New Moldova-NATO Partnership Plan: Beyond the Neutrality

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Vladimir ROTAR
The North Atlantic Alliance continues to gradually expand into our country
While the next wave of coronavirus and a new round of the gas crisis, which again resulted in declaring a state of emergency in the energy sector, grip all public attention, no less important event happened a couple of days ago – namely, the adoption by the government of a new individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) Moldova-NATO for 2022-2023. The moment is especially significant since this document remained unapproved for a long time. The previous IPAD covered the period of 2017-2019. The preparation of the next one, for 2020-2022, despite the fact that this was envisaged by the Chicu government’s Action Plan, was delayed. Perhaps, the pandemic and the upcoming election campaigns played a role. It is obvious that the PSRM, which was part of the ruling coalition, as well as its leader Igor Dodon, a well-known critic of NATO, did not really want to sign a cooperation agreement with the bloc in order not to worsen relations with Moscow and not cause cognitive dissonance in a core electorate. As a result, the new IPAP wasn’t adopted not only in 2020, but also in 2021. However, it was clearly only a matter of time, regardless of who would have won the election. Although, certainly, a pro-Western team coming to power noticeably accelerated the process. And now we have an approved forty-three-page paper outlining the details of further cooperation between Moldova and the North Atlantic Alliance. What’s interesting there? Quite a lot of things, in fact. IPAP, as one might think, refers not only to the defense sector, but also the overall Euro-Atlantic integration. Therefore, it mentions commitments to implement the Association Agreement with the EU, to reform justice and protect human rights, with specific programs (The Strategy on Ensuring the Independence and Integrity of the Justice Sector for 2021-2024, the National Human Rights Action Plan for 2018-2022, etc.), and much more. However, the key component of the Plan is, of course, a military one. It is funny enough that the document begins with the confirmation of our country’s neutral status and that the IPAP implementation “does not pursue the goal of joining the North Atlantic Alliance”, but is only aimed at “reforming and modernizing the security sector and national defense in accordance with new developments and the requirements of the current security environment.” However, the subsequent provisions of the program tell a completely different story. Right there is a footnote to the Constitutional Court’s decision of May 2, 2017 interpreting the article of the Basic Law on Permanent Neutrality. According to it, “the Republic of Moldova’s participation in collective security systems, such as the UN security system, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian operations, etc., which would require collective sanctions against aggressors and violators of international law, does not contradict the status of neutrality.” Let me remind you that such an “interpretation”, which in fact planted a bomb under our neutral status, was given by the Constitutional Court at a time when it was considered Plahotniuc’s “pocket court”, and the country’s foreign policy was extremely anti-Russian while aiming at accelerated cooperation with NATO. So, thanks to this verdict of the court a lot of things now fit into the IPAP that a truly neutral country could hardly handle. For example: - Constant political consultations by Chisinau with NATO countries at all levels on foreign policy and security issues, on the situation in the region, as well as on advancing reforms; - Cooperation within the framework of the Defense Capacity Building Program (DCBI). This is the very program thanks to which, under the well-managed Western mentoring, the National Defense Strategy and Military Strategy were developed, the regulatory framework is being harmonized, the National Army is being reformed according to the NATO model, American jets with weapons arrive, etc.; - Developing cooperation with NATO member states and partners in the fight against new common security threats, such as terrorism, cyber threats, as well as promoting stability and security in the region and on the European continent. The latter is worded in a rather general way so that it might imply a lot of things. For example, the situation around Ukraine and the response to “Russian aggression”; - Effective transformation of the armed forces in accordance with the Long-term Plan for the Development of the National Army’s military potential for 2020-2030. At the same time, measures will be taken “to develop control systems, combat and logistics support, airspace control capabilities, as well as to upgrade training centers, repair and modernization of military equipment, weapons and ammunition”; - Achieving a high degree of military interoperability and cohesion with the armies of NATO allies and partners, which is “necessary in order to increase the effectiveness of Moldova’s participation in the bloc’s activities.” I wonder how a neutral country, not a member of NATO, should “effectively” participate in the work of the Alliance at all? We are clearly talking about KFOR, and so on, but the statement itself raises questions, and besides, a lot can be attributed to it if necessary; - Participation in both national and international military exercises. Well, this is not new for us, our military have been training with NATO members extensively and regularly under any government for many years; - Propaganda of NATO through the media by “actively informing” the population about the benefits of “political dialogue and practical cooperation” between Moldova and the bloc. By the way, considerable success is already visible here. What conclusion can we draw from this? The principle “if the stars are lit, then someone needs it” always works flawlessly, especially since Western partners, moreover American ones, did not particularly show excessive philanthropy. And therefore, if so much attention and effort is paid to our small country and its compact army, it is simply naive to say that all this “support” has no far-reaching goals. Even if Moldova’s neutrality is not yet questioned by world players and is respected by everyone in words, but the decision of the Constitutional Court has long created all the grounds to actually turn this status into fiction and legitimize the actual integration of the Moldovan armed forces into a single military mechanism of the Euro-Atlantic community. Yes, technically we are not in NATO and it is unlikely that we will find ourselves there soon. Well, this only makes things worse for us. Since “walking further” into the arms of the Alliance, we are taking one of the sides in the current geopolitical confrontation, while not receiving the security guarantees that NATO countries have. And there’s no need to think that the progressive development of our territory by the North Atlantic Alliance has gone unnoticed by Moscow. As recent statements by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu have shown, these processes are fully taken into account. The Kremlin is quite capable of doing the simple math. And here’s what happens. NATO’s influence is steadily growing: infrastructure is being built, departments are being filled with various foreign advisers, weapons are being sent. But for what? Initiating the conflict with the Transnistrian armed formations and the Russian troops stationed there? It is not with Romania or Ukraine they’re going to wage war. Besides, the new IPAP clearly outlines the goals: “Moldova will further contribute to achieving the goal of a speedy, orderly and complete withdrawal of illegal Russian troops from the country’s territory, as well as to the possibility of transforming the current peacekeeping operation into a multinational civilian mission with an international mandate.” Today, Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita said that the main thing in the current difficult geopolitical situation is “not to get involved in regional escalation”. The thought is wise, but it is not yet secured by deeds. Moreover, exactly the opposite is being done. And the increasing cooperation with the alliance is gradually removing Moldova from the group of truly neutral countries, squeezing it onto the geopolitical field as one of the pawns, which, if anything, will be given to the enemy with no regret. Even without a hypothetical conflict, we are all paying a high price for such a policy right now. And the posed surprises of Natalia Gavrilita, Igor Grosu, Andrei Spinu and other officials about Russia’s “hostile actions” on gas look extremely surreal against this backdrop. It is as if the country’s current leadership is conducting a friendly policy towards Moscow.