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Another Crimea? Ukraine’s neighbor asks to join Russia

Moldovan region wants to join Russia
Moldovan region wants to join Russia

As Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a treaty on Tuesday making Crimea part of Russia, a little-known region in neighboring Moldova has also pleaded to join the country.

Russian loyalists in the breakaway region of Trans-Dniester, which shares a border with Ukraine, asked the parliament in Russia to write new laws that would allow them to join the country.

(Read more: No one supports military response: Ukraine PM)

The Trans-Dniester region split from Moldova around 1990 and made a failed attempt at independence in 2006, when it held a referendum that was unrecognized internationally.

The region did not want to split from the Soviet Union at the time of its collapse and has now requested unity with Russia.

Otilia Dhand, vice president at advisory and intelligence firm Teneo Intelligence said Trans-Dniester has been asking to join the Russian Federation for two decades, so now is an opportune moment to ask again.

Moldova, Eastern Europe, including breakaway region of Trans-Dniester
Lonely Planet Images | Getty

Dhand said up until now the Kremlin had shown little interest in absorbing the region as it offers little strategic and economic benefits.

"There are 550,000 citizens of citizens of Trans-Dniester who mostly also claim other citizenships. There are about 150,000 of them that claim dual citizenship with Russia and many others claim Ukrainian citizenship or Romanian so it is kind of a mixed picture," Dhand told CNBC.

(Read more: Soc Gen CEO: I am committed to Russia)

"Russia has roughly 1,000 soldiers based there and also some ammunition and equipment that comes with it. They are not such a substantial force as they are in Crimea and Russia does not have common borders with Trans-Dniester, so it would be difficult to service as a territory," she said.

"If they were interested in tactically taking it over – it would just really be for show. Should Russia choose to take Trans-Dniester over, it would be quite intimidating for Ukraine," she added.

Speaker of the high council, Mikheil Burla sent a written address to a speaker in Russia's Duma, the lower house, asking him to consider legislation that would allow the non-recognized republic to become part of Russia, according to media reports.

The President of Moldova Nicolae Timofti has warned that any move to enable the mainly Russian speaking region to join Russia would be a "mistake".

(Read more: Don't change Ukraine's borders: Swedish minister)

"This is an illegal body which has taken no decision on inclusion into Russia," Reuters cited Timofti as saying at a news conference.

"If Russia makes a move to satisfy such proposals, it will be making a mistake," he said.

A Trans-Dniestrian soldier
Yoray Liberman | Getty Images

Russia's decision to sign a treaty to annex the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, after a referendum held under Russian military occupation showed overwhelming support for the move, has further damaged relations with the West.

(Read more: Ukraine Fin Min: We're broke but we won't default)

The United States and the EU imposed travel bans and asset freezes against a number of officals from Russia and Ukraine following Sunday's referendum and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Moscow's action a "land grab".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a telephone call that such sanctions were unacceptable and threatened "consequences", without going into detail.

Trans-Dniestrian citizens: A 'mixed picture'

Trans-Dniester is recognized as part of Moldova by the U.N. rather than as an independent state, but the region is self-governed and runs its own institutions.

Moldova has a population of approximately 3.56 million. Crimea has 2.3 million people compared to Trans-Dniester, the thin strip of land between the Dniester river and the Ukraine border, which is populated by approximately 550,000 people and has its own currency, the Trans-Dniester rouble.

At the time of the collapse of the USSR, Moldova as a constitutive republic of the USSR wanted independence but Trans-Dniester wanted to stay with Russia. There was a short, but bloody war in 1992, but the issue has never been fully resolved.

(Read more: Risk of a bank run heightens in Ukraine)

Teneo's Dhand said many citizens living in the region have as many as three passports: a Trans-Dniesterian one which is not recognized, a Russian one and potentially one other from "whichever other country allows them to have one. So it is complicated to define each and every person, where they belong,"she said.

The referendum held in Trans-Dniester in 2006 resulted in about 97 percent of the population voting for independence and to join Russia.

By CNBC's Jenny Cosgrave: Follow her on Twitter @jenny_cosgrave

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Moldovan region wants to join Russia
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