Should Moldova’s Neutral Status Be Strengthened?

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Sergiu CEBAN
The bloc of Communists and Socialists has put forward a bill to strengthen the neutral status of the country, but the ruling party seems to be so far unwilling to deprive itself of a certain room for maneuver on this issue
The Russian-Ukrainian conflict is slow-moving, with several “high-intensity” local zones in the southeastern regions of Ukraine. Negotiations to resolve it have completely gone underground, and new rounds are held online. Apparently, the latter is due to the inability of certain high-ranking decision-makers to move from Kyiv. That said, the “positive” statements of Moscow’s representatives that the parties are getting “close to a compromise” sound like an outright trolling. There is no doubt that behind such tactics there is a desire to split the Ukrainian leadership and aggravate its relations with the Ukrainian military, since it is obvious that the Ukrainian authorities won’t be able to present peace concluded on the basis of the Kremlin’s well-known demands as a success. If Kyiv fails to reverse the situation in the near future and turn it somehow to its advantage, everything can end very sadly. It would be appropriate to draw some parallels with Azerbaijan’s operation in Karabakh in 2020. The signing of a ceasefire agreement and the consolidation of a new status quo in the region became possible only at the moment when the situation for the Armenian army had already become so critical that the society and the leadership of Armenia were forced to accept all the conditions and, in fact, surrender to Baku’s demands. Therefore, at this point, time is definitely not in Ukraine’s best interests, since military actions, air strikes on military and civil infrastructure, along with continued advancement deeper inland are clearly to the detriment of possible agreements with the Russian Federation. In this sense, the events in Kherson are indicative, as they give some understanding of how situation might develop after the military phase is over. In particular, this is about spreading the ideas about another “people’s republic” which brought various pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian groups to the streets of the city. Thus, apparently, the process of the territories gaining their new status will proceed in the “democratic agony” and seemingly without Moscow’s direct involvement. The threat level for Moldova is still high, especially given the lack of a clear understanding of whether the parties will reach some kind of truce, or whether the clashes will continue to spread across the regions of Ukraine one after another. Yesterday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that the Russian naval grouping in the Black Sea is on high alert and seems ready to mount a landing in the Odessa region at any moment. Before the war, Ukraine was not only an important foreign policy partner and neighbor for us, but also a natural geopolitical shield that deterred Moscow’s actions in the Moldovan direction. However, the situation is changing dynamically, and the geography of Russian influence is rapidly expanding as it approaches our borders. It is for this reason that the civil society and political forces representatives voice various considerations, the main meaning of which is to ward off the threat from our state. Thus, in the wake of anti-war sentiments in Moldovan society, the Bloc of Communists and Socialists prepared a bill to explain and detail the parameters of the country’s permanent neutrality status. According to the authors, this norm being adopted will strengthen the principle of neutrality, introduce mechanisms into legislation to ensure its compliance, and will also offer a number of security and economy advantages. The idea is basically not new, since the PCRM and the PSRM have repeatedly tried to push similar projects, most likely at Moscow’s request. Another motive of the bloc leaders is to try to get out of the shadows and somehow restore their political profile, focusing on the current moment. In the current context, any form of expressing commitment to neutrality will definitely be only to the benefit, but there are interesting nuances. Even a quick review of the draft law makes it clear that its main purpose is to limit the government’s capabilities, depriving the republic’s neutral status in its current form of the known “flexibility”. That is, to deny the government bodies of the authority to sign any bilateral or multilateral agreements in the field of enhancing our armed forces’ defensive potential, including plans for cooperation with NATO, as well as to limit the participation of our military in peacekeeping and other post-conflict operations conducted by our Western partners. Either way now the topic of neutrality is not so easy to get away from. The leadership and society need to clearly identify the interest of our country and exact guarantees for security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state. By the mere statement of Speaker Igor Grosu that the initiative of communists and socialists is a part of election campaign, there’s no chance to shake it off. The authorities will have to somewhat sensibly respond to this proposal, or prepare an alternative document so that no one, and especially Moscow strategists, have doubts about our commitment to the neutrality principle. On the other hand, there are opinions that in these challenging conditions it would be risky to deprive ourselves of sufficient space for maneuver and the ability to act flexibly and quickly. The “special military operation” launched by Moscow shows that events at any moment can turn to a completely unpredictable scenario implying absolutely unconventional and hybrid methods. Therefore, the ruling party should have under the belt the maximum set of tools and a wide range of options that can be applied promptly to secure Moldova’s sovereignty. This reserve exists for now, provided by the legacy of the “Plahotniuc” times, when in 2017 his pocket Constitutional Court held that in case of a threat to fundamental constitutional values, such as independence, territorial integrity or state security, the authorities are obliged to take all necessary measures, including military ones, to protect them. It also held that the participation of the Moldovan military contingent in NATO peacekeeping operations, humanitarian missions and collective sanctions against aggressors and violators of international law does not contradict the neutral status of our state. Therefore, now the authorities face a tough choice. Either to maintain the status quo on the issue of neutrality (but there are no guarantees whether this will be enough to protect ourselves from the current threats). Or to go along the path of strengthening the neutral status, but at the same time close the doors, in particular, for Euro-Atlantic cooperation – and after all, the outcome of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is far from certain. Here the president, the government and the parliamentary majority must definitely show maximum foresight in order to make the right decision and not turn Moldova into a target in geopolitical games, as happened with neighboring Ukraine.