Chisinau frankly says that it wants from Russia trade and gas. What will Moscow get in return?
Sergey Cheban, RTA:
Recently it became known that this autumn the Prime Minister of Moldova Maia Sandu plans to finally make the first visit to Moscow, at the invitation of her Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. Before that, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Moldova Nicu Popescu will travel to the capital of Russia in September to prepare the trip of the head of government.
After the ‘anti-oligarchic coup’, the new leadership of Moldova took a friendly position towards Moscow. The government, the Parliament, and, of course, President Igor Dodon’s camp say a lot about the need to “restore relations with Russia”. Nevertheless, what exactly the authorities of the Republic of Moldova have in mind using this elliptical phrase has not been quite clear to this day. Only the latest statements by representatives of the Moldovan government shed light on the borders of Russian-Moldovan cooperation according to Chisinau.
So, Popescu, speaking in an interview with radio Free Europe about the planned visit of the Prime Minister, said that to date there is no agreed agenda. At the same time, he frankly admitted that it is in Moldova’s interests to “normalize relations with Russia in order to export more to the Russian market”. In addition, the official indicated the desire of Chisinau to revise the gas contract – it is easy to guess why. It is interesting that in the same interview, the Foreign Minister categorically rejected the possibility of any integration of Moldova into the Eurasian Economic Union, saying that the EU remains the exclusive country’s goal.
Trade preferences, access to the Russian market, discounts on gas – generally Chisinau does not hide its clearly consumer attitude to Moscow, confirming the opinion that no major shift in the foreign policy of Moldova should be expected. More surprising is that previously, the Kremlin was sensitive about such maneuvers of post-Soviet countries, acting on the principle of ‘who is not with us, is against us’. Suffice it to recall Russia’s trade and economic sanctions of the mid-2010s, when Chisinau chose a clear vector for European integration. Now the Kremlin responds to the statements and actions of the new Moldovan authorities with surprising calmness.
All this leads to certain reflections and quite a reasonable question: what exactly has Moscow received or expects to receive from the trilateral deal with the US and the European Union on the change of power in Moldova, once it demonstrates Buddhist patience and turns a blind eye to the banal pro-Western rhetoric of Chisinau?
There may be several options. On the one hand, the Kremlin is obviously aware that the ‘either with us or against us’ approach is outdated. Eastern Europe cannot help but gravitate to the European Union, especially given that Moscow itself quite successfully approached with Brussels until 2012. To return at least a semblance of past Russian-European relations is unlikely possible without mutual concessions. Moreover, in 2013 the ideas of Eurasian integration were on the rise, which cannot be said about them now, 6 years later.
The second factor of Moscow’s favor to the Sandu government is its relative moderation. While Plahotniuc was in power and ally Dodon had quite limited powers, the Kremlin had to turn a blind eye to the cynical demarches of the PDM government, such as the deportations of diplomats and then Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin. Guided by the ‘do no harm’ principle, Moscow seriously risked its credibility in the region. Now it is the opposite: Russia is not just a partner, but also one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the new government, which will not risk repeating the sad lessons of Plahotniuc.
The third reason is the Ukrainian factor. The governments in Moldova and Ukraine have been replaced under a common anti-oligarchic slogan, and this is much better than another ‘revolution’ under anti-Russian banners. Maia Sandu is welcomed in Kyiv, and perhaps, just through Chisinau it will be possible to establish a non-public, but still working channel of dialogue with Kyiv.
Finally, the most obvious, and probably the most valuable prize of Moscow on the Moldovan track is the ‘cooling’ of the situation around the Russian troops in Transdniestria. The ‘mis-speak’ of Nicu Popescu about the civil war might have been a planned measurement of public opinion about the role of the Russian army in the conflict on the Dniester. Most likely, Moscow insisted on Chisinau’s refusal to take tough measures against peacekeepers and to discuss ammunition depots in Cobasna. Exactly this gain is perhaps the most fundamental for the Kremlin – the Plahotniuc government was close to starting serious practical steps against the Russian military. Chisinau has long been preparing for this, promoting on international platforms the idea of the withdrawal of the Operational Group of Russian Troops from the Left Bank of the Dniester. Most likely, now Chisinau will begin a non-public ‘rollback’ to a calmer rhetoric about the Russian military presence on the Dniester. A noticeable signal of the transformation that has already happened is the participation of the Moldovan military in the celebration of introduction of peacekeeping forces into the security zone of the Transdniestrian conflict, which could not be imagined under the government of the Democratic Party.
The reduction of tension around Transdniestria could become one of Moscow’s main gains in the June anti-oligarchic ‘revolution’. This may have far-reaching consequences for the resolution of the long-standing Transdniestrian conflict – and in this case, the answer to the question of Moscow’s true goals in Moldova still remains open and extremely interesting.
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