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U.S.-Russia Tension Spills Over Into Moldova's Victory Day

American and Moldovan soldiers commemorate the victory of the allies in World War II in Chisinau. (photo: MoD Moldova)

The Moldovan government at the last minute canceled a planned Victory Day display of American military hardware in central Chisinau after pro-Russia groups threatened to try to block the event and throw eggs at the American soldiers.

U.S. military officers and their vehicles, in the country for joint exercises with their Moldovan counterparts, displayed the equipment in the central Grand National Assembly Square on May 8, the day when most Europeans celebrate the end of World War II. The event had originally been scheduled to continue through the next day, the Victory Day celebrated around most of the post-Soviet space, but Moldova's defense ministry announced on the 8th that that would be the last day.

"The American military equipment won't be on the square tomorrow. Today is enough," said Defense Minister Anatol Salaru on May 8. "We wanted to hold the event on May 9, because it's a symbolic day for us. We wanted to bring to the square everyone who participated in World War II, and the primary participants were the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Americans asked us to invite the Russians, but we got a written refusal, so we decided to change the date."

Moldova has become a significant front in the New Cold War between Russia and the West. A pro-Western government is in power in Chisinau but it faces substantial public skepticism about integration with the West, as well as a breakaway republic in the eastern part of the country, Transnistria, which hosts about 1,500 Russian soldiers.

Salaru's May 8 announcement followed several days of controversy after the opposition Socialist Party and other pro-Russia organizations protested the potential presence of American military equipment in a Victory Day event. "We warned the American soldiers to not come to the city on May 9, where traditionally tens of thousands of people come out," said Igor Dodon, the head of the party. "You shouldn't play with the memory and feelings of people for whom Victory Day is a sacred holiday." Dodon further promised that "we are organizing protests, including throwing eggs at this equipment."

Initially, the government refused to budge. "Anti-American, anti-NATO hysteria is completely unfounded in a modern democracy and is a vestige of the cold war, foreign to our people," said President Nicolae Timofti in a statement on May 5. "I could understand if these so-called socialist patriots exhibited these sorts of patriotic feelings toward the illegal presence on the army of the Russian Federation on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, which sponsors separatism on the left bank of the Dnestr."

The U.S. embassy in the country and the American military officials carrying out the exercise have remained quiet. But one activist group put a video on YouTube of a protester confronting a U.S. defense attache, in which the American officer argues that since they were in the country at the invitation of the Moldovan government, the protesters' ire should be directed at the government, not the Americans. The embassy posted a cheery facebook update with several photos that didn't allude to the controversy: "The joint display of Moldovan and U.S. military equipment in the Grand National Assembly Square today brought out a lot of curious kids. It was a great time!"

The exercises, called Dragon Pioneer 2016, involve about 200 American soldiers and are scheduled to last until May 20. 

U.S.-Russia Tension Spills Over Into Moldova's Victory Day

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