Moldova’s Neutral Status Undermined?

Home / Cooperation with NATO / Moldova’s Neutral Status Undermined?
Vladimir ROTARI
In Moldova and abroad, an active discussion about the need to preserve the republic’s neutral status is being relaunched
The Black Sea region continues to rage. The day before yesterday, a long video call between Vladimir Putin and Joseph Biden may have slightly defused the situation, but that’s all. The positions of the two powers on most pressing issues are very contradictive, and the specific domestic political situation in the United States makes any agreements between Russia and the United States difficult to reach and extremely unstable. So, despite the slightly conciliatory messages from Washington – such as readiness to reflect on guarantees to Moscow – there is no doubt that the speed of escalation will continue to grow, and the warring parties will continue to accumulate leverages and exchange accusations through their own media networks. It is clear that the main focus will be on Ukraine, the “Russian invasion” in which the United States has been actively spreading and selling to the population and NATO partners for several months. It turns out quite successfully – even maps of a hypothetical attack and insiders appear in the European media that American intelligence data were able to convince European allies, who initially reacted with logical distrust to the whole story. Against such a tense background, conversations naturally intensify about how exactly Russia should be restrained and punished in the event of a new conflict escalation in Ukraine. Officially, Washington is still talking only about economic sanctions – however, as tough as possible (disconnecting the Russian Federation from the SWIFT system). At the same time, there are talks in the local establishment about almost nuclear bombing of Russian territory. And the well-known ex-adviser to President Trump, John Bolton, again drew attention to Moldova and the Transnistrian issue, calling for pressure on Moscow at this point: “I think that at the moment the political situation in the Republic of Moldova contributes to solving the problem. The President and the Prime Minister have a strong popular mandate and are interested in resolving this frozen conflict with Russia... First of all, I think that Transnistria is probably one of the most vulnerable frozen conflicts for the Russian Federation, especially because of its remote from Russia geographical location.” However, Washington did not forget about Moldova and the opportunities associated with it in the framework of the conflict with Russia. On the contrary, interest in our country is only increasing, which can be seen from a whole set of signs. The increase in the number of Western instructors and advisers, including in government agencies – that’s one. Building up contacts with the North Atlantic Alliance in all directions, participating in military exercises, reforming the National Army according to the NATO model – that’s two. Signals as a Congressional resolution containing demands for the immediate withdrawal of the Russian military from the territory of Moldova – that’s three. Direct arms deliveries – that’s four. The list can go on and on. Our country also confirms NATO’s increased interest. For example, the ex-Minister of Defense and ex-candidate for Deputy Prime Minister for reintegration in the unapproved governments of Natalia Gavrilita and Igor Grosu, Viorel Cibotaru, not without pride, said that the Alliance, within the framework of the partnership, provides the republic with more significant assistance than other post-Soviet countries. It would seem that this corresponds to the neutral status of Moldova, fixed in the Constitution, but the same Cibotaru does not see any particular contradictions in this – on the contrary, he considers neutrality itself to be a problem.: “Today, the very concept of “neutrality” is used solely to stop the development of the Republic of Moldova, to prevent it from becoming part of the civilized world, part of the community of European countries.” During the week, the same Cibotaru made several more resonant statements - about the presence of “direct military threats” to Moldova (from the Russian troops in the left bank, as well as local armed formations) and non-functioning neutrality due to, you will not believe, the fact that “Russia does not recognize it”. And the ex-minister considers the conclusion of a mutual defense agreement with Romania – that is, with a NATO member – to be a way to secure the country. At the same time, he referred to the precedent of Turkey, which, while in the bloc, signed a similar agreement with Azerbaijan and subsequently provided large-scale military support to Baku during the second Karabakh war on its basis. Well, a “proper” precedent. It is a fact that many of our Moldovan hawks were very inspired by how quickly and effectively Azerbaijan managed to almost completely regain control over the long-lost territories. The fact is that the neutrality of our republic has been a bone in their throat for a long time, not allowing them to join the ranks of NATO member countries at a more accelerated pace. At the same time, I note that the non-aligned status has long been interpreted not only by our experts, but also by the authorities very flexibly, and if necessary, it is completely ignored. We can recall, for example, the statements of Prime Minister Pavel Filip, who complained that neutrality was imposed on us from the outside and should not stand in the way of cooperation with NATO. These words corresponded to the deed – as we remember, under the Democrats, ties with the bloc were really strengthened, which was harmoniously combined with a sharply anti-Russian foreign policy course. However, Vlad Plahotniuc, pulling the strings, did this mostly for pragmatic reasons, believing that demonstrative anti-Russian would become a strategic commodity, the export of which would allow his regime to persist for many years, despite all the abuses. The estimation, as we remember, has fallen short. Nevertheless, the new authorities in this regard are gradually steering towards the policy of the Democrats. And although they are more cautious in their statements, in fact, the notes of the PDM have apparently been raised and are already being successfully applied. Here, of course, first of all, we pay attention to the constant highlighting of the need for the withdrawal of Russian troops (including at the UN), and attempts to combat “Russian propaganda” in the local media field, and the freezing of relations, and the aggravation of the Transnistrian conflict, and many other aspects. Taking into account the already announced priority for the development of cooperation with NATO, it seems that the topic of neutrality continued to emerge as a subject for fierce discussions and disputes. In times of the Democrats, it got to the point that at the official level there was talk of a possible revision of this status with the necessary legislative changes. It can be assumed that with the passage of time and further cooling between Chisinau and Moscow, under the PAS government, this idea will return again. In my opinion, the neutral status is the thin thread that keeps us from the epicenter of the geopolitical players’ clash in the Black Sea region. The opinions of our “Boltons” that it is allegedly being trampled by Moscow cannot stand up to any criticism. On the contrary, it is advantageous for the Kremlin to preserve it in order to maintain the status quo in this zone, since it still has enough other problems, and resources are not unlimited. That is why, at a meeting with Nicu Popescu, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a separate remark about the importance of Moldova’s non-aligned status. Also, there are no signals yet that Russia has dramatically changed its attitude towards Chisinau, even despite the new political realities in the republic. On the contrary, it is more than friendly, open to contacts, concedes, as in the case of gas. This is not at all the same as what we see in Moscow’s relations with Kiev. As for the Transnistrian settlement, there are no fundamental changes here either. Russia both supported the territorial integrity of Moldova (even when openly anti-Russian forces were in power) and still supports it. Therefore, talk of a “direct Russian threat” is not supported by facts (to believe that it may stem from a small military contingent that does not have heavy weapons and equipment, consisting mainly of local residents, is ridiculous). In fact, the only ultimatum put forward by the Kremlin is to preserve Moldova’s working neutrality, which will not allow it to finally fall into the NATO orbit. At the same time, it should be recognized that Moscow is slowly changing the model of its international behavior and, positioning itself as an exceptional force in the post-Soviet space, wants to consolidate it as a kind of buffer zone between itself and the West, where there should be no troops and weapons aimed against it. Penetration into this “vital area” will be considered a hostile step with all the consequences. Russia is beginning to act much more decisively, but in accordance with the picture of the world built by the world hegemon power, not hesitating to interfere in the affairs of any states and at any moment necessary. The Russian Federation’s requests are more modest and concern only its near prodigy, which they simply want to protect, which is quite understandable. Thus, despite the general regional instability, we can now feel more or less safe, if, of course, we are talking about hypothetical threats from the east. Only any change in our neutral status can change this situation, which, obviously, will stand up for those red lines that Moscow has drawn in bold. And in this case, the consequences can be severe: new energy crises, blocking the reintegration process with the simultaneous strengthening of support for the Transnistrian enclave and the grouping located there, the cancellation of trade privileges and the curtailment of any economic cooperation. Well, in general, everything that is currently observed in Ukraine. Is it really true that someone wants to show off, or even more so in a war on our already long-suffering land? Why should we get involved in all these battles of geopolitical titans, from which there is zero practical benefit to us? But, unfortunately, judging by the last months, the voice of reason rarely wakes up in the ruling ranks, where the ball is ruled by formulaic geopolitical attitudes and a rather one-sided view of the world. So I would not be surprised that over time, when the ruling party finally settles in power, the neutrality of the country will again “stand in the way” and under the influence of loyal experts like Cibotaru, as well as under pressure from Western partners, it will again be called into question. However, its chances of “surviving” will now be incomparably less.