Latest war news between Ukraine and Russia: Live updates

BRUSSELS – A series of explosions on Monday and Tuesday have rattled Transnistria, a small breakaway region in Moldova and bordering Ukraine, raising fears that the war next door could spill over into neighboring countries and swell into a broader conflict.

It remained unclear on Tuesday who was behind the attacks in Transnistria, a self-proclaimed republic allied with – and heavily dependent on – Russia. Local authorities blamed Ukraine, while Ukraine accused Russia of orchestrating the explosions as a pretext for further aggression.

The Ukrainian military said on Tuesday that Russian troops stationed in Transnistria had been put on high alert. Some Ukrainians have expressed fears that with Russia already invading their country from the east, south and north, they could add a new front from Transnistria that is also attacking from the west.

Moldova, a former Soviet republic, said the explosions were still under investigation, although an Interior Ministry official said some preliminary evidence suggested Russian involvement.

When the Soviet Union disbanded in the early 1990s, heavily armed separatists in Transnistria, which has a significant minority of Russian-speakers, fought to break away from Moldova. With Russian backing, they gained real independence, but Transnistria is not formally recognized internationally.

There are at least 12,000 Russian troops stationed in Transnistria, which reached within 25 miles of Odesa, Ukraine’s main port and third largest city. Odesa is potentially a major target in Moscow’s halted push to conquer Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

A Russian general said last week that Russia intended to take control of a piece of land that stretches not only to Crimea, the peninsula it conquered from Ukraine in 2014, but all the way to Transnistria. But it was not clear that his statement reflected the Kremlin’s policy.

The attacks in Transnistria were carried out against empty or unused buildings during a holiday and there were no casualties, said Moldova’s Deputy Interior Minister Sergiu Diaconu. He said explosions appeared to be an attempt to destabilize the country and possibly serve as an excuse for a military response from Russia, not a serious attempt to do harm.

In addition, Mr Diaconu said, the used grenades are produced by Russia and used only by the armies of Russia, Transnistria and Gabon. He said of the attackers: “I do not think it was the Gabonese.”

Yet the Moldovan authorities did not accuse Moscow of being behind the explosions. The country’s president, Maia Sandu, did not mention Russia when asked on Tuesday about the attacks, saying only that there were “tensions between different forces in the regions, interested in destabilizing the situation.”

There were three separate explosions, local authorities in Transnistria said. One was aimed at a building of a security agency in the capital Tiraspol. The other explosions hit the local airport and a radio station in the village of Mayak.

Vadim Krasnoselsky, the president of Transnistria’s separatist government, called the explosions a “terrorist attack” and blamed Ukraine. “Traces of these attacks lead to Ukraine,” he said in a statement without giving details. “I assume that those who organized this attack aim to drag Transnistria into the conflict.”

For their part, Ukrainian officials were quick to point a finger at Russia. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said its intelligence indicated the explosions were “a planned provocation” by Russia aimed at inciting “anti-Ukrainian sentiment.”

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said on Tuesday that “forces that are not interested in regional stability and want to create another hotbed of tension are behind this.” He did not say who these forces were.

Transnistria, with a mixed population of Romanian, Russian and Ukrainian speakers, has been a problem for the Moldovan government for more than three decades since retired Soviet military officers living there led the uprising.

“Transnistria was artificially created to keep Moldova threatened at all times,” said Alexandru Flenchea, Moldova’s former deputy prime minister.

Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the Moldovan authorities have been increasingly concerned about the possibility that Russia could activate its Transnistria-based troops, either to attack Ukraine or to invade Moldova, which is not a member of NATO or the EU, and has limited military forces.

Mr. Flenchea said that people who control Transnistria may not be keen on war because it would disrupt one of the region’s major economic activities, smuggling.

Iulian Groza, head of the Institute for European Policies and Reforms, a research institution in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, said a Russian invasion of Moldova did not appear imminent. The short-term goal for the Russians, Mr Groza said, seemed to be to destabilize the region and undermine the pro-EU government in Moldova.

Whether the threat of an invasion is real or not, Moldovans are worried. Many people reacted to the news of the Transnistria explosions in the same way as they did to the outbreak of the invasion of Ukraine – for fear of the worst.

“People are panicking again,” said Carmina Vicol, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Chisinau. “The worst case scenario is that war starts here and disrupts everything.”

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Tbilisi, Georgia.

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