Opinion: Sandu's Participation in the Crimean Platform Is a Challenge to Moscow

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During the inaugural summit of the Crimean Platform, Maia Sandu stated the illegal annexation of the peninsula and became one of the signatories of the declaration calling for a tougher sanctions policy towards Russia

Vladimir ROTAR, RTA: Today, Ukraine is pompously celebrating its 30th anniversary. Literally the day before, the global community witnessed one of the highlights of the festive program - a foreign policy innovation in the form of the so-called Crimean Platform. As conceived by Kiev, it should become a functional international forum, with representative offices in different countries that will develop and implement various steps to enable a peaceful return of the peninsula to Ukraine. Much has been reported about the Crimean platform for quite a while. Everything indicated that this project, initiated and promoted personally by President Volodymyr Zelensky, was given an important role. The latter, in turn, called this forum the first real attempt to regain the territory lost in 2014. For many months, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has been striving to maximize the representativeness of the upcoming event. As a result, this goal was achieved, albeit with reservations. On the one hand, the platform's first summit was attended by delegations from 46 countries and international organizations, including the United States, most European states, as well as the EU and NATO. On the other hand, the most "respectable" participants downgraded their level of presence significantly by delegating a minister, like the United States, or even an ambassador. There were not so many heads of state. Zelensky himself explained this by the fact that many countries simply did not want to spoil the already strained relations with Moscow. Against this background, there were many speculations in Moldova as to Moldova's level of representation at this summit and whether Maia Sandu would dare to go there, especially given a personal invitation from the Ukrainian counterpart in her hands. As I suggested, our president did take a decision to attend the forum. Moreover, speaking from the rostrum, she, without mincing words, called the events of 2014 an "illegal annexation" and "revisionist policy". In general, we cannot say that the events were developing in an unexpected way, especially considering the high degree of importance our President attaches to relations with Ukraine as one of the most reliable companions in the arduous journey towards the European integration. Nevertheless, this trip and the speech clearly run counter to the stated goals to achieve healthy relations with Moscow. After all, the Russian Federation has repeatedly made it clear as to Kiev's initiative. Yesterday's event was also dubbed the "club of Russia's enemies", and even the "anti-Russian sabbath". On the day of the summit, the Kremlin reaffirmed that it considers it "extremely unfriendly." Earlier, through the mouth of the Foreign Ministry's official representative, it was stated that Moscow would regard all this as an encroachment on its own territorial integrity. Clearly, Moldova faced an extremely difficult dilemma right from the very start because it did not want to offend either Kiev or Moscow. Perhaps, a compromise option would be to lower the level of representation, as has been done by Western European states, at least to the level of Prime Minister or Speaker. However, despite the largely ceremonial nature of the presidential post, the head of state, whatever one may say, is the republic's main face right now and her participation is a demonstrative step and even a challenge against Russia in many ways. Yet, the moment chosen is extremely inappropriate. The elections have just completed, with the defeat of the pro-Kremlin allies and a confident win of the pro-Western PAS. The country's new leadership, as it seemed, decided not to disrupt the eastern vector roughly and try to build pragmatic relations with Moscow. The sudden visit of Vladimir Putin's deputy chief of staff, his meeting with Sandu and subsequent statements to the press created the impression that there was some prospect for a dialogue with such attitudes. And then, a few days later, Sandu goes to the forum, where she signs a declaration, which among other things states the violation of human rights in Crimea and the need to reinforce the sanctions policy. In this regard, it should be remembered that our today's "wish list" for Russia is quite long and, most importantly, each issue in it is extremely important for the residents of the republic. These include gas discounts, enhanced export opportunities for Moldovan products to the Russian market and better conditions for labor migrants in the Russian Federation. On top of that is a whole set of difficult problems associated with the Transdniestrian conflict, including the Russian troops withdrawal and the ammunition disposal on the left-bank. Moscow, considering the previous years' experience and taking into account the definitely pro-Western reputation of the current government, is unlikely to be in a hurry to make gifts to Chisinau. Kozak voiced that directly. After all, the pragmatic relationship that PAS is talking about do not imply gift-giving. One way or another, you will have to "pay" for everything. One of the cheques that the Moldovan authorities could draw is a more or less calm stance on Crimea. For example, "We recognize the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but we will not join the efforts to return the peninsula." However, despite all the circumstances, Moldova nevertheless decided to get involved in the geopolitical game, despite the fact that the geopolitical actors themselves either completely ignored the event or got rid of it through the formal participation of their lower level representatives. It is clear that the issue of territorial integrity is not an empty phrase for our country, and the desire to express solidarity with a neighboring country, which also has a serious internal conflict, is understandable. On the other hand, it turns out that, while respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Moldova does not recognize that of the Russian Federation. Whatever the international community's attitude to the events of 2014, Crimea is now a de facto Russian region, and no one denies that. There is no doubt that such a cavalry foreign policy attack performed by the head of state will have implications for Moldovan-Russian relations. At the very least, Moscow will now think twice about whether to meet Chisinau halfway in issues raised at the Sandu-Kozak meeting. The main thing now is that the Kremlin does not question the territorial integrity of Moldova itself, as a "reciprocal curtsy".