Chisinau Preparing for Escalation on the Dniester

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The past year has seriously increased the degree of tension in relations between major powers and regional players. 2019 promises to be no less intense.

Moldova, whose authorities regularly criticize the Russian Federation, especially its military presence in Transdniestria, is ready to contribute. The ruling Democratic Party every year inflames the discussion of this topic. Against the background of demands to change the format of the peacekeeping operation on the Dniester, Moldovan officials remember the “war with Russia” in 1992 and fear the Russian threat in the present.

By the beginning of 2019, Moldova has completely lost the trust of the European Union and faced the threat of a severe economic crisis. Under these conditions, the only opportunity to make a “profit” both at the internal and external level is the topic of regional security. The PDM will stir up the issues of war and peace in order to attract money and support from abroad, win the elections and force the solution of the Transdniestrian issue. Despite continuous criticism inside and outside the country, Plahotniuc and his party remain useful partners of the US and the EU in the fight against Russian influence in the region. Examples are easy to find: in recent years, the Moldovan authorities have expelled Russian diplomats, banned entry of politicians and public figures from the Russian Federation, restricted broadcasting of Russian media, etc. At the same time, Moldovan politicians and experts regularly remind the world of the threat coming from Russia. Such measures lead to a gradual narrowing of Russia’s influence and presence in the country, which the Moldovan leadership has tried to use to compensate for the image losses from the failed democratic reforms in recent years. For a long time, the role of bastion surely brought international support and funding to Moldova. But credibility has disappeared: Europe made claims to the Moldovan authorities that are inconsistent with their future political life and froze funding. In these critical conditions, Chisinau has to raise rates, on the one hand, strengthening the pledges of its endless loyalty to Europe, and on the other, intimidating its partners with various threats from the East, deliberately escalating tensions. Provocation in the spirit of the incident in the Kerch Strait could be next. There is a simple and correct rationale behind: no matter if Brussels does not like the current Eastern European political regimes, it will inevitably support them in an open confrontation with Moscow. In this case, the authorities of the Republic of Moldova can count on understanding and finances, including for the modernization of military bases near the Dniester, projects for the forced reintegration of the territory of Transdniestria, etc. Well aware of this, Vlad Plahotniuc has already monopolized the right to use anti-Russian rhetoric. Speaker Andrian Candu oversaw the adoption by the RM Parliament of the resolution on withdrawal of Russian troops, Prime Minister Pavel Filip raised this issue at the UN General Assembly, and the Constitutional Court controlled by Plahotniuc declared the Left Bank occupied territory. Even the chief negotiator with Tiraspol Cristina Lesnic brought the problem of Russian aggression to the international level at a meeting with colleagues from Georgia and Ukraine, and then recalled the war with Russia in 1992. Monopoly on the topic of “Russian hybrid war” has become a competitive advantage of the PDM over political opponents. Successes in the field of fighting the Russian threat give the Democrats hope that during the parliamentary elections they will be able to return the favor of Western partners. As the elections are approaching, the authorities are increasingly probing the ground for a sharp weakening of Russian influence both on the local and international platforms. The subject is always the same – Transdniestria. Thus, the final statement of the OSCE Ministerial Council on the Transdniestrian issue hints at the need to discuss the security issue and political status of the region. At the same time, Chisinau’s interest in warehouses with Russian weapons on the territory of the “PMR” is growing. Deputy Prime Minister for reintegration Lesnic and experts loyal to Plahotniuc periodically declare the need to admit representatives of Chisinau and international organizations there. It is telling that Chisinau is already moving from words to deeds – it is understandable since the stakes in the upcoming elections for those in power are higher than ever. On the one hand, the leadership of the Republic of Moldova is trying to block activities of the Moscow peacekeeping mission on the Dniester. In 2017, after the expulsion of five Russian diplomats from Moldova, activities of the Joint Control Commission were almost blocked, and the Moldovan authorities will easily repeat this trick. On the other hand, Chisinau continues to talk about the need to reformat the operation into a civilian mission, and its instability will only give more credence to the statements. Warehouses in Cobasna, peacekeepers, security zone are sensitive points of Moscow, which Chisinau hits over and over again, testing patience and possibility of a response maneuver by Moscow. The sudden promotion of the theme “war with Russia in 1992” by the Deputy Prime Minister Lesnic is an artillery softening-up of a new level, which indicates Chisinau’s readiness to go to the limit in case of negative trends. Plahotniuc is ready to take risks – the temptation to solve all the problems in one fell swoop and ensure his own survival on the Moldovan political Olympus is overwhelming. Besides, the elections in neighboring Ukraine are just around the corner – there they can’t do without Russia’s accusations of military aggression and interference in Kyiv’s policy, and therefore under certain circumstances the current regimes of Ukraine and Moldova will be able to jointly play the “Russian threat” card as their last argument.