Is Romania Not Going to Shield Moldova?

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Sergiu CEBAN
As in 2014, Bucharest has issued an open warning about having no intention to send its armed forces to protect Moldova
Hostilities in Ukraine are not abating – even the more so, the Ukrainian military successfully fight back, implementing supply and evacuation operations from Mariupol, as well as striking infrastructure facilities on the territory of Russia. However, the Ukrainian crisis and the confrontation with Moscow cover a much broader dimension. The rates are constantly rising, which is confirmed by yesterday’s decision of Putin to accept payment for energy resources exclusively in Russian rubles. Whether this will turn into another gas crisis will become clear in the coming weeks. It seems that the negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow have not yielded the expected result yet, despite the formal and informal involvement of various intermediaries and influential persons. The final resolution of the conflict is still a long way to go. This is very discouraging, since such state of play strengthens positions of the military from the Russian president’s entourage, who seem to be ready to go all the way. The same goes for Kyiv inspired by the latest operational successes and unwilling to make any concessions. If the situation in the negotiations remains exactly the same, there is a risk that the fighting will intensify in the coming days, and Russian troops may get any closer to the borders of our country. There are also few external signs that the events in Ukraine are nearing completion. Yesterday, the Department of State officially called on US citizens who are in Russia and Ukraine to immediately depart the territories of these states. Such calls always tend to come before something serious, which means that the threat of conflict escalation is extremely high and might involve new forces and factors. By the way, head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Dmytro Kuleba went to Warsaw to clarify the initiative on introducing an international peacekeeping contingent in Ukraine. It seems that the destabilization in Ukraine has set other troubled regions in the post-Soviet space in motion. It is not entirely clear whether this is happening with the knowledge of Moscow, or someone has simply decided to benefit from the current state of play. However, the suddenly raised issue of annexing two separatist regions of Georgia (Abkhazia and Ossetia) to Russia wrong-foots Tbilisi threatening with one integral de facto border and Moscow’s ultimatum demands to recognize this new reality. The totality of the circumstances, unfortunately, suggests that the risk of a hybrid or other type of invasion of Moldova is still high. Russia’s conduct with no looking back at anyone is extremely unpredictable. Therefore, as military events develop, the possible signals from Moscow should be also monitored. They might include the traditional requirements of internationally guaranteed neutrality and federalization of Moldova, which if rejected may prompt Russia into some impulsive moves. By the way, the Communists and Socialists Bloc MPs have been pedaling further consolidation of Moldova’s neutral status for several weeks already, proposing a corresponding bill. As such, the external risks associated with the penetration of foreign troops into the Odessa region are complemented by a factor of Moldova having a certain number of conventionally pro-Kremlin political groups that under favorable conditions will be ready to support Russian scenarios. A matter of great concern is yesterday’s decision by Moscow to block further mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, established back in 2014. In doing so, Russia unveils its determination to revise the long-standing rules and mechanisms at its discretion. If the Kremlin takes on implementing the hypothetic “plan for Moldova”, it is quite possible that activities of the OSCE Mission to Moldova might well be frozen, while this institution is in fact one of the crucial elements of monitoring the situation across our country. This context makes the issue of Moldova’s security even more relevant, but the signals from the western partners are rather disappointing so far. For example, while our republic primarily counts on military resources and capacities of Romania, the latter has been rather restrained in its actions over the past month, despite the seriousness of the risks and problems resulting from the military events in Ukraine. Indeed, the Zmiinyi Island being occupied by the Russian army has seriously affected the gas production investment prospects on the Black Sea coast of Romania. Not to mention the fact that the level of danger for the Deveselu and Mikhail Kogalniceanu bases has increased significantly. Nevertheless, unlike Poland with its much greater involvement, Bucharest, according to Romanian Defense Minister Vasile Dincu, is not going to interfere in possible hostilities outside its territory and the security contour of the North Atlantic Alliance. At the same time, the Romanian military command is still optimistic in its assessments and hopes for the early normalization of the situation on the European continent. Moreover, Dincu publicly stated that in case of a possible attack on Moldova Romania will not provide it with direct military assistance. This is due to Romania’s membership in NATO, he said, and therefore Bucharest will only be able to support our armed forces with equipment and essential supplies, just like the Alliance helps Ukraine today. Such avowal met different reactions from Moldovan experts, since everyone could read their own hidden meanings in this message. Our leadership, apparently, can count on military assistance, should the events develop critically, but without the Romanian army being directly involved. Moscow, in turn, should understand Bucharest’s unwilling to face Russian troops head-on to avoid provoking NATO. Despite the pacifying statements, including from Washington, we don’t have any good reasons to calm down and keep on living as we used to. Challenges and threats to our territorial integrity are still there, while our military potential leaves no hopes that we’ll be able to defend ourselves on our own. As we can see, we have nowhere to await help from. Probably, the key task now is to try to convince Russia, with the support of our international partners, that any aggressive plans against Moldova are not justified. However, as of yet, the country’s leadership prefers to passively watch the developments evading contacts with Moscow, apparently in the hope that the current security problems will eventually fix themselves.