Russia warns Moldova not to threaten its troops in breakaway region

(Reuters) -Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Moldova on Thursday that threatening the security of Russian troops in the breakaway region of Transdniestria risked triggering military confrontation with Moscow.

Russia has stationed peacekeeping troops in Transdniestria since the early 1990s, when an armed conflict saw pro-Russian separatists wrest most of the region from Moldovan control.

The government in Chisinau, stressing it was committed to peaceful dialogue over the future of the region, said it would summon the acting Russian ambassador to make its position clear.

Russia says its army is there to maintain peace and stability, but Moldova wants Moscow to withdraw its forces.

“Everyone should understand that any action that would threaten the security of our troops (in Transdniestria) would be considered under international law as an attack on Russia, as was the case in South Ossetia when our peacekeepers were attacked by (former Georgian President Mikheil) Saakashvili,” Lavrov said.

That incident, in 2008, resulted in a five-day war in which Russian forces seized several Georgian cities. Shortly afterwards, Moscow recognized South Ossetia and another Georgian breakaway territory, Abkhazia, as independent.

Transdniestria, which relies heavily on Moscow for support, reported a series of sporadic attacks in April, further raising tensions that were already high following Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, which borders Moldova.

Daniel Voda, a spokesman for the Moldovan foreign ministry, said the rights of all minorities – including Russian-speakers – were guaranteed.

“Chisinau remains fully committed to a peaceful dialogue in (Transnistria) and in calling Russia to withdraw troops illegally stationed in our territory. Any suggestion of a different approach is unfounded,” he tweeted.

In order to “clarify the above,” he said, Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu had ordered that the acting Russia ambassador be called in.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey, David Ljunggren and Sandra Maler)

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