to leave the region." Strelkov had no doubts that Russia would reject Sandu's call to withdraw the peacekeepers, who have been in place since 1992, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He however pointed out Transnistria's vulnerability as the unrecognized republic is surrounded by political enemies. 'There is no chance that Transnistria will be saved by military means, warned Strelkov. 
Sandu has also sided with Ukraine over the issue of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014. She said: "I respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine over Crimea."
Professor Gevorg Mirzayan fears that Sandu and other leaders of the Post-Soviet countries have become emboldened as a result of Azerbaijan's recent success in restoring its sovereignty in broad areas of Nagorno Karabakh. They too will be tempted to reassert control in the breakaway regions and Transnistria, given its geographic vulnerability poses a tempting target. In the case of hostilities Moldova may get help from Ukraine and NATO. To ward off this threat Mirzayan advises Vladimir Putin to take a leaf from Turkish President Recep Erdogan's book and threaten escalation to scare off the Europeans.
Mirzayan's article follows below:
"The seizure of a major part of Nagorno-Karabakh's territory by Azerbaijan and (according to Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev) the final solution of the Karabakh issue inspired the elites of the post-Soviet republics, that have their own "separatist regions." And if Georgia and Ukraine are still thinking, then Moldova has moved from thinking to words. Words that, provided the moral and material support of the future Biden administration, could turn in action and create serious problems for Moscow.
"Until recently, the Transnistrian conflict was considered to be the most "frozen" of all territorial disputes in the entire post-Soviet space. The self-proclaimed Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic [hereafter "PMR" or "Transnistria"] has concluded a number of coexistence agreements with Moldova. In addition, there are Russian peacekeepers on the territory of the Republic, as well as military personnel of the United Group of Russian Forces (OGRV), guarding Moscow's weapon depots near the village of Kolbasna. If it was earlier assumed that weapons from these warehouses would be removed, then later it became clear, that this was technically impossible, so the Russian troops remained there indefinitely. Well, at the same time, the troops are tasked with support of the ceasefire regime on both banks of the Dniester. "In Transnistria, we do not consider the OGRV to be separate from the peacekeeping contingent of Russia. These are directly related components. Russian servicemen from the OGRV serve in the peacekeeping contingent on a rotational basis." - said the head of Transnistria Vadim Krasnoselsky.
Russian troops parade in Tirasopol (Source: Cenzura.md)
"Chisinau was periodically indignant at the prevailing situation, but understood and accepted the rules of the "game". Transnistria was considered by the Moldovan authorities as a cut off slice- the peaceful reintegration of the PMR into the unstable and alien for Transnistrians (from an ethnic, cultural, historical and geopolitical perspective) Moldova is extremely unlikely, and Moldova has insufficient resources for a military solution. Thus, a more or less consensual status quo developed. As Krasnoselsky noted, the negotiation process with Moldova has been in fact suspended. Chisinau was complicating the life of the self-proclaimed republic as much as possible (including through the means of blockade), but the conflict was never unfrozen.
"But now, Maia Sandu, who came to power following the results of the last presidential elections, wants to make Moldova a part of Romania, wants to destroy this status quo. She has already demanded from Russia to withdraw its troops from Transnistria, and replace the Russian peacekeepers with representatives of the civilian OSCE Mission.
"Of course, far from everyone, even in Moldova, agrees with this, to put it mildly, unconstructive proposal. "Those who wreak havoc must take responsibility for the country," - said the current president, Igor Dodon. After all, Mrs. Sandu must understand that Russia will not withdraw its troops from Transnistria, because, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov correctly explained, such a withdrawal threatens "serious incidents." Continued demands will also risk serious consequences in the form of aggravated of relations with Moscow, problems for Moldovan goods on the Russian market, and the Kremlin's retaliatory demands to Chisinau to pay the arrears on Russian gas supplied to Transnistria (which, according to the Moldovan leadership, is part of the country).
"We are talking about a debt in the amount of more than 7 billion USD - one and a half times greater than the Moldovan budget for 2021.
"Therefore, the adequate forces in Chisinau assure that Sandu's words will remain just words. "She has no option to embark on the military scenario. We will not allow it to her as the largest party, as parliament, as government, and as citizens of the Republic of Moldova." - said Dodon. However, all these "we will not allows" will be valid until the parliamentary elections (which most likely take place in the first half of 2021), as a result of which the pro-Western parties will form a majority [in the parliament], will create a government and will allow Maia Sandu to pursue her course. More precisely, not so much her course, but those who stand behind her - the Western elites, who want to strike Russia's Achilles heel in the post-Soviet space.
"The problem is that if Moscow won't withdraw its troops from Transnistria, then it must protect them. Them and likewise the more than 200 thousand residents of PMR, who have Russian passports. However, the Russian Federation does not have a common border with Transnistria, as well as an access to the republic through a friendly or neutral state. Transnistria is sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine, while Moldova itself is situated between Romania and Ukraine. That is, in order to send troops there, Russia must invade either the territory of a NATO member state or Ukraine, thus burying the Minsk agreements and the entire peace process in Donbass.
Map of Transnistria (Source: Jewishgen.org)
"Well, if one takes a glance at the Moldovan army's size (about 5 thousand people), then it may seem, that there is no need to transfer any troops there. The armed forces of Transnistria, numbering the same 5 thousand fighters, reinforced with a thousand-strong Russian contingent and supported by long-range precision weapons from Russia (inaccessible to Ukrainian air defense) will cope with any threat. However, the problem with that is that it would be necessary to defend not only against the Moldovan army, but also against 'partners who are eager to help the Moldovans 'restore sovereignty'.
"Moreover, I'm talking not only about NATO (according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the presence of Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria is a violation of international law and of the sovereignty of Moldova), but also about Ukraine. Having received guarantees from the West, the newly elected president of Moldova is now trying to enlist the support of Kiev. Sandu is going to make her first state visit to Ukraine (for the sake of reference, Igor Dodon never visited Ukraine in 4 years).
"In Kiev, Sandu will be welcomed with open arms, and they will get subscribe to any adventure against the PMR. The Ukrainian leadership perceives Transnistria as a hostile Russian territory. Therefore, in 2015 Ukraine denounced the agreement on the transit of Russian goods to Transnistria, and also regularly blocks the common border with the self-proclaimed republic. Furthermore, Kiev is eager to take revenge on the 'Russian world' for the defeats in the Crimea in the Donbass.
Maia Sandu with Ukraine's President Volodomyr Zelensky (Source: Eadaily.com)
"Ukraine cannot begin military actions in these regions - the Russian Tavrida [Crimea] is protected by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and in the event of an invasion of the DPR and LPR territories a strong "north wind" [Russian troops] with the help of local paramilitaries, will blow away not only Ukrainian troops from Donbass, but also Maidan authorities from Kiev. However, the escalation of the situation in Transnistria and (under certain circumstances) even the armed support for Moldova (which formally possesses the territory of the self-proclaimed republic) sharply reduces the possibility of a Russian military response.
"It is clear that NATO and Ukraine will be involved in Transnistria issue under the direct control of the incoming Joseph Biden administration, which is likely to become the director of a possible Transnistrian escapade. For Biden's people, unfreezing of the Transnistrian conflict is necessary not only to extract Russia from the post-Soviet space, but they also view this extraction as part of their strategy for regime change in Moscow. 'For President Putin and Russia, power is determined by their geopolitical influence in the world. By undermining this influence and isolating Russia politically, we neutralize this power.' - said the newly appointed US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
"And Transnistria is a very good place to implement such a scenario, because almost any outcome of the conflict (the withdrawal of Russian troops or a protracted serious aggravation, or the deployment of Moldovan troops and foreign volunteers') will lead to Moscow's defeat.
"However, the Kremlin can completely thwart the plans of Western puppeteers and their regional tools. In order to do this, one simply needs to 'play the role of Erdogan' - to make it firmly clear that in case of an escalation, Russia will go all the way.
"As Russia did back in 2008 and 2014, spitting on all international rules of decency and simply defended its interests. That is, in the event of any threat to Russian citizens in Transnistria, 'polite people' [a euphemism for the Russian military] should create a corridor to the PMR through Odessa [that is part of Ukraine].
"Yes, this option is coupled with recognizing a corpse [the Minsk agreements] as a corpse and with a serious escalation of the situation in the region. However, this escalation will seriously affect not only Moscow, but also the interests of European countries. It's one thing when Russia peacefully surrenders Transnistria and allows the state to 'restore territorial integrity' (as it happened in Karabakh), and another thing when a war erupts in the EU's backyard. The war [scenario] has many supporters, but also a sufficient number of opponents who will do everything possible to prevent it.
"Amongst other things, they will rein in Maia Sandu and try to explain to the 'hawks' from the Biden administration the idea that Russia can be contained in another way. [A way] that is less dangerous for all participants in the process.
Gevorg Mirzayan (Source: Ukraina.ru)
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9048, Russian Commentators Debate Whether Sandu's Victory In Moldovan Presidential Voting Marks Another Setback For Russia In The Post-Soviet Space, November 20. 2020.
 Mk.ru, November 22, 2020.
 Pnp.ru, November 21, 2020.
 Ura.ru, November 21, 2020.
 Topcor.ru, November 21, 2020.
 M.gazeta.ru, December 8, 2020.