Why Is the US Equipping Moldova with Weapons?

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Vladimir ROTAR
The increasing defense budget of Moldova, regular participation of the National Army in exercises under the auspices of NATO, direct arms deliveries from the United States and other peculiar developments in the military sector evoke the obvious question: what are our armed forces preparing for?
A valuable asset The US withdrawal from Afghanistan and pacifist remarks by President Joseph Biden gave many a false impression of a new round of American isolationism, which basically does not correspond to reality. Although inglorious, the end of the Afghan campaign is largely in the interests of Washington, which has long been willing to get rid of the colossal financial costs of the operation. Meanwhile, the focus of the US attention, as the creation of AUKUS suggests, is slowly shifting towards the Asia-Pacific theater amid the growing confrontation with China. Despite this, Europe will undoubtedly continue to generate interest in the White House for quite some time, amid the US current attempts to rebuild the bridges that were “set on fire” under Donald Trump with the key NATO allies on the continent. The goal is clear - to pull the bloc together so that to effectively contain the Russian Federation. In this regard, the Black Sea region remains one of the most important geostrategic zones, where Russia and the United States are actively “building muscles”, reinforcing their own land and naval groupings, as well as increasing patrolling of the water area. With the “Crimean aircraft carrier” in its arsenal as a trump card, the Kremlin has so far managed to maintain parity of forces without much effort. On the other hand, it also has obvious vulnerable points, one of which is in our country. Therefore, Moldova, which at first glance has a minimal military potential and importance, is by no means the last asset. It is no wonder, then, that since the 2000s our republic has been involved in close defense (is it really so?) cooperation with the West, at the level of both the North Atlantic bloc and its individual members, primarily the United States and Romania. Reforming the army according to the “NATO model” So, since the 2000s, units of the national army have been regularly involved in various US and NATO trainings in Europe, and the frequency of such participation has only increased over time. In 2006, Moldova received the first individual partnership plan with the Alliance, which was subsequently regularly updated. In 2012, despite the neutrality set forth in the constitution, our country was given the status of a partner within the framework of the “Global Peace Operations Initiative”, developed and funded by the American government. It was the Initiative that gave Washington the legal basis for the subsequent process of retraining our armed forces. Besides, the only NATO peacekeeping operation in which Moldova participates is the KFOR mission in Kosovo, where our unit consists of only 41 soldiers. The US is also engaged in improving the Moldovan military infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were invested to modernize the Bulboaca training base, where, among other things, facilities were built “to practice actions in urban conditions”. The States also makes a vital contribution to the purchase of military equipment by the National Army: since 2015, annual assistance in the amount of $12.75 million has been provided through the Foreign Military Financing program. This money is used to purchase, as it doesn’t take much to figure out, American hardware and equipment. The strengthening of the Moldovan army in recent years has taken place exclusively thanks to the US support and since 2019 - under their direct supervision (thanks to the appointment of expert advisor Karen Bonaby to the Department for Reforms of the Ministry of Defense). And it has not gone unnoticed: in 2019, Moldova for the first time appeared in the Global FirePower (GFP) rating of the world’s armed forces. After a new power structure had been formed in Moldova, relations with the United States and NATO were officially declared as one of the main priorities of Chisinau’s foreign policy. It makes sense, because Washington is in fact one of the designers of the current regime. Ex-US Ambassador Dereck Hogan personally paved the road to it by numerous official and not so much meetings, including at the CEC. And recently we have already seen the first sign of a new stage of military cooperation between the two countries – the direct American weaponry supply brought to the capital by a US military aircraft. It was delivered according to the development and transformation plan for the national army within the framework of the so-called “Initiative for the Construction of Defense and Security”, coordinated by the notorious NATO liaison office in Chisinau. As the official press releases noted, the delivery will serve to “increase capabilities and interoperability ... in international peacekeeping operations”. The kind of weapons that our military received is not disclosed, but experts suggest that it could be light armored vehicles, small arms, anti-tank grenade launchers, ammunition, communications and other equipment. In total it will cost $ 5 million, and this time we’re not talking about “charity”: Chisinau will have to pay up. But this is an ordinary thing for Washington - to supply its allies with the no longer needed weapons for their own money. All this works out quite well with the increase in defense spending in Moldova itself: over the past 10 years, it has quadrupled, from 223 million lei in 2011 to 914.5 million in 2021. Mutual Benefits Certainly, the country’s status formally remains neutral, although participation in NATO military exercises, foreign officers in the defense department staff and direct supplies of weapons barely “fit” into it. However, our republic will hardly become a full member of the North Atlantic bloc in the foreseeable future. After all, it is not in the habit of the Alliance to take such problematic “passengers” on board. On the other hand, this does not prevent them from using these countries for their own purposes due to various side mechanisms, like the already mentioned partnership plans. But what goals can the gradual militarization of Moldova pursue? First, they really want to see more from the republic in terms of participation in various operations under the auspices of NATO. The small contingent in Kosovo is hardly considered an adequate contribution taking into account its potential. Secondly, most likely, there is a goal to achieve a certain parity with the army of the separatist enclave in Transdniestria and the group of Russian troops located there. It is clear that the Moldovan army is unlikely to ever become a powerful independent stakeholder, but it is quite capable of creating tension within its small area. Thirdly, involving Chisinau in defense cooperation networks, the United States ultimately draws Moldova into the orbit of its pole of geopolitical confrontation with Russia. As you can see, the electoral processes being over, the authorities again begin to promote the topics of the Russian troops removal from Transdniestria, the peacekeeping operation transformation, as well as destruction of Russian weapons depots, thereby building a platform to completely eliminate Russian influence in the republic as a whole, and in the left bank in particular. For Chisinau itself, military interaction with the United States and participation in anti-Russian actions was of traditional nature until recently offering quite tangible benefits (this was especially vivid during the reign of the Democratic Party). First of all, it was an opportunity to demonstrate their absolute loyalty and earn the American partner’s favor which was used to cover up blatant failures in implementing the European reforms. Given the current successes of PAS in this field, it can be assumed that Plahotniuc’s old training manuals won’t have to sit on the shelf for very long.