Romania Will Help Moldova Gain a Foothold in NATO

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Vladimir ROTAR Recently, Chisinau refused to adopt a law on the neutral status of Moldova, intensified cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance and increased information pressure on Moscow regarding the withdrawal of Russian troops from its territory In recent months, the Moldovan society is focused on a dynamic internal political struggle, as well as world crises, such as the oil war and the coronavirus epidemic. Against this background, interest in other events, for example, in the external perimeter of Moldovan politics was rather low. And in vain - the processes taking place there are likely to have much more far-reaching consequences for the country than the current division of ministerial portfolios and financial flows. After the change of Vlad Plahotniuc’s power in the middle of last year, one of the main foreign policy intrigues was the fate of Moldova’s integration into NATO. Under the leadership of the PDM leader, integration progressed rapidly: army reform according to NATO standards, regular participation of the Moldovan military in training under the auspices of the organization, opening of Alliance facilities in Moldova like the Communications Bureau. This was due to objective reasons, because cooperation with NATO structures was one of the pillars of good relations with the United States and, as a consequence, of international legitimacy of the Plahotniuc regime. In this regard, some analysts expected a “turn of the trend” after June 2019, taking into account the Party of Socialists’ entry into the ruling coalition, which at the level of its basic program advocated ending interaction with NATO. And the pro-European ACUM bloc didn’t pedal this topic much, giving priority to the issues of reforming the country and the fight against corruption, and in foreign policy – to attracting donor assistance. The same period was marked by a certain diversification of Chisinau’s contacts in the defense sphere, for example, a meeting with Sergei Shoigu. Towards the end of the year, the socialists, having initiated a vote of no confidence in the Sandu government, completely gained full power in the country, which, in theory, jeopardized at least the volume and quality of Moldova’s Euro-Atlantic efforts. However, the implementation of the most radical scenarios did not happen. Back in November, right after the PSRM-ACUM coalition collapse, the new Minister of Defense, Victor Gaiciuc, assured the head of the NATO Liaison Office in Moldova that Moldova’s interaction with organizations would continue, and also highly appraised the Individual Action Plan “Partnership for Peace RM-NATO” (IPAP). It is interesting that in October 2019, the post of Deputy Secretary General of the Alliance was taken by Mircea Geoana, an ex-speaker of the Senate and a former Foreign Minister of Romania. Some experts associated with this appointment a possible increased role of the Moldovan direction for NATO, which, in the face of renewed rivalry between the US and Russia in our country, will become one of the priorities for the medium term. And, indeed, in a short time Mircea Geoana has already met with representatives of the Republic of Moldova twice. In February, he reaffirmed Alliance’s commitment to bilateral partnership during the meeting with MFAEI Secretary of State Gheorghe Leuca, and also discussed with him the implementation of assistance package to strengthen NATO’s defense and security capabilities. A few days ago, he held talks in Brussels with the main Moldovan diplomat, Aureliu Ciocoi, where the latter expressed Chisinau’s interest in continuing “practical cooperation” with the North Atlantic Alliance. In particular, he expressed his readiness to identify priority areas for cooperation in 2020-2022 in the framework of the new Individual Action Plan. Of course, Geoana did not fail to indicate the organization’s support in reforming and modernizing the republic’s armed forces. Such a dynamic enhancement of cooperation with NATO by a political force that previously had a very aggressive stance towards the bloc should not be surprising. Igor Dodon and the socialists, being to a certain extent in international isolation, follow the path paved by the democrats, using Euro-Atlantic integration to gain approval for their rule from abroad. Washington, apparently, favorably looks at the steps taken by Chisinau and is ready to make concessions, but requires unconditional manifestations of loyalty in return. This most probably caused the failure in parliament of the draft law on the permanent neutral status of Moldova, which was recognized as not relevant, and increased information pressure on the grouping of Russian troops on the territory of the Republic of Moldova. Chisinau traditionally uses the issue of Russia’s military presence either to receive dividends in the West, or to send certain messages to Moscow. In this case, both options seem to be in place. It is characteristic that the need for the withdrawal of troops in the last month was spoken not only by members of the technocratic government - Ion Chicu, who called it the “primary goal”, and Aureliu Ciocoi, but even by the president himself. On March 2, the anniversary of the Nistru conflict outbreak, Igor Dodon announced that after ammunition in Colbasna is evacuated, Russian troops would also have to leave the left bank. In addition, he questioned the prospects of a peacekeeping operation under the auspices of Russia. Thus, the “balanced” foreign policy of the current leadership of the country is clearly tending towards Euro-Atlantic direction. The Moldovan authorities use Washington’s practical interest in this region in their favor, increasing their own legitimacy in the eyes of foreign partners, especially in the West. Given the actual refusal to fix a neutral status on the one hand, and building up contacts with NATO on the other, in the future we can expect the opening of completely new horizons for bilateral cooperation. Bucharest will surely help Chisinau in this, having now the opportunity through Mircea Geoana to directly influence the Alliance’s agenda and strategy. Therefore, despite the entrenched reputation of the socialists and Igor Dodon, it can be stated with confidence that Moldova’s Euro-Atlantic prospects are not in danger at the moment.