Since pro-Russian forces took over the Crimean peninsula, speculation has abounded that Vladimir Putin’s interest in Ukraine is far from satiated. Recent reports, for instance, show that agents sympathetic to Moscow have gained control of government offices in the city of Donetsk.
Those allegations were accompanied by startling accusations by Jewish residents that masked men were confronting them with demands that they register their possessions and pay a fee or risk deportation and property confiscation.
According to another story breaking Thursday, however, it seems the nation’s third-largest city, Odessa, could be the next major target of Putin’s expansion into eastern Ukraine. Protests have spilled over into the city of more than one million residents from violent confrontations between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Transnistria, located in nearby Moldova.
The strategic region has been courted by Putin for years as he encouraged residents to oppose Moldovan control. Russia has discussed Transnistria in public, even in a conversation with Barack Obama, indicating its importance in moving weapons and other military supplies across Ukraine.
Some experts conclude that if Russia is successful in capturing Transnistria, Odessa will soon follow suit. Such a development would effectively divide the entire nation of Ukraine.
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence chair Mike Rogers explained Russian activity in Moldova “fit the profile for the pre-deployment of additional special forces and intelligence units that engage in provocation and sabotage.”
He said residents, especially in Transnistria, are growing increasingly wary of the impending threat.
“The Moldovans are always nervous,” he noted, “but they are even more nervous these days.”
On Thursday morning, Putin issued a statement declaring his belief that Odessa, along with other regions of Ukraine, are not authentically part of the nation.
“Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in the Czarist times,” he said. “They were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there – we need to encourage them to find a solution.”
That solution, many fear, will involve Russia absorbing these cities in its ongoing campaign to increase its empire. Of the locations mentioned, Odessa – because of its size and proximity to the Black Sea – is the most troubling prospective conquest for Russian forces.
With the loss of Crimea, it became apparent that Russian forces can successfully capture Ukrainian territories – and likely will whenever they can. What is unclear, however, is where the expansion will end.
Photo Credit: Alexostrov (Creative Commons)
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom