President Putin used his visit to Chisinau to assert Russia’s role as guardian and protector of the Russian diaspora, the ethnic Russian (or sometimes just Russian-speaking) population in the independent countries of the former Soviet Union. Moldova’s Transdniester region, on the left (east) bank of the Dniester river, has a largely Russian population and a breakaway government that defies rule from right-bank Chisinau.

“Russia is prepared to participate in creating conditions in which all residents will feel secure in Moldova,” Putin rather chillingly told Moldova’s President Petru Lucinschi. A Russian military force in Transdniester already protects the breakaway regime. Although Russia has repeatedly promised removal of the troops, most recently at last November’s summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the garrison and its weaponry remain. Putin’s latest remarks indicate that Russia wants to keep its troops in Transdniester indefinitely, or to be paid again for yet another promise to bring the boys home.