The phone conversation between the presidents of the United States and Russia and the sanctions that followed have unpredictably altered the trajectory of the degrading relations between the two powers. As a result, the continuing competition and historical “red lines” might be added by a search for the short-term coinciding interests. Moldova has every chance of becoming one of the sites to test the opportunistic cooperation between Moscow and Washington
22 months ago the “ambassadorial revolution” took place following which oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc’s personal power regime was overthrown and the coalition without a geopolitical accent was “knocked together”. Those events gave the Moldovan population new hope for the country to get out of the protracted political deadlock and economic crisis. The joint rule of antagonistic parties of Maia Sandu, Igor Dodon and Andrei Nastase was largely the result of external efforts, primarily Washington and Moscow.
As time passed, the then “turnaround” enabled through the unity of the Russian, US and EU ambassadors seems to be something unprecedented and hardly repeatable, especially considering that the shaky formation could last on the authority of international partners even less than six months and subsequently did nothing but polarized the scattered parts of the Moldovan political spectrum. In addition, the “common foe” represented by the all-powerful Plahotniuc no longer discredits the American reputation and poses no threat to the Russian interests in Moldova and, therefore, there is no need to join efforts to work together.
The current internal political situation is characterized by a protracted crisis as a result of the confrontation, headlined by the parties of incumbent President Maia Sandu and former Supreme Commander-in-Chief Igor Dodon. Moreover, the former is blatantly backed by Washington in the person of both the US Ambassador and US-controlled international organizations and NGOs, while Moscow is still investing in the latter.
The logic of confrontation is extrapolated into controlled local skirmishes, demonstrating the intention of both sides to defend their interests. In the current cycle of an exacerbated situation around Ukraine, Washington and Moscow are especially disposed to send signals and mutual warnings by all available means and maneuvers.
The Kremlin-initiated uncompromising militarization of Crimea and the regions bordering Ukraine, the military aggravation in the Donbass with the lack of progress in the work of the trilateral contact group was Moscow’s response to the international exercises in the Black Sea, the intensified discussions regarding the prospects for Ukraine’s membership in NATO and Washington’s harsh rhetoric.
The diplomatic hysteria of the European Union and its individual member countries did not impress the Russian Federation at all, but the United States revoking the previously reported intention to send its warships to the Black Sea was a kind of relief for Moscow. Meanwhile, even the current deployment of US military destroyers in the Aegean Sea with the Tomahawk-type missiles can pose a threat to the strategic targets in the Donbass, if required. Importantly, a blow can be delivered bypassing the Turkish and Crimean airspace, over the territories of Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine.
The conflict interaction and mutual adjustment in Moldova continues. A month ago, the Transdniestrian delegation to the Joint Control Commission complained about the US military equipment to have invaded into the so-called “Security Zone” of the Transdniestrian conflict (several Hummers were moving towards the Bulboaca training ground where American instructors once again conducted joint exercises with the military personnel of the national army). For several months now, Tiraspol has been complaining about problems in the peacekeeping process, as well as increasing pressure from Chisinau and Kyiv, including in the field of economy, banks and transport.
Interestingly, Moscow has dramatically changed its approach on the Moldovan track in recent weeks. First of all, at its immediate request, Chisinau on April 15 agreed to resume the JCC planned work (for the first time since last October), which was a surprise to many experts. Meanwhile, the Transdniestrian topic, either hushed up by the Russian media for a number of years or accompanied by mostly negative assessments, has regained its relevance. Information reports have been released as to the inadmissibility to impose a blockade on the region, its potential in the context of a possible military confrontation. Russian influencers speak in the spirit of refusal to part with this pro-Russian enclave. Even more, Vladimir Solovyov openly delivers a pass to the United States, comparing Transdniestria with Puerto Rico, which considers itself an associated territory of the United States.
In conditions of constant contact and competition, a certain US-Russian dialogue, definitely constrained by internal factors and a negative background, is inevitable. Therefore, a personal call from Joseph Biden to Vladimir Putin is a completely pragmatic and far-sighted step, especially in light of the need to introduce new sanctions resulting from the internal environment. The way the “phone call-sanctions-conciliatory statement” combination was performed shows that the new American administration is not going to give up the dialogue with Moscow, at least today.
At the same time, the field for maneuver and the search for points of contact is minimal due to the overly contradictory views on international relations and too deep mutual distrust, as well as the internal lobby which is boosting the confrontation.
By phone, the leaders of the two countries agreed to cooperate on issues of strategic stability and the climate agenda. It is obvious that John Kerry, in the position of the US President’s special envoy for climate issues, taking into account his political background, will be able to find ways to maintain communication with Moscow, but this will clearly not be enough, since, unlike the Joe Biden administration, the Kremlin does not consider the environment a strategic issue.
In this sense, the Russian side will seek additional directions to draw the United States into the dialogue, although one cannot count on the easing of sanctions and a global change in approaches in the medium term. Moldova may become one of the issues of pragmatic communication, where the internal political struggle will sooner or later reach its intermediate final, although even early elections do not promise political certainty and stable democratic rule.
The United States and Russia continue to participate in the 5+2 format, the restoration of which will be one of the priorities when there is a semblance of respite from the endless Moldovan political crisis. Washington and Moscow, who rely on specific Moldovan politicians, are so far ignoring this instrument of influence, but it can regain its relevance, especially for Russia, which has a higher mediator status. The Kremlin manages the peacekeeping mission in the Transdniestrian region, while the White House is pulling Moldova deeper and deeper into NATO’s orbit of influence, including through its own physical presence. However, neither side is interested in a head-on collision, which will also serve as a driver for a better communication and dealing with sensitive topics.
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