It is likely that precisely Moldova and Ukraine’s factor will be the primary obstacle to a major breakthrough in the Russian-American talks on security guarantees, which otherwise would have a considerable chance to succeed.
2020 and 2021 were definitely successful for the West on the Moldovan track. Not only did the US and the EU manage to remove the notionally pro-Russian Igor Dodon with oligarchic thinking, who controlled the parliamentary majority, from the presidential post. They also established Maia Sandu’s regime, completely under their control, expressly focused on integration into the European Union and cooperation with the United States and NATO.
The current authorities, even at the level of diplomatic curtsies, emphasize they have no interest in communicating with Russia by ignoring activities in the CIS structures, not to mention the Russian-Moldovan intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation or the Eurasian Economic Commission. Anti-Russian rhetoric in international organizations, such as the UN and the OSCE, and active participation in purely anti-Russian platforms such as the Association Trio are just on top of that - yet, they quite clearly signal Maia Sandu and her team members’ mood.
In general, Washington and Brussels have implemented a slow and highly successful combination which granted them control over Moldova for many years ahead. Western strategists obviously plan to benefit fully from this in military and political terms in the coming years, primarily by ousting Russia from the region in a stepwise but forceful manner.
But now Moscow has come up with concrete security guarantees proposals backed up by a kind of ultimatum in the form of military build-up on the border with Ukraine. This is not much debated but the operational group of Russian troops in the Transdniestrian region has also intensified its drills outside the Security Zone on the Dniester, which wasn’t left out by the leadership of both our country and neighboring Ukraine and has already been reported to the overseas curators.
Washington failed to find diplomatic and tactical ways and reasons to evade the negotiations, that are already underway in Geneva, because otherwise it would have been accused of escalating military threats. At the same time, the United States can no longer talk without concrete consequences and a rational dialogue strategy, because impulsive populist Donald Trump, who opposes the establishment, was replaced by the pragmatic and respectable team of Joseph Biden, proud of the existing intra-elite consensus. The current American negotiators can hardly afford to say one thing but do something else, as was customary during the 44th US president’s tenure - therefore, meetings in Geneva may continue to be quite serious in nature.
According to the first reviews, negotiations at the level of military and diplomatic representatives did not reveal a breakthrough rapport. The Americans flatly refused to discuss guarantees for the termination of NATO’s expansion to the east (which seems to be a key point for Moscow) and the return of the alliance to the borders as of 1997 (which was obviously a legally unrealizable idea). Some compromise shows only in non-deployment of weapons near the Russian borders (including on warships).
It is unclear how the recently launched negotiations correspond to Ukraine and Moldova’s security interests, amid the insufficient information and endless replication of excessive demands by Moscow and Washington. However, Chisinau is already expressing concern. A number of politicians and diplomats, public and scientific figures in early January signed an appeal to the US and EU leadership, as well as the NATO Secretary General, with a warning – they urge “not to fall for” Russia’s demands. The main message of the open letter of January 6 is that the United States cannot abandon Moldova now, either way curtailing or reducing cooperation, even military, no matter what Russia promises. Apparently, a part of Moldova’s civil society fears reasonably.
The Kremlin’s demands in security guarantees may seem outdated and not coinciding with the logic of the relations development in the OSCE region over the past 30 years, which implies a relentless reduction of Russian privileged influence orbit to the constitutional borders of the Russian Federation. However, it is dangerous to ignore the possibility of military ways for Russia to protect its own interests in the CIS space, which Moscow demonstrated in 2008 in Georgia and in 2014 in Ukraine
In this sense, the requests are put forward by a different Russia than before – not stronger but ready to achieve its goals by military means and also fully convinced of the impossibility of “joining” the civilized European family on acceptable terms. Plus, the current Russian Federation is no longer so strongly tied to the United States and Europe due to a number of sanctions waves.
Given the ever-increasing US-Chinese confrontation intensity, which, due to the Taiwan factor, may acquire, at least, the character of mutual military deterrence, a conversation with Russia no longer seems to be so unnecessary. The Moscow-Beijing alliance is limited by objective civilizational factors, but due to its constant stimulation by anti-Russian sanctions, this “adhesion” inevitably grows stronger.
It is at this stage that the main security dilemma for Moldova arises. On the one hand, Washington could globally consider Russia’s proposals with some reservations and adjustments in order to settle the issue and focus on other aspects of geopolitical actions. On the other hand, at the regional level, the US profile lobbyists and think tanks will not allow any serious concessions on Moldova or Ukraine. There have been too many investments in intercepting the initiative in the Moldovan and Ukrainian direction and everything is going too well here, especially in recent years. Why trade away a fully controlled instrument?
Thus, the chances of success of the Russian-American negotiations on security guarantees actually tend to zero. And the reason for it is Moldova and Ukraine, where the positions of the collective West are so strong that Washington simply cannot afford to seriously reconsider the approach. Russia will understand this soon enough and, apparently, will refocus on strengthening its positions in Transdniestria and Donbass, continuing to use them as anchors hindering the cooperation of Chisinau and Kiev with NATO. Unless Moscow is actually ready for more radical options for preserving and expanding its sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space.