By Ignacio Ortega
Tiraspol, Moldova, Dec 2 (EFE).- While tensions flare between Russia and Ukraine, the obscure enclave of Transnistria in Moldova, which hosts over 20,000 tons of Soviet ammunition left behind at the end of the Cold War, is an overlooked powder keg sitting just a few kilometers from the Ukrainian border.
“When Moldova abandoned the USSR in 1991, we stayed. This then gave us legitimacy afterwards to pursue self-determination,” Vitaly Ignatiev, the foreign minister of Transnistria, which is not recognized by any United Nations member, told Efe in an interview.
The disputed territory, separated from the Republic of Moldova by the Dniester river and by a Russian peacekeeping force present since the end of a war that broke out in 1992, shares a 400-kilometer border with Ukraine.
Transnistria’s arsenal was built by the 14th Army of the Soviet Union but at the end of the Cold War turned into something of a weapons dump used by Soviet troops hastily withdrawing from East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland.
Nowadays it is guarded by a contingent of soldiers and Russian specialists stationed in the village of Cobasna, where journalists are not permitted.
“We inherited it from the USSR. There are different types of munitions and arms. Now it is property of the Russian ministry of defense,” Ignatiev added.
Some 20,000 tons of weaponry was destroyed or withdrawn between 2000-04, but Transistrian authorities halted the process as relations with Chisinau deteriorated.
Moldova’s president Maia Sandu voiced his concerns at the UN General Assembly in September, saying the presence of Russian troops and weapons was a “threat” to the region.
The Academy of Sciences of Moldova has claimed that in the event of an explosion at the arsenal, the stored ammunition had the potential to release as much power as the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima in World War II.