Cobasna: Russia’s ‘MacGuffin’ Between Ukraine and NATO

Cobasna is a geopolitical MacGuffin. The village in Transnistria, a breakaway territory of Moldova, hosts what is widely believed to be Eastern Europe's largest ammunition depot, a relic of the Cold War secured by some 1,500 Russian troops. The location of the depot - 200 kilometres from the border of a Nato member, Romania, and just two kilometres from the border of Ukraine - has guaranteed it the attention of governments and spies. Meanwhile, the audience - in this case, the people living in the area - have been mostly indifferent to its presence.

That, however, is changing as the war in Ukraine fans political turmoil in Moldova. Within the last six weeks, the leaders of Moldova and Transnistria have accused the Russian and Ukrainian governments respectively of plotting their overthrow. Cobasna has been cited in claims of geopolitical intrigue and skulduggery. This story, reported from Moldova and Ukraine, examines the credibility and context of those claims.

After a year of attritional war, both Ukrainian and Russian forces are relying heavily on Soviet-era weapons. Both sides have also been warning of ammunition shortages. Cobasna is estimated to hold some 20,000 tonnes of old Soviet ammunition. The complaints of "shell hunger" have prompted speculation that both sides are eyeing up the depot as a means of re-supplying their troops in battle. However, it is unclear if the ammunition at Cobasna is still fit for use after decades of storage. The depot has not been inspected by international observers for more than 15 years. Its current contents - the quantity and condition of the stockpile - are known only to the Russian military and its Transnistrian allies.

The depot at Cobasna contains ammunition that was intended for Soviet forces...

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