CHISINAU, Moldova — Pro-Russian separatists in a breakaway region of Moldova have put their army on alert, claiming they fear military action from neighboring Ukraine and Moldova, a local news agency reported Thursday.
The Tiras news agency said that separatists in Trans-Dniester expected military activity starting from Aug. 26, the day before Moldova's independence day, but provided no details. Moldovan authorities accused separatists of trying to escalate tensions.
Trans-Dniester, a narrow strip of land squeezed between Ukraine and Moldova, is a tiny product of the fracturing of post-Soviet Europe. Russia stationed troops in Moldova in 1990, fearing that Moldova might try to reunite with Romania. The war that broke out in 1992, after Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union, left hundreds dead.
Recently, tensions rose after Moldova's pro-European government signed an association agreement with the European Union. Russia retaliated last week by banning Moldovan fruit and some vegetables, an economic blow to the poor, largely agricultural nation of 4 million.
Russia has hinted that 300,000 Moldovan workers in Russia may no longer be welcome, a worrying prospect for a country which gets 30 percent of its GDP from money sent home by people working abroad.
Russia claims Moldova is fomenting unrest in Trans-Dniester. On the Moldovan side, the fear is that Russia is stirring trouble with the aim of recreating Novorossyia or New Russia, a swath of southeastern Ukraine which was part of the Russian Empire.
"The bad part....is that Russia may try and carry out its plan of creating the so-called Novorossyia which will include Ukraine's Black Sea territories and Trans-Dniester," Oazu Nantoi, a Moldovan analyst, told The Associated Press.
Ukrainians, meanwhile, have dug a ditch along their border with Trans-Dniester, fearing 1,500 Russian troops stationed there may invade.
Pro-Russian parties are hoping that sanctions and a threat of unrest will convince many Moldovans to vote against pro-Western government in November and derail its EU plans.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.