Armies of the Russo-Ukrainian War: the armed and security forces of Transnistria

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

Starting from February 24, 2022, the eyes of the whole world are focused on the war that is taking place in Ukraine and which, for the moment, opposes the complex of the Armed and Security Forces of the Republic of Ukraine on the one hand to the compound alliance by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the Unified Forces of Novorossiya (i.e. the joint army of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic).

The fact of having used the formula "for the moment" was not at all a coincidence given that, since the beginning of the Russian offensive, numerous analysts have continued to monitor, step by step, the events that have affected the self-proclaimed state of Transnistria (or more formally: the "Moldavian Republic of Pridnestrovia").

A secessionist region of Moldova that escaped the control of the Chișinău authorities after a brief but bloody war in 1992, Transnistria has been a de facto state for thirty years in all respects, although not formally recognized internationally by any member of the United Nations. Despite this, despite being unknown to most, Transnistria has always played, since its foundation, a very important role in Moscow's strategies as an instrument of pressure against Moldova in order to prevent the former Soviet republic from getting too close. to the West with the risk of escaping the geopolitical orbit of the Kremlin.

Since 2014, considering the events that have characterized neighboring Ukraine, Transnistria has seen on the one hand an increased geopolitical importance in Russia's strategies, and on the other a deterioration of its international security posture as the Russian-speaking enclave has come. to be between two potentially hostile states. In fact, if Kiev's foreign policy towards Transnistria was set, between 1992 and 2014, at a sort of "benevolent neutrality", if not a real "de facto collaboration", starting from the events of Euromaidan such state of affairs has given way to growing hostility, directly proportional to the improvement of relations between Kiev and Chișinău, both now led by governments projected towards the European Union and NATO.

In light of these facts, in addition to the other events of unclear origin that have occurred in the territory controlled by the authorities of Tiraspol (the capital of Transnistria) since the beginning of the Russian invasion of the Ukrainian territory in a big way, it is the opinion of many, including the author of this analysis, believe that Transnistria's involvement in the present Ukrainian War is only a matter of time. This is why a study is needed on the Armed and Security Forces of this country and on the role they will be able to play when the clash of war also resounds in those lands.

Let's start by saying that Transnistria is a state characterized by a population which, according to the official figures of the local government, is around 465.000 inhabitants but which according to the Moldovan government would actually be much less (around 347.000). It is important to note that there is an important Transnistrian diaspora, residing mainly in Russia, which maintains strong ties with the motherland and men of Transnistrian origin have served and continue to serve in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and, viewing various videos relating to soldiers and volunteers Russians engaged in the current Ukrainian conflict, it was possible for me to identify original elements of the self-proclaimed republic.

The Armed Forces of Transnistria are made up of a permanent nucleus that oscillates between 5.500 and 7.500 men (both professionals and conscripts) reinforced by a ready-to-use reserve of 20.000 reservists. Given that, at the beginning of the conflict, the authorities in Tiraspol, like those of Ukraine, Moldova and the so-called People's Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, prohibited all men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the territory of the country, it is possible that, in the event of a general mobilization, the Transnistrians could recall a force of 70-100.000 men to arms.

Transnistria is a landlocked country so it does not have a marina. Instead, it owns air assets but they are not organized into a separate air force from everything else. The only official component is therefore constituted by the regular army which also controls a whole series of "specialized units".

The main maneuvering units of the Transnistrians are four brigades of motorized riflemen headquartered in different areas of the country. The 3a Motorized Fusiliers brigade is stationed in Rîbnița, in the northern part of the country, and has the task of protecting the districts of Camenca and Rîbnița. The latter in particular has strategic value for the country because it is the seat of the main economic activities, among which the kombinat for steel production which alone provides between 40 and 50% of Transnistrian GDP.

The 4 is located in the central part of the countrya brigade of the Motorized Fusiliers on whose shoulders the defense of the Dubăsari and Grigoriopol districts falls. It is important to note that Dubăsari is home to the homonymous dam and hydroelectric power station which are the main suppliers of electricity for both Transnistria and Moldova.

Finally, to the south, having as its area of ​​responsibility the district of Slobozia and the city of Bender there is the 2a Motorized Rifle Brigade, which can be reinforced if necessary by the 1a Brigade of the Motorized Riflemen of the garrison Guards in the capital Tiraspol.

In the event of war, the brigades are organized to expand their structure by welcoming new companies of reservists in order to be converted into real divisions capable of autonomously defending the different areas of the country under their jurisdiction.

It is important to note that the geography of Transnistria certainly does not facilitate defense in depth, as the state is characterized by a considerable length but a very limited depth. Hence, the country's military strategy must alternatively be based on a preventive attack or on a defense centered around "circular nuclei" independent of each other and capable of autonomously absorbing a hypothetical enemy offensive that can cut the country into two or more parts.

In addition to the units mentioned above, the Armed Forces also include an armored battalion, an artillery regiment, an anti-aircraft artillery regiment and an independent air detachment that controls the few but important fixed-wing and rotary-wing assets that the Transnistrians maintain ( most likely thanks to Russian logistical support) and which consist of 2 Mi-2, 9 Mi-8T, 6 Mi-24 and several basic trainers Yak-18 and Yak-52 and An-2 and An-26 transport aircraft .

Transnistria maintains an elite regiment of paratroopers who train to launch using the An-2, An-26 and Mi-8T but which in the event of war would be used as additional ground troops as full-blown launches in a combat situation would become almost impossible.

There is also a special forces battalion organized and trained to Russian Spetsnaz standards.

Curiously (and it is an absolutely unique case in the panorama of non-internationally recognized states) the Armed Forces of Transnistria maintain a very well equipped unit of "Peacekeeping Troops" (known with the Russian acronym of MC: Mиротворческих Cил).

In the event of a serious crisis and full national mobilization, in addition to their own reservists, the Armed Forces would also receive the support of the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) and MGB (Ministry of State Security) troops.

The MVD controls the police, which in Transnistria, following the practice existing in the old Soviet Union, is still called "militsiya" and is responsible for maintaining law and order.

In addition to the ordinary "militiamen", the MVD also has the brigade for special uses Dniestr (equivalent to the old forces of the Army of the Interior of the Soviet Union) andSpecial Rapid Reaction Unit (SOBR) created in the image and likeness of its Russian "sister unit".

The MGB is instead the heir to the local branch of the old Soviet KGB and, in addition to various paramilitary formations, also controls the Border Guards and its own spetsnaz unit called the “Independent Battalion for Delta Special Operations”.

As for the military means available, the Armed Forces officially line up about twenty tanks and almost three hundred other armored vehicles of all types, supported by a robust supply of both field and anti-aircraft artillery.

It is important to note that, in addition to the Armed and Security Forces, the Transnistrian territory is also manned by the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Transnistria which officially should count between 1500 and 2500 men but which according to various rumors was reinforced in the months preceding the current escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War to 12.000 men.

The mission of the Russian troops present on the territory is to guarantee the current status quo between Moldova and Transnistria and at the same time to garrison the important base of Cobasna, a legacy of the Soviet period, which houses about 22.000 tons of ammunition of different types and additional military vehicles. which, if necessary, can be rapidly mobilized and used both by the Armed and Security Forces and by the Operational Group of Russian Forces, guaranteeing both considerable autonomy in terms of armaments.

The heaviest vehicles available in Transnistria are the T-64BV tanks, available in about twenty specimens, veterans of the 1992 conflict and since then updated several times and concentrated in a single armored battalion. According to some rumors, there would be a further hundred T-64BVs kept in reserve and ready to be mobilized in the event of a serious national crisis, but the sources do not agree on this point of view.

Another three hundred armored vehicles of all types constitute the backbone of the equipment of the brigades of motorized riflemen. These means come from the equipment of the ex-14a Soviet army and which the Transnistrian forces seized in 1992.

Among the means that have been identified over time we can mention the IFV BMP-1 and BMP-2, the APC BTR-60, BTR-70 and MT-LB and the armored cars BRDM-1 and BRDM-2. At the time of taking possession of the arsenals of the 14a Soviet army, the Transnistrians have also taken possession of a large number of armored vehicles originally developed to fulfill a whole series of missions of responsibility of the military genius such as the GMZ-3 minelay armored vehicle, the GT- multi-function light armored vehicle MU, the armored vehicle dedicated to river reconnaissance IRM “Zhuk”, the armored vehicle for demining UR-77 or the command vehicle version of the IFV BMP-1, called BMP-1KSh.

Having a certain surplus of these armored vehicles at their disposal, the Transnistrians have seen fit to readjust some of them for other purposes by exploiting the skills acquired by their small but very active defense industry in thirty years of experimentation. And so a number of GMZ-3s were converted to IFV, under the designation of BTRG-127 "Schmel", after the removal of all mine-laying equipment, the creation of a compartment capable of carrying a crew of 8 -10 soldiers equipped and the installation of a 12,7 mm Afanasev A-12,7 machine gun.

Several GT-MU vehicles, already appreciated also for their role as “artillery tractors”, have been converted into tank fighter vehicles by installing an SPG-9 recoilless gun.

As for the “Zhuk” IRMs, in addition to their traditional river reconnaissance missions, they have also been adapted to command and control missions given their considerable versatility. Also curious is the role acquired by a certain number of MT-LBs, reconverted to an anti-helicopter role by installing a new turret armed with two twin machine guns.

However, the sector that benefited most from the development of the Transnistrian defense industry was the artillery sector. In fact, in this field the Transnistrians relied on a composite collection of both light and heavy mortars and towed field artillery pieces, among which the D-44 85 mm and MT-12 "Rapira" 100 mm anti-tank guns deserve to be mentioned. and even the AZP S-60 57 mm and KS-19 100 mm anti-aircraft units readjusted to the terrestrial role, reinforced by the presence of some 2 mm 1S122 Gvozdika self-propelled guns and 2 mm 3S152,4 Akatsiya and about twenty multiple rocket launchers BM-21 "Grad" equipped with 40 barrels of 122 mm. This component has been reinforced by the Transnistrians through the introduction in recent years of two new models of multiple rocket launchers: the Pribor-1 and the Pribor-2.

Entered into service first, the Pribor-1 is aesthetically reminiscent of the BM-21, but is armed with 20 122 mm barrels, half of those present on the "inspirational vehicle".

The Pribor-2, on the other hand, differs from the aesthetic lines of its predecessor and is also equipped with a mighty set of 48 barrels, always 122 mm, aimed (and this is a unique case in the world panorama of multiple-barrel rocket launchers) in the opposite direction to to the direction of travel.

Other interesting creations by the local defense industry are a series of vehicles developed for special forces and other emergency departments such as motorcycles equipped with sidecars armed with 74mm RPK-5,45M light machine guns or various categories of buggy. two-seater (also amphibious) variously equipped with the aforementioned RPK-74 or alternatively with PKT or PKM machine guns, both in 7,62 mm.

Finally, it is worth mentioning a local variant of the famous Lada Niva adapted as an exploration vehicle, armed with a machine gun and also approved for towing light mortars.

After this overview it is now necessary to ask: What role could the Transnistrian Armed and Security Forces play in the development of the present Russian-Ukrainian War?

In reality, at the moment, a role has already been given that, to protect the hinterland of the strategic Odessa oblast from a surprise attack coming from Transnistria, the Ukrainians have been forced to keep relevant forces there that could have been used more profitably. somewhere else.

Secondly, the Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly accused the authorities of the self-proclaimed republic of making their territory available for destabilizing actions by Russia, such as the infiltration of agents or special forces operators.

Finally, like Belarus, Transnistria has also been accused of being the starting point for Russian missile attacks aimed at the westernmost part of the country. This last point has caused very heated controversy between Kiev and Tiraspol, however if it were confirmed by the facts it would mean that, in preparation for the outbreak of the large-scale war, the Russians have previously infiltrated the Transnistrian territory a certain number of specimens of the version from land launch of the missile family Kalibr, and that they did so under the noses of the secret services of Ukraine, Moldova and the entire West.

In any case, any concrete military initiative by Transnistria in support of Russian military operations in Ukraine and, possibly, in Moldova, can only materialize when the Russians have crossed the Eastern Bug River and entered the Odessa Oblast in force. . Without this fundamental premise, the Armed and Security Forces of Transnistria and the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Transnistria would find themselves isolated and, most likely, would be crushed by the joint military action of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Moldovan Armed Forces which, taken together , would leave no escape for the Russians and Transnistrians both in terms of numbers and overall firepower.

All that remains is to continue to monitor the situation on site and see how things will evolve in the coming months.

Photo: Trebik 1407 / Донор / govern of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic / MoD Russian Federation / web