Moscow offers to Chisinau classic choice between Transdniestria and full European integration
Dorin Mocanu, RTA:
On August 24, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu paid a visit to Moldova. The day before Moldovan politicians considerably warmed up the situation around the trip, apparently, forgetting what it’s like to receive Russian guests at this level. Moreover, last time the Republic of Moldova did not extend hospitality, deporting the then Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin. A lot of speculation has started up in the expert and journalistic environment – everyone is trying to see secret meanings in the arrival of Shoigu.
Let us turn to the facts. The main message that brought Shoigu in Moldova is expected (and overdue) Russia’s willingness to reopen the issue of ammunition in Cobasna in Transdniestria, and proceed to their disposal, interestingly, by their own specialized means. It is obvious that the decision was prepared long ago and waited in the wings, it was given to the Moldovan President to voice as the main actor in the reset of relations between Moscow and Chisinau.
It is noteworthy that after the visit, the Russian side neither in public statements nor on the official website of the Ministry of Defense commented on the issue of ammunition in Cobasna thus purposefully left it to the domestic political debate in Moldova. Therefore, Moscow’s next practical steps probably depend on the reaction of politicians from the ACUM bloc, as the right wing of the Moldovan authorities in security matters is traditionally oriented towards Washington. Maia Sandu’s camp has not yet spoken out on the Russian proposals, which indicates ongoing consultations with the Americans. This question has been certainly raised at today’s meeting of Sandu with National Security Advisor of the United States John Bolton, after which the U.S. representative has made several discreet, but meaningful statements about Washington’s desire to see Moldova truly independent, in this connection, the cooperation between the U.S. and the Republic of Moldova in the security and economy sphere will continue.
It turns out that the Kremlin threw in the initiative to begin demilitarization of the region and now expects symmetrical actions by the US and the EU. In this case to conceal their interests, Moscow has chosen a clearly lingering, even slow multi-year strategy for the disposal of ammunition in which it can assess the readiness of Washington and Brussels to freeze its military-political expansion to the East and to consolidate on the Prut.
It is telling that throughout his visit Sergei Shoigu remained on the right bank of Moldova, and even the meeting with the Transdniestrian leader took place in Bender. Whether this is a deliberate gesture is not completely clear, because in politics nothing happens just like that. The agenda with which Sergei Shoigu visited Transdniestria is also largely symbolic. Besides meeting the leadership of the region, the Russian Minister presented awards to representatives of the peacekeeping contingent and made a number of statements about no alternatives to the existing operation. However, no inspection visits to the territory of the Operational Group of Russian Troops and even more so at the depots in Cobasna, as it turned out, took place. An exclusively ‘peacekeeping agenda’ can be seen as an indicator of Moscow’s still restrained position on revising the current status quo and its military presence in the region.
The results of the Russian ‘military’ visit to Chisinau suggest simple conclusions.
It is obvious that from Moscow’s point of view, the solution of security issues is inextricably linked to Moldova’s foreign policy guidelines and development vector. Demilitarization, first of all, of the Transdniestrian territory and the subsequent neutral status of Moldova assumes a static ‘buffer’ situation in the republic, where the interests of leading international players are balanced.
In this regard, it is interesting that the territories that are not covered by NATO, as a rule, do not get into real integration projects. The most striking example is the European Union, because to join the EU you first need to enter the North Atlantic Alliance. It is no secret that Western capital and investment need proper protection, so they try not to go beyond the common space of collective security, which NATO provides.
Thus, the Moldovan elites come close to a very difficult, but fateful choice for themselves. Hard and non-obvious decisions are on the scales: either to increase further integration with the European and transatlantic community at the cost of the gradual loss of some territory under the military care of Russia, or to unite the country, but to freeze in the status of ‘border’ territory. In a sense, Moscow offers to Chisinau classic choice between Transdniestria and full European integration. Although this thesis is overused by Russian officials, and in general seems irrelevant in 2019, Chisinau will still have to choose and make a decision on a particular path. All the more, Moscow, and Brussels and Washington have long been waiting for a certain autonomy and “genuine independence” of the RM. As the experience of Europe shows, even the most sensitive and loyal nurturing of Moldova imposes enormous financial and image costs on its babysitters. Therefore, Chisinau is inevitably approaching the time to make a choice on its own – and it’s unclear whether it will make it.
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