The global hysteria around Ukraine has finally reached Moldova, although the overall domestic situation remains calm – and this is not through but rather contrary to the actions of the authorities who are not particularly delicate and farsighted at this challenging geopolitical moment
The crisis around Ukraine is getting worse, affecting Moldovan affairs in some areas. For example, international insurance companies and foreign lessors of Ukrainian airlines deliberately provoke the blockade of air traffic with Ukraine. In fact, the country’s airspace may be closed for most flights without an appropriate ICAO decision, an unprecedented case even compared to 2014 when eastern Ukraine witnessed full-scale military operations. Two days ago one of the aircrafts due to the requirements of its Irish owner was forced to land at the Chisinau airport. Reorienting traffic flows from Ukraine, its entire connection with the outside world mainly through the territory of Moldova can become a reality in the short term. And this applies not only to air traffic.
Militarized consciousness and agitated public opinion are the main adverse effects resulting from the tension around Ukraine. The leadership of the neighboring country is unable to resist the global media hysteria provoked by some influential foreign politicians and the media. For the first time in many years, there is a clear misunderstanding between the office of the Ukrainian president and the White House with satellites which is more and more difficult to hide behind diplomatic wording and “regular consultations.” Ukraine expecting a war is getting poorer every day: capital is being withdrawn, investments are being curtailed, cargo transit is being reduced, prices of basic commodities are rising, while the Ukrainian hryvnia is weakening and reserve funds have to be spent to support it.
Volodymyr Zelensky and his subordinates make reassuring speeches more often than daily, primarily to stabilize the economic situation and prevent panic in the country. However, their voices are drowning in the information avalanche of Western media reports about the imminent war. By all appearances, the balance of forces really resembles the pre-war state which, however, cannot last for long. The coming days or weeks should witness either a real clash, even on a small scale, or de-escalation.
The Normandy talks resumption should appear as a stabilizing factor, but the last Berlin meeting actually failed, which is noticeably jangling Moscow’s nerves. Moreover, the communication of contact persons, no matter how long such meetings are held, cannot always effectively influence the situation on the demarcation line, as well as the approaches of actors not involved in the format, primarily the United States, Great Britain, and Turkey. The unrecognized republics of Donbass also cannot be indifferent to Kyiv’s refusal to engage in direct negotiations.
The OSCE staff partially evacuated from the contact line only confirms the assumption that escalation risks are significant. Relocating to Lviv and reducing the number of employees of diplomatic missions in several countries, as well as systematically published warnings for citizens do not add optimism to those who advocate the peaceful ways to resolve contradictions.
Ukraine is trying to get out of the situation by any available methods, including rather unexpected ones. For example, a telephone conversation between the defense ministers of Ukraine and Belarus and their decision to mutually send military attaches to observe the Blizzard and Allied Resolve military drills, in Ukraine and Belarus respectively, can certainly contribute to reconciliation. Such openness per se devalues any accusations of aggressive plans and emphasizes that the exercises aim solely at deterrence. Meeting Kiev’s requests, Minsk is doing much more in practice to normalize the situation than most countries that somehow interfere in the issue.
Further to the above are yesterday’s speeches by the Ukrainian President and the head of the National Security and Defense Council. Volodymyr Zelensky decided to make the US-alleged date of the start of the military campaign a public holiday – Unity Day. In turn, Alexey Danilov said there were no signs of a Russian invasion.
On the other hand, Russia slightly raises the stakes with two State Duma draft resolutions to address the President of the Russian Federation with a proposal to recognize the rebellious republics of Donbass. This move is directly related to the upcoming Russia’s security guarantees response to Washington (yesterday Vladimir Putin discussed this with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov). Further developments around the published draft resolutions will indicate the Kremlin’s earliest intentions.
In the current situation, Moldova could become an exporter of “stability and constructiveness” in relations with its neighbors. Despite the inactive 5+2 format on the Transdniestrian settlement, the security situation in the republic seems to be much more balanced and calm. First of all, there is no direct armed conflict between Moldova and Transdniestria, no clashes have occurred for decades. The situation is systematically monitored by the Joint Control Commission, and OSCE observers also have access to the Security Zone.
It seems that Maia Sandu is also aware of this. At least, her yesterday’s public speech was markedly pacifying. Igor Grosu and Natalia Gavrilita tried to support Maia Sandu to the best of their abilities and obviously anti-Russian ideology. Traditionally, it went bad – both recognized that Moldova is considering the scenario of an offensive by Russian troops from Transdniestria, although they consider it catastrophic and incompatible with the country’s neutral status. The absolute majority of current leaders generally find it difficult to adjust to an adequate regime when it comes to foreign policy – the political platform is wrong, as is the level of political culture. Therefore, even today we systematically hear anti-Russian messages and voices in support of Ukraine.
The various maneuvers in the Security Zone, which are fraught with aggravation with Transdniestria whose representatives are already constantly complaining about the imported goods detention, the stalled negotiation process or the blockade, are particularly unpleasant. Moreover, some opposition figures follow any military movements on the Moldovan territory and try to link them to the situation in Ukraine. In this sense, the U.S. State Department added fuel to the fire by urging its citizens to leave not only the territories of Ukraine and Belarus, but also Transdniestria due to the alleged Russian threat.
Meanwhile, most countries have demand for maintaining stability on the banks of the Dniester and a breakthrough in resolving the Transdniestrian issue. This is how most EU countries, Russia and the OSCE view this situation. It is extremely important not to create prerequisites for new clashes between Chisinau and Tiraspol and not to destroy the existing ties artificially, postponing the outcome of the conflict.
All this requires elaborated approaches which, however, are now blocked not only by the country’s leadership but also by some senior patrons, primarily in Bucharest. Chisinau will find it difficult to balance out the calmness-oriented peaceful logic and the need to demonstrate its loyalty to Romanian interests along with the trend towards opposing the imaginary Russian aggression. Nevertheless, the conflict over Ukraine should not absorb Moldova but rather serve to teach the ruling class. The lesson learnt will help the current authorities to ensure the evolutionary development of the state, without getting involved in dubious foreign policy adventures.