Opinion: Moldova Treads on Thin Ice in Relations with Russia

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If Chisinau continues to opt for the type of relations with Moscow that the Association Trio colleagues have now, this may lead to irreversible processes with a bitter end.
Sergiu CEBAN, RTA: Tomorrow, Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Nicu Popescu is going on a business trip to the Russian Federation. His Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov said in the mid-October that the Foreign Minister was expected in Moscow in November, expressing his desire to discuss in detail their mutual relations, which almost completely deteriorated due to disputes over a new gas contract. Speaking about the upcoming visit of the Moldovan guest, the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said that at the talks the ministers will consider “topical issues of bilateral cooperation with an emphasis on the topic of interaction between the foreign ministries of the two countries”. It is also planned to discuss the main global and regional issues that affect the interests of Moldova and Russia. They will also pay attention to cooperation within the framework of key international organizations, primarily the UN, as well as regional integration formats: the CIS, the EAEU and the BSEC. The Transdniestrian settlement will certainly be discussed as well. On the eve of the trip, Popescu managed to meet with the Russian ambassador to Chisinau Oleg Vasnetsov and pre-talk about the development of Moldovan-Russian relations. As noted in press releases, the diplomats confirmed the of both countries’ readiness to further promote political dialogue at various levels, deepen trade and economic cooperation and intensify cultural and humanitarian exchanges, including through organizing joint events. The trip itself symbolically coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation of November 19, 2001 between Vladimir Voronin and the current Russian President Vladimir Putin. Probably, the ministers should also assess to what extent Chisinau and Moscow managed to implement this document and whether its content reflects the real situation in relations between the countries after two decades. A separate point of the trip will be the preparation for the next meeting of the intergovernmental commission, the Moldovan co-chair of which is the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is expected that the commission will meet before the end of November, first of all, to consider the accumulated package of problems in the energy sector. In this regard, Chisinau will propose to sign an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in this area. According to some experts, such a document may actually document energy dependence on Moscow and deprive us of the opportunity to activate the process of energy sources diversification. All these formal claims and visits, in fact, cover up the absolute void that has formed in Moldovan-Russian relations after the pro-presidential party came to power. It seems that the ideal scenario for the new leadership would be to get the whole array of necessary concessions from Moscow (on gas, on exports, on migrants, on reintegration and so on) and hang a barn lock on this direction for years to come. This proves several signal moments at once. For example, the vacancy of the post of Moldovan ambassador to Russia. This fact, firstly, indicates the lack of certainty and understanding of what “tone” we plan to communicate with Russia in the near future, and, secondly, indicates the difficult nature of this communication right now. Moreover, despite the openness of the Russian side, the prospects for high-level visits are still very vague. Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita said the other day that she has no plans to go to Moscow so far, at least until the intergovernmental commission is held which should elaborate fundamental decisions on a number of sectoral areas. Maia Sandu whose stance is almost the same stated that it will be possible to talk about a meeting with Vladimir Putin only after thorough preparations. Moscow, oddly enough, takes an extraordinary interest in the Moldovan leadership, with enviable regularity signaling its willingness to build mutual contacts. Meanwhile, it seems that the Kremlin decided to use the gas crisis to implement the shock tactics to look at how the new Moldovan authorities will behave and act, as well as to track the reaction of Chisinau’s Western partners. In that respect, it is characteristic that ahead of Nicu Popescu’s visit to Moscow, a targeted message of support was received from Washington. In particular, one of the Democratic Party representatives initiated to consider a resolution in support of the Moldovan government, which, among other things, calls on Russia to withdraw its armed forces from the left bank of the Dniester and set a special status for the region. The document also states that the United States is ready to endorse the integration of our republic into the Western community, the deepening of relations with the European Union and the development of ties with the transatlantic partners of the United States. The Transdniestrian problem, certainly, stands out and the tough gas talks have once again revealed Moscow’s specific positions on this issue. The coming to power of pro-European forces prompts the Kremlin to accept new realities, but at the same time try to win back the lost ground. There is a feeling that Moscow is serious about negotiating the Moldovan dossier with key international players and will again seek to offer the Western capitals a “big package deal” on Moldova. In the current situation, any international experiments around our country, even implying good prospects for restoring the territorial integrity, look risky. Therefore, it is important for our authorities to decide on the extremely cautious tactics in a conversation with the Kremlin, since patience and openness of the latter has its limits. If Chisinau proceeds with promiscuity, alienation and narrow-mindedness, opting for the type of relations with Moscow that other Associated Trio colleagues have today, this may lead to irreversible processes with a bitter end.