Will Her “Buffer Zones” Help Maia Sandu?

Home / Analytics / Will Her “Buffer Zones” Help Maia Sandu?
The leader of the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), Maia Sandu, in one of her latest interviews with RFI Romania said that Russia “wants to keep Moldova as a buffer zone between the West and the zone it controls”. The latter, apparently, should be understood as Transdniestria, where the Operational Group of Russian Troops (OGRT) is located, ensuring the peacekeeping operation and protection of depots with old Soviet ammunition. The “buffer zone” topic was previously repeatedly discussed by experts in the context of geopolitical confrontation of the West and Russia. Every time, analysts emphasize that the Republic of Moldova is at the center of this confrontation, despite the principle of neutrality under the country’s constitution. The reason for this is called Moldova’s systemic problems, which include rampant corruption, long-standing conflict of identities, social contradictions on the issue of the strategic vector of the state’s development, shadow governing by oligarchic elites. According to Maia Sandu, the “buffer zone” is seen as a kind of hypothetical reality that Russia is trying to impose on Moldova. The statements by the PAS leader seem to repeat the concept of ‘Russian Revanchism’, designed by Western political scientists. Its point is that Moscow after the defeat in the Cold War seeks to establish itself as a regional power and strengthen its influence in the post-Soviet space. However, according to the authors of this theory, its reasons are related to the expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe, which Russia considers as a threat to its own security. But one can notice a shift of emphasis in the words of Maia Sandu: she speaks of the irrational Russian expansion that is targeted at Moldova. “Russian influence is growing tremendously. According to this scenario, the theory of the buffer zone can be preserved and deepened. This is what Russia wants – to preserve us as a buffer zone between the West and the zone it controls,” the PAS leader is convinced. At the same time, the politician is convinced that such a scenario is desirable for many Moldovan politicians, since “in the buffer zone it is easier to impose one’s own rules, break laws, remain in power against the will of the people, steal and remain unpunished”. Obviously, Maia Sandu is referring to her political rivals, whom she constantly criticizes. First of all, representatives of the Democratic Party (PDM), which today controls the government, parliament and courts. Thus, Maia Sandu puts an equal sign between Russia and the Democrats, who, following the logic of the PAS leader, seek to turn Moldova into a pad-country between geopolitical rivals. The last statement is difficult to challenge. We may only make a small but significant remark:  political elites of Moldova themselves offer the country as a “buffer zone”, and the counterparty in this deal is not Russia at all. This is evidenced by increasing rapprochement of Chisinau with NATO, which not only has an information center in Chisinau, but also involves Moldovan soldiers in operations and maneuvers in various countries, including Kosovo. The military personnel of the North Atlantic bloc, in their turn, participate in military exercises on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, are involved in annual inspections of military units near the so-called “Security Zone” of the Transdniestrian conflict. NATO specialists supervise the processes of reforming and re-equipping the national army of Moldova, providing it with equipment, components and instructions of NATO. In addition, Moldova has an agreement on military cooperation with Romania, a NATO member. This agreement creates a legal basis for indefinite stay of the Romanian armed forces on the territory of Moldova. That is, the document actually gives Romania the right to use the infrastructure, landfills and airspace of Moldova for military purposes. It is obvious that the phased pairing of the NATO military structures and the Republic of Moldova is drawing Chisinau into the space of the North Atlantic Alliance. However, this process is unlikely to end with Moldova’s membership in this military organization, such an outcome can hold great risks for NATO. The Alliance is unlikely to assume commitment to protect the Republic of Moldova from any threat, which would mean an open military clash with a possible aggressor, like Chisinau sees Russia. It is much more convenient to hide behind an ally as a shield and use its territory as a “buffer zone”. This was illustrated by the Georgian-Ossetian war of 2008, when Washington limited itself to supplying weapons and massive political and informational support to Tbilisi. Despite this, the Moldovan authorities are actively pursuing rapprochement with the military bloc, contrary to the neutrality principle enshrined in the constitution. The Democrat’s government, which received Washington’s approval in 2016 despite massive civil protests, has not only strengthened cooperation with NATO and the United States over the past two years, but also achieved a discussion of the withdrawal of Russian troops stationed in Transdniestria at the level of international organizations. Russian troops stationed in the unrecognized republic are being used by the political elites of Moldova to substantiate the thesis about the “Russian threat”. At the same time, the original cause of the Transdniestrian conflict is presented not as a result of Chisinau’s policy at the beginning of the 1980s - 90s, but as a result of Russian intervention and occupation of the legal territory of Moldova. The image of Moldova as a “victim of Russian aggression” is endorsed by the main international sponsors of Moldova’s development – the United States and the European Union (especially Romania), that is quite noticeable against the background of the geopolitical confrontation with Russia. It is not coincidental that “protection against Russian expansion” is one of the main election concepts of many political forces in Moldova. Maia Sandu, as one of the leaders of the extra-parliamentary pro-European opposition, also does not neglect the theme of “Moscow’s aggression”, especially in the context of the popular anti-Russian trend in the West. Western support is one of the main electoral resources of Sandu and her ally Andrei Nastase. Approximately half of Moldovan citizens support European integration ideas, therefore there is a tough struggle for their votes. Thus, each their interview or statement is a part of the election campaign that has not officially started yet. At the same time, struggle of the extra-parliamentary pro-European opposition and the PDM is more like competition between two job-seekers with the same CV. Who the West will eventually stake on in the ongoing race for power is the main question that both the opposition pro-Europeans and the Democrats are trying to resolve in their favor.