Opinion: Partitioning Ukraine and Moldova Is a Possible Scenario

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Anton Șveț
The international state of play around the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is raising fears that Moldova might as well face a catastrophic scenario. Not to lose the statehood, rapid action is needed
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is expected to inevitably snatch a significant part of our eastern neighbor’s territory. It’s not just about the people’s republics of Donbass recognized by Vladimir Putin who are now actively fighting to take full control of the lands claimed in their “constitutions”. As of today, Russian troops completely control the Kherson region and a significant part of Zaporizhzhia enabling a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula. There are explicit reports about the parallel circulation of the Ukrainian hryvnia and the Russian ruble in the Kherson region, and it’s a further evidence that Russia has no intention to cede this territory to Kyiv. Especially against the background of endlessly stalling negotiations – the speedy round on March 21 ended with completely no results, even without positive statements to the media. The overall impression is that the efforts of the Russian and Ukrainian negotiating teams currently make no sense, as political agreement is simply impossible. At least now, when Russia’s troops are making serious advances, but even the key cities of eastern Ukraine continue to stand on the defensive, while there is no existential threat to Kyiv. In these conditions, Volodymyr Zelensky and the community of Western countries who back him up simply cannot satisfy Moscow’s territorial claims. In turn, Russia will stick to its demands and take steps to mobilize in order to ramp up the military campaign and expand its geography. In this sense, today’s NATO summit may be of great importance, since it will address Poland’s initiative to introduce peacekeepers to the western regions of Ukraine. The idea of sending a contingent of up to 10,000 troops to Ukraine should be supported or rejected by US President Joe Biden today. Allegedly, Lithuania and Denmark have already voiced their support for the Polish plan by expressing their readiness to send their own military to the western regions of Ukraine. The seriousness of Warsaw’s intentions is confirmed by the expulsion of 40 Russian diplomats on charges of espionage and the smoke of burning documents over the Russian embassy. Moscow will probably respond proportionally. Sergey Lavrov, meanwhile, warned of the risks of a direct clash between Russia and NATO in Ukraine. Poles entering Volhynia, Lviv or Ivano-Frankivsk will mark the beginning of an international collusion designed to divide Ukraine. It is difficult to assume a different scenario, that is the real readiness of the Polish military to confront Russia head-on. Therefore, it is quite possible to suggest that Poland is ready to join the game even without the formal backing of the entire Alliance. Historically, Warsaw (as, in fact, Lithuania) will be able to justify its presence on these lands. Russia will be satisfied with this way of internationalizing the Ukrainian crisis, since controlling the regions to the west of Kyiv and Cherkasy would be extremely onerous for Moscow financially and geographically, as well as associated with non-stop guerrilla warfare and diversions. In addition, the direct military participation of NATO countries in determining the fate of Ukraine will allow Russia to be more active in lobbying for a dialogue on security guarantees in Europe and the bloc’s expansion to the present-day borders of the Russian Federation. However, the intervention of Poland may be only the beginning. Questions of Hungary’s interests in Transcarpathia and Romania in the Chernivtsi region will arise. Moreover, in these areas, the Ukrainian state systematically infringed the interests of national minorities – Romanian educational institutions were closed, the Ruthenian minority was subjected to economic exploitation, persecution and assimilation, repeatedly calling for help from Hungary, Russia and the world community as a whole. As a result, the political map of Ukraine in the next month or two may resemble Berlin, divided by the Allies after World War II into four occupation zones. Due to history and geography, significant territories are almost guaranteed to remain under Kyiv’s direct control, including military, primarily in the central areas west of the Dnieper without access to the Black Sea. That is, even in the event of severe military defeats and an informal agreement between NATO countries and Russia on its division, Ukraine as a subject will still participate in further processes. Moldova’s fate may be much more complicated. If the Polish initiative to land in Ukraine is approved, Romania will hardly agree to wait for the Russian corridor in Transdniestria to deploy its armed units on the territory of Moldova. Bucharest will act proactively. Presidents Maia Sandu and Klaus Iohannis have already discussed this issue as a hypothetical possibility, and there was no hard negative response from our side and there couldn’t be. The existing Moldovan-Romanian agreements in the military, as well as the formal absence of a demarcated border between the countries on several sites, allow for the deployment of Romanian troops to the east of the Prut. Romania has been carrying out cartographic measurements of Moldova for a long time now; the two states’ cultural, economic and political ties hardly have analogues in the world. Not to mention that half of our population are Romanian citizens. At the same time, the authorities have not been effectively controlling the territory of the left bank of the Dniester and Bender for 30 years. historically and geographically, Moldova’s entire territory, unless Turkey declares its political claims (for part of Gagauzia), can be very quickly divided into Romanian and Russian occupation zones. In this case, Moldova will lose its political sovereignty and statehood, re-transforming into Bessarabia within the framework of unitary Romania. In this sense, the extremely dangerous and short-sighted tactics of our authorities, freezing the process of resolving the Transdniestrian issue and passively waiting for clarification of the situation around Ukraine are of great concern to us. Under Russian and Romanian occupation, Moldova risks disappearing as a subject of international relations, and then there will be nothing to negotiate about. As it seems, the main chance for the preservation of Moldovan statehood is a forced settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict under international guarantees, which can take the republic out of the sight of geopolitical actors. This will require state thinking and the hardest compromises, but the country will remain on the world map as a political entity. The only question is whether Maia Sandu and her team share this goal, and what she is willing to do for this.