(Reuters) - Ukraine's SBU security service says illegal military groups from Moldova's breakaway Transdniestria region worked with Russian groups to stir up unrest in the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odessa, where dozens died in clashes on Friday.
It was not the first time largely Russian-speaking Transdniestria, a strip of Moldova bordering Ukraine and less than 100 km (62 miles) from Odessa, has been drawn into the crisis.
NATO's top military commander said in late March that the separatist region, which declared its independence in 1990, could be next in Russia's sights after its annexation of Crimea earlier in the month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month the people of Transdniestria, who have voted in a referendum in favour of joining Russia one day, should have the right to decide their own fate, though he stressed the need for negotiation.
Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, is seeking closer ties with the European Union, which last month said Moldovans would no longer need visas to travel to most of the bloc.
Both Kiev and Moscow have alleged outside interference in clashes that have been concentrated in the mainly Russian-speaking south-east of Ukraine.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said English was heard over the radio as Ukrainian forces sought to dislodge pro-Russian rebels from the city of Slaviansk on Friday.
"English-speaking foreigners were noted," Churkin said.
Following is a brief profile of Transdniestria:
(Reporting by Moscow and Kiev bureaux; Editing by Sophie Hares)