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Moldova dismisses reported drone strike in breakaway enclave as provocation

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Officials in Moldova's pro-Russian, separatist Transdniestria enclave said a drone launched from Ukraine's Odesa region blew up a helicopter on military territory on Sunday, local media said, but pro-European Moldova immediately dismissed the report.

The official Moldovan body that deals with Transdniestria, and a Ukrainian official, portrayed the incident at Tiraspol, the regional capital, as a provocation designed to sow panic in the region, after Telegram channels carried video of a small object flying into a military helicopter and blowing it up.

"The reintegration bureau has contacted other government agencies and having studied the video and exchanged information,

we announce this incident is an attempt to create panic in the region," the bureau said in a statement.

"The military equipment in the video has not been operational for several years," it added. "The Moldovan authorities in contact with the Ukrainian side do not confirm any attacks on Transdniestria."

News outlet RBK Ukraine quoted Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine's GUR intelligence directorate, as saying the incident at a military unit in Tiraspol was "a Russian provocation."

Russia's RIA news agency quoted the press service of the separatist region's ministry of state security as saying there were no casualties in the explosion, but law enforcement were on the scene and had opened an investigation.

RIA said footage carried by the first television channel in Transdniestria showed the destruction of an Mi-M8T helicopter.

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in Feb. 2022 sparked fears that Moscow might seek to sweep west through southern Ukraine all the way to Transdniestria, linking up with its garrison there. Those fears faded in 2022 as Kyiv's troops beat back Russian forces to the eastern side of the Dnipro river.

Tensions have periodically surged during the war and Moldova's relations with Moscow have frayed as it has set out on the path to EU membership.

(Additional reporting; Writing by Elaine Monaghan in Washington; Editing by David Holmes)