Maia Sandu Boosts Conflict Intensity in Relations with Russia

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Anton ȘVEȚ
The President decided to demonstrate Moldova’s Euro-Atlantic solidarity and sting Moscow to the quick – a dubious move in the midst of hysteria over Russia’s possible invasion of Ukraine
Tension around Ukraine continues to grow. This week started with a message about the partial evacuation of the American embassy staff and their family members from Kiev amid expectations of Russia’s offense – for many observers, almost a sure sign of the coming war. By the way, preparations for it are underway: many Western countries hurry to arm Ukraine, for example, the United States, whose next, already second, 80-ton batch of lethal weapons arrived on January 23. NATO is putting forces on standby and sending additional ships and fighter jets to its deployments in Eastern Europe. London also spiced things up at the end of the previous week, for they believe that Russia will try to set up an occupation administration in Kiev. Moreover, the UK is synchronizing measures to inflate the situation with Turkey, which is actively supplying weapons to Ukraine, including unmanned aerial vehicles, well-reputed after Nagorno-Karabakh two years ago. Any attempts to take a pragmatic stance and cool the rapidly deteriorating relations between Russia and the West are perceived by Kiev and Euro-Atlantic allies as a betrayal. For example, Germany’s refusal to provide weapons support and military transit for Ukraine, or Berlin’s intention to launch, against the odds, the economically feasible Nord Stream-2. In response to Germany’s typically pacifist approach, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko complain about the lack of friends and warn that Ukrainians will remember what’s happening for decades ahead. A frank and quite adequate assessment of the military-political situation around Ukraine from a high-ranking officer of the German Navy during his visit to India ends even with his resignation and apologies. It seems that Ukraine itself is not interested in detente, although the conflict, if it happens, will have the most detrimental effect on its interests and security. The “impending war”, even before it has begun, is already hitting the financial and economic state of the country, from which foreign investors are withdrawing funds in a panic. Apparently, the office of President Vladimir Zelensky are slowly figuring this out, but reassuring statements seem too late, especially as the entire rhetoric and overall policy towards the eastern regions remains almost unchanged. What’s different about the present-day hybrid-type conflicts is that at some stage they started to follow their own logic, becoming partially uncontrollable for the authorities of the opposing parties. Given the active mediation, a wide range of external players involved, including intelligence communities, militarization of the consciousness of a part of the population and elites, an insignificant episode may act as a trigger, the occurrence of which is almost impossible to foresee. The situation is further complicated by the lack of working tools for coordination between Russia and Ukraine, since the “Minsk process” is practically destroyed, and it has no alternative. It would be nice if the leadership of our republic also had this understanding. Let’s say that at first glance the situation in Moldova seems more stable and calm simply because of the periphery of our territory and its lesser importance. An important point about the conflict is that it’s “well-coordinated”, with the Joint Control Commission and the Joint Military Command functioning within its framework. Here, the military, police, intelligence and diplomatic representatives of Russia, Moldova and Transdniestria, with the participation of Ukraine and the OSCE, interact on a regular basis. Meetings are held on a weekly basis, so hiding military preparations becomes a difficult task. Nevertheless, our situation also leaves much to be desired. Judging by media reports, it has not been possible to agree on the agenda at the JCC meetings since last year, which forces the commission to meet without making any decisions. Information constantly arrives about the detection of military equipment in the Security Zone. Last week, such accusations against Moldova came from the left bank: photo and video materials were posted showing the movement of Moldovan artillery in the Security Zone. In turn, we are discussing the redeployment and military exercises of the Russian contingent. Apparently, the activation of the OGRF is connected with the adoption of an updated plan of cooperation between Moldova and NATO for 2022-2023. The plan as correctly as possible states the requirements for the withdrawal of Russian troops, the disposal of weapons in Cobasna and the transformation of the peacekeeping mission. Moldova is openly increasing cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance, fixing it at the doctrinal level. It seems that Chisinau relies on Washington and Bucharest and is ready for a conflict escalation with Russia, being confident that its own and NATO capabilities will suffice to confront the troops stationed in Transdniestria, and the Ukraine factor of makes further strengthening and effective supply impossible. At least, Maia Sandu’s rhetoric leaves no doubt about it. The other day, she reiterated that, despite the republic’s neutral status, cooperation programs with NATO, Romania, the United States and the EU on the modernization of the defense sector will continue and develop, as it is “the sovereign right of the people to decide how to ensure their security.” She also confirmed Chisinau’s desire to see the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transdniestria and the liquidation of ammunition depots in Cobasna the soonest possible. Moreover, the President accused Russia of an armed attack on Moldova during the escalated phase of the Transdniestrian conflict, pointing out that by this Moscow tried to resist the republic’s independence. The statement is quite controversial, but well received by the audience in the West, in Bucharest particularly (the interview was given to the Romanian media). Earlier, our politicians conventionally cited the situation in Ukraine as a negative example and argued that the main thing that was achieved in the Transdniestrian settlement was the cessation of armed confrontation. But Maia Sandu presents this situation differently, for her, the demonstration of Euro-Atlantic solidarity is an objective per se, for which she is ready to fall out with Moscow. Beyond that, the more obvious the current authorities’ miscalculations in domestic policy and economic management, the more intrusive their attempts to conflict with Russia will get, primarily in Transdniestria. Moldova has already passed this way during Vladimir Plahotniuc’s time in office. What the presidency does not understand is the simple fact that the stakes are much higher now than in 2017-2018, and importing the crisis from Ukraine is the most short-sighted solution possible, since this will only provoke the militarization and conservation of the Transdniestrian conflict and thus the Russian military presence. In the end, despite the absence of a corridor, Russia’s military resources in Transdniestria are not limited to the current several thousand peacekeepers and military: about 200 thousand Russian citizens still live in the left bank, and one can only guess at the contents of Cobasna warehouses.