Expert: Chisinau Shouldn’t Try Moscow’s Patience During the Ukrainian Crisis

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Sergiu CEBAN
Keeping Moldova from the Ukrainian crisis by all means is now the main task, which should predetermine any actions and decisions of the country’s political leadership
For the third day, the main international topic remains the events around Ukraine and the Kremlin’s decision to recognize two self-proclaimed entities in the east of the country. The situation continues to escalate, and Moscow is increasingly making unequivocal statements about its readiness to use any means to eliminate “risks” in the Donbass region. The key trigger for further escalation may be attempts by the separatist republics to move the front line to the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Having made a radical decision, the Kremlin has openly done away with the Minsk agreements and has actually renounced any obligations regarding the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Moreover, Moscow has untied its hands for further invasion of other regions of the neighboring country. Putin’s video message the day before yesterday suggests that if the West continues to support Kyiv militarily, Moscow is able to go even further and neutralize any security risks by force. The Russian leader backed up his intentions with the formal consent of the Federation Council to use Russian troops outside the country. This may indicate that the decision on the so-called LDPR (Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics) is only an intermediate stage of a long-term plan, and Moscow is not going to stop at this point. Experts say that Putin’s long video speech with an emphasis on the history and current state of Ukraine is a clear indicator: the Kremlin, having failed to achieve Washington’s understanding, has set a clear goal – to close the “Ukrainian issue” unilaterally. It sounds cynical, but Russian President did not rule out the possibility of restoring good-neighborly relations between the two countries, having provided such a probability with several requirements that sound very much like an ultimatum. Among them are recognition of the will of the Crimea and Sevastopol residents (that is, legal consent to Russian sovereignty over the peninsula), rejection of Euro-Atlantic integration, military-political neutrality and complete demilitarization of Ukraine. Yesterday’s address by Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the nation, apparently, was prepared based on the understanding that Ukraine is rapidly slipping into a protracted state of war. It is for this reason that there was a call for universal consolidation, including at the level of all political forces. Certain lines were devoted to stimulating business activity. It is clear that the Ukrainian authorities will do everything possible to keep the remaining investments and large capital in the country, which, most likely, will rapidly leave Ukraine leading to a sharp economic deterioration. On the other hand, three days later Kyiv has not made a clear decision that might be considered a tough response to Moscow’s aggressive actions. By the statements of the country’s leadership in recent months, they did not fully believe in the reality of escalation and military actions. Now the situation is out of control, and Kyiv is gradually “losing the race”. Therefore, in the future everything will depend on the position of the United States, the EU and NATO. We need to understand whether the West will signal its readiness to negotiate Ukraine’s status or Washington will accept Putin’s challenge and respond with a long-term confrontation through tough sanctions. The latter are already in place. In order of appearance, yesterday the EU imposed sanctions against 351 State Duma MPs, as well as 27 individuals and legal entities because of the recognition of the self-proclaimed “DNR” and “LNR”. The sanctions package also targets organizations that finance Russian operations in the Donbas, and banks associated with Russian political circles and the defense sector. In addition, Brussels has decided to restrict Russia’s access to the EU financial and capital markets. Joseph Biden’s speech, expected throughout yesterday, resulted in several dubious statements (including the fact that the United States has no desire to fight Russia), which hardly impressed or added optimism to Kyiv. In a nutshell, Washington imposed sanctions against two Russian banks and the Russian state debt, and also expressed its intention to stop the Nord Stream-2 project. So far, the scale of the “sanctions hammer” is more symbolic and looks more like a technically forced move. Such a response can be seen as a hidden signal to the Kremlin not to continue with its measures and return to the diplomatic path. While the White House and the Kremlin are exchanging gestures, the overall situation continues to be extremely alarming for Kyiv. It is obvious that the events of recent days are hardly aimed at freezing another post-Soviet conflict. Rather, on the contrary, we are talking about a complete “unfreezing”, with subsequent acts of territorial desuverenization of Ukraine. A bad sign in this regard is Moscow’s decision to withdraw diplomatic personnel from Ukraine. This may indicate the Kremlin’s intention, despite public statements, to follow the path of a complete rupture of relations with Kyiv with all that this entails. Our president decided not to limit herself to brief texts in social media about support for Ukraine and delivered a long detailed message yesterday. Although Maia Sandu sharply condemned Moscow’s actions, expressing full support for the territorial integrity of the neighboring country, the main motive of her speech was the need to preserve peace, calm and stability in Moldova. According to Sandu, it is especially important for the state today not to fall into the trap of a war propaganda, and also not to allow fear and hostility to penetrate into Moldovan society. Separately, the President expressed readiness to shelter the citizens of Ukraine on the territory of Moldova in case they need help. She also assured that the competent authorities continue to closely monitor the situation in the eastern regions of the country and in the Security Zone of the Transdniestrian conflict in order to prevent Moldova from being dragged into the current acute phase of instability. Keeping our country from the Ukrainian crisis by all means is, perhaps, the main task which should predetermine any actions and decisions of the country’s political leadership. In the rapidly changing regional environment, in order not to drag the republic into a severe geopolitical storm, it would be useful for politicians to soften their rhetoric towards Moscow, which has recently been extremely sensitive to any attacks in its direction. Or even develop and temporarily adopt for mandatory use a kind of “circular” “on public statements about foreign policy and regional situation, so that particular “hotheads” and those who are “overly sympathetic to Ukraine” refrain from speeches that could be used by our enemies for their own purposes. It is also important to prevent escalation with the left bank, so as not to give Moscow a reason to pay closer attention to Moldova.