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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Transdnestr Accused of Provocation

KISHINYOV, Moldova -- The Russian army has accused the ethnic Russian leaders of a tiny splinter republic in eastern Moldova of "political provocations against Russia," and warned it could retaliate with force.

A statement by Russia's 14th Army, read out on television in the rebel Transdnestran region where the army has been based since Soviet times, was the latest sign of deteriorating relations with the once-friendly rebels against Moldovan rule.

The Monday night statement complained that local authorities had recently passed a law transferring ownership of the army's military stores to the self-styled Transdnestran republic.

"By this law the Dnestr authorities have demonstrated their utter disrespect for Russia and its peacekeeping efforts in the region," the statement said.

It said that local Slav leaders -- who declared the region independent in 1991 because they were scared Moldova's Latin majority would merge with neighboring Romania -- would try to carry out "provocations" against the army.

The commanders of the army's units had been ordered "to liquidate those involved in provocations," the statement said. It added that "the whole burden of guilt for those illegal acts will rest on local leaders, however highly placed they may be."

The army said local leaders could no longer deal effectively with crime in their region, along the industrial east bank of the Dnestr river, but had given "complete control over it to the criminal world."

Numerous recent shootouts by local mobsters near the depots of the army's 59th mechanized infantry division would have had "grave consequences" if the army had intervened in response.

Blocked by the Dnestr militia from patrolling the streets of the local capital, Tiraspol, the army has already mined the approaches to its military depots to prevent local criminals from stealing arms.

The military commandant of Tiraspol, 14th Army Colonel Mikhail Bergman, told Reuters recently that a serious crime -- a firebombing or a killing -- was committed every night.

"Unfortunately we, the army, cannot take the guns from the criminals, because more important criminals in the (Dnestr) government hinder us from doing so," he said.

Army commander General Alexander Lebed is regarded as a hero by ordinary Dnestr residents. He is "the man who stopped the war" -- a series of battles with Moldovans which took place in the summer of 1992 and ended with hundreds of victims.

Relations between army and local authorities soured more than a year ago, when Lebed and Bergman first accused the local leaders of corruption and of killing their opponents.