'Russian troops guarantee our safety': How public opinion in breakaway Transnistria region in Moldova favours the east

On the edge of Europe is a pocket of pro-Russian support which has been under close watch since the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

Transnistria is a breakaway region in eastern Moldova which is politically, economically and militarily supported by Moscow.

Neither Moldova nor the wider international community recognise its independence.

In Transnistria's capital, Tiraspol, hammer and sickle banners flutter in the wind as public opinion favours the east.

"Transnistria and Russia are one structure and they have to be united," says resident, Andrey, when asked if the Russian military should leave Transnistria.

"The Russian troops here are our guarantee of safety. While they are here, we are safe," a young woman adds.

Here, it's neighbouring country, Ukraine, that's been eyed with suspicion.

Last week, security services in the region said they'd thwarted a Ukrainian plot to murder officials including the separatist leader.

Kyiv has denied the allegations as Russian provocation.

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But the pro-Kremlin sentiment has left many people living a few miles away in pro-western Moldova feeling uneasy.

In the village of Calfa, allegiances are very different.

"I'm so close I can hear Transnistrian TV and radio. Every day they're talking about war, about the invasion of Ukraine. We don't believe them because they broadcast fake news," says Ludmila Ceaglac, the local mayor.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, they've started feeling nervous of their neighbours.

"I understand they have a big base with weapons from the Second World War and this is our biggest fear. We don't know if the weapons are active. We hope they won't come here with their weapons because Moldova has a small army," she explains.

While few analysts forecast a full-scale Russian invasion of Moldova via Transnistria, Moscow has been accused of launching a hybrid war including stirring up unrest at anti-government protests and spreading propaganda.

Last month, Moldova's President Sandu said they had uncovered plans to use foreign saboteurs to stage a coup.

Russia's foreign ministry rejected the allegations as "completely unfounded and unsubstantiated".

On Sunday, Moldovan police arrested seven people accused of instigating unrest during anti-government protests.

On a visit to the capital, the UK's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly arrived with a message of support and £10m to help fight Russian interference.

"You are not alone," he said in a meeting with his counterpart in the capital Chisinau.

"In his arrogance, Vladimir Putin has attempted to punish Moldova for doing those right things, and its incumbent on the UK to support Moldova on its journey in the right direction," Mr Cleverly added.

Ministers aren't preparing for Russian tanks to roll into Moldova but they say they are already fighting a war; a battle against Kremlin-backed disinformation and disruption aimed at spreading fear and unrest.