The situation suggests that the topic of neutrality is important for ruling elites in Moldova, and therefore it is useful to conduct its primary analysis in various contexts and interrelations.
Part One: “A Unique Chance That Cannot Be Missed”
In mid-July in the Republic of Moldova, a rather wide-ranging discussion broke out on the so-called permanent neutrality of that country. Never before has this topic received so significant political support from two competing political forces. Meanwhile, the situation suggests that the topic of Moldovan neutrality is important for the ruling elite, and therefore it is useful to conduct its primary analysis in various contexts and interrelations.
The analysis is made up of two parts, which will be published separately. The first highlights positive aspects of the concept of Moldova’s neutrality and notes some benefits and acquisitions from its implementation in terms of the objectives of Moldova’s European choice, fixed at the governmental-legal level since 2009.
The second part is aimed at analyzing the possible challenges and threats for the US and Europe, which are inevitably present even in this seemingly obvious issue due to the specifics of the shadow management of political processes in Moldova and the difficult-to-forecast electoral context.
Let’s start by analyzing the positive aspects.
First of all, it is noteworthy that two political forces initiated inclusion of neutrality themes in the public Moldovan discourse. The Democratic Party, which controls the parliamentary majority and actually usurped the public bodies and administration, initiated adoption of the National Defense Strategy for 2018-2021 on 19 July 2018.
On the same day, Moldovan President Igor Dodon published his opinion on ensuring the security of the Republic of Moldova and its citizens by strengthening the constitutional status of the country’s permanent neutrality. Both political forces are directly involved in expert and media promotion of the permanent neutrality topic. Former EU diplomats and other opinion leaders actively participate in the debate, which in general is logical and rational. The European Union cannot stay away from this discussion, because it combines both potential risks for Brussels’ interests and obvious opportunities.
The topic of the Russian threat and neutrality as a response to this threat is the cornerstone of the National Defense Strategy adopted by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova for 2018-2021.
The strategy reads that “the military contingent of the Russian Federation (an operational group of Russian troops, OGRT) is stationed on the territory of the Republic of Moldova without the legislative consent of the Republic of Moldova and contrary to its constitutional norms.” The presence of the OGRT is considered by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova as a threat to national security. This approach is in the interests of the Republic of Moldova in terms of the irreversibility of its policy of rapprochement with the EU. In many respects this is the reason why the Democratic Party of Moldova is rather interested in the issue of neutrality. Vlad Plahotniuc, who refused to recognize the democratic choice of Chisinau residents who want to see the Dignity and Truth Platform Party leader, Andrei Nastase, as a mayor is looking for the most effective points of easing the relations with Brussels and Washington.
President of Moldova Igor Dodon published his response to the document adopted by Parliament. He proposes to develop a permanent neutrality concept of the Republic of Moldova and to achieve its consolidation at the international level. The politician refers to the experience of European countries, and one of the main goals and objectives of the concept is “to assist in completing the process of foreign troops’ withdrawal from the territory of the Republic of Moldova.”
In the section on the relationship between Moldova and Ukraine, Igor Dodon elaborates on his point: “Undoubtedly, along with other international partners involved in this process, Ukraine plays an important role in finding a solution to such a difficult problem as facilitating withdrawal and disposal of weapons and ammunition at warehouses of Kolbasna, as well as in creating favorable conditions to complete withdrawal of foreign troops from the territory of the Republic of Moldova (transit).”
At the same time, the President of Moldova is confident that “Russia will support the will of the Moldovan people to preserve and strengthen the neutral status of their state and take all necessary steps to ensure that the permanent neutrality of Moldova fully meets international requirements and agreements.”
On July 20, an international conference on the neutrality challenges of the Republic of Moldova was held in Chisinau. Despite the fact that the formally the event was hosted by the honorary chairman of the Democratic Party, Dmitry Dyakov, it involved a wide range of various international experts and former diplomats, including from the EU and Russia. At the event, the Democrats distributed a pamphlet with the statement by Igor Dodon, and his advisor Vasili Sova delivered a speech, linking the permanent neutrality of Moldova with the Transnistrian settlement process. After the conference, the President held a separate meeting with all participants.
So, one can draw the following conclusions from what is happening.
Firstly, the discourse on the issue of permanent neutrality shows a certain coincidence of the interests of the Democratic Party and the President, which is not such a bad symptom in conditions of constant Moldovan turbulence.
But, first of all, it is a signal from the Moldovan authorities to their international development partners about their readiness to offer them a new promising agenda to disrupt the long-standing status quo in the region with Russia’s dominant position through a military presence in the uncontrolled by Chisinau Transnistria.
Secondly, over the past few years, the Moldovan authorities have created important legal framework that consolidates at the governmental level the task of withdrawing foreign troops and ensuring international guarantees for the neutrality of this small republic.
The first agreements on limiting the transit of Russian military and weapons were reached between Chisinau and Kyiv back in 2015. Chisinau has received a real opportunity to control those arriving in the region and filtering those who come for service in the so-called operational group of Russian troops.
During 2017, Moldova prepared a legal framework for resolving the task of withdrawing OGRT and ammunition. The Decree of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova on interpretation of Article 11 of the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova (permanent neutrality) was adopted. The interpretation recognizes the deployment of any military units or military bases on the territory of Moldova unconstitutional. In the summer, the Government and Parliament of the Republic of Moldova made statements against the activities of OGRT, and a number of employees of the Russian Embassy responsible for espionage were declared persona non grata and expelled from the country. In the summer 2017 the Russian adventurous politician Dmitry Rogozin shared the same fate.
Having formed a stable domestic framework against the Russian occupation, in 2018 Moldova moved the discussion to international platforms, having achieved passing of the resolution of the UN General Assembly, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, NATO and the US Congress in recent months. Washington and Brussels provided substantial diplomatic support for these initiatives, reminding of Russia’s obligations to unconditionally withdraw troops from the territory of the Republic of Moldova.
Thirdly, taking into account the policy papers of two influential political parties in an acute consistent confrontation, the topic of neutrality of the Republic of Moldova is perhaps the only element through which they can find common ground. This opens up new opportunities for reconfiguring the positions of both parties in the context of the forthcoming parliamentary elections in early 2019.
Perhaps, precisely today we are witnessing a unique process of emergence and implementation of the RM strategy on real, rather than declarative, liberation from the illegitimate presence of Russian troops in the eastern region of the Republic of Moldova. I am confident that the European Union and the United States understand the particular nature of the situation and will be ready to provide substantial support to the development of processes in this area even in the conditions of not accepting the ruling methods of the “coordinator” of the governing coalition.
In the situation of the growing conflict between the democratic coalition and the international development partners of the Republic of Moldova, Washington and Brussels, it is extremely important to catch this quite clear signal and to compare costs and acquisitions from implementation of the proposed by Chisinau promising scenario of permanent and internationally guaranteed neutrality of Moldova.
Fourthly, this concept is extremely logical, instrumental and aimed at providing domestic and international conditions for the withdrawal of Russian troops and weapons stationed in Transnistria. The next stage of such work should be the reformatting of the tripartite peacekeeping operation on the Dniester in a police or civilian mission with international participation.
It is telling that the long-term programmatic cooperation of Moldova with NATO countries, participation in the operation in Kosovo and other forms of military-political contacts are not considered by the Constitutional Court and the authorities themselves as a threat to Moldova’s permanent neutrality.
At the same time, Russia is held responsible for the complexities in the Transnistrian problem settlement, since it is clearly stated that the withdrawal of Russian troops is the basic condition for a further final political solution. This approach is an adequate and productive strategy for the future and corresponds to what the civil society of Moldova has unsuccessfully declared for many years.
Fifthly, it is worth paying tribute to the political instinct and experience of Igor Dodon, who performs the most difficult part of the mission. He managed to find mutual understanding with Moscow on the issue of cautious monitoring of the topic through its free and non-binding discussion at an independent expert level. As it is known, Russia has refused for many years to discuss the withdrawal of troops and weapons from Moldova in any form and at various levels of discussions with Brussels and Washington.
However, I shall make it clear. The fact that Moscow signals a tolerance for a discussion about the neutrality of the Republic of Moldova and the withdrawal of troops should not delude anyone. To date, Russia is apparently ready for serious costs for the sake of increasing political investments in Igor Dodon with an eye to getting the majority of seats in the parliament by the Socialists at the future parliamentary elections. But what will happen after the elections, what understanding of the Moldovan ‘neutrality’ will prevail and whose military specialists will eventually get together on the road is a big question.
This will be discussed in the second part.
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