Opinion: Maia Sandu Seeking to Keep a Foot in Both Camps Bodes Ill

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Moldova can approach the end of the Ukrainian conflict by spoiling relations with both Ukraine and Russia, RTA expert Semyon Albu believes
Semyon ALBU, RTA: Against the background of the Ukrainian events, the state of play in our republic is rapidly going downhill. PAS is steadily leading the country to a socio-economic disaster. Inflation and budget deficit are topping record levels. Money from national reserves are being frantically siphoned off. An outrageous gas price of more than a thousand dollars under “dominator” Andrei Spinu’s contract is already our reality. We urgently need a new “Marshall Plan” now, otherwise our much-suffering population will grow totally poor pretty soon. The ruling regime justifies all this ugliness with the Ukrainian crisis and the terrible legacy of its predecessors, but that's not helping anyone. Of course, the incompetence of Natalia Gavrilita’s government is no longer big news, although in these challenging times it still causes a constant and deep anxiety. After all, even in foreign policy where PAS has always been more successful, if not due to natural talents but at least a good reputation, it faces now a growing number of problems with potentially severe and long-term consequences. When hostilities in Ukraine had just begun, Moldova hastened to declare its neutral position, which from all angles was a smart and correct decision – one of the ruling party’s rare ones, wouldn’t you say? At that time, however, no one probably expected that the conflict would drag on for months, as it eventually happened. The fighting, although with different intensity, does not stop even for a moment, the number of victims and war crimes is growing, thus increasing the emotional intensity which will only prompt further fighting. All this is accompanied by new waves of mutually destructive sanctions. In that context, Moldova seems to find it increasingly difficult to remain neutral. It takes a certain wisdom, endurance and pragmatism to steer our state ship on the right course between the conditional “Scylla and Charybdis”. But is the current administration capable of that? As practice shows, hardly at all. After all, the PAS decided that strengthening the country’s neutrality now, as the president said, is “pointless” and immediately discarded the corresponding bill of socialists and communists. Clearly, they didn’t want the bill to work in the opposition’s favor – well, then they could propose their own similar act and continue to firmly stick to Moldova’s neutral status. Instead, we observe a kind of “semitone” policy which the ruling regime apparently deems very smart. Formally, our republic continues to keep a proper distance from the Ukrainian conflict, with statesmen talking about Moldova's neutrality almost every day. However, they never mean anything they say. Thus, Moldova, despite all official statements, is slowly supporting the Western sanctions regime against Russia – though carefully and only where it brings no harm to our economic interests. It is known that the first such harbinger was Moldova’s unexpected vote for restrictions against Russia through the World Trade Organization. As confirmed by Speaker Igor Grosu, Moldova also upholds the imposed sanctions against the Russian Federation in the banking sector. He also added there are some other “moments”. It’s also worth recalling the PACE resolution on the “occupied Moldova”. Another crucial point is the internal cleansing of the country from “Russian influence”. For example, a ban on rebroadcasting Russian programs, the closure of (pro-)Russian media and in general any sources of information that transmit non-Ukrainian and non-Western points of view. This includes the ban planned at the legislative level on the symbols of the Russian “special operation”. While this can be explained, a possible ban on wearing St. George’s ribbons in Moldova and a restriction or change in the format of the Victory Day celebration on May 9, look absurd and dangerous and may cause a sharp reaction from Moscow, whose sensitivity to these issues is well known. On the other hand, we see attempts by the authorities to show their solidarity with both the West and Ukraine. Maia Sandu almost instantly supported the Ukrainian version of events in Bucha, although objective data and common sense suggest that in this situation, at least, not everything is so straightforward. Moreover, the President said that she had made a proposal to send our military to help in the demining Ukrainian areas affected by the fighting. Scientists haven’t yet found an explanation of how sending a military contingent to a country that is still at war complies with the neutrality of the republic. Besides, there are no guarantees that our military will not become the object of provocation or “devious plans” of one of the belligerents. However, all these half-measures and attempts to butter Kyiv up haven’t yet had much effect. Ukraine, obviously, got annoyed by Moldova’s behavior and its refusal to fully engage in all-Western confrontation with Russia. Our neighbors are upset, apparently, because of our unwillingness to arrange some kind of venture on the Dniester, which, according to Ukrainian strategists, could divert the Kremlin’s attention. However, even PAS still has enough reason not to open a “second front”, which Kyiv is constantly pushing us to, dispersing fakes about threats to its security from the Transdniestrian direction. This became crystal clear after Zelensky’s speech in Bucharest, where we were appointed the next “victim” in absentia. So, what is the result? Having initially taken a rational position on the Ukrainian events, PAS is gradually slipping to the side of one of the parties to the conflict. At the same time, Kyiv is still unhappy with our indecisive and “cowardly” policy. Given the actions and statements of the Ukrainian leader, we can expect a change of the Ukrainian Ambassador to Moldova in the near future and a multiple increase in pressure on us in order to stand, as my colleague aptly put it, on the “right side of history”. We have taken all anti-Russian measures that are more or less economically safe for us, but diving deeper into confrontation with Moscow will be much more painful, especially given the pressing issues of gas and electricity supplies. We have been moving right towards getting into the list of hostile states for the Russian Federation for the last few weeks. And by accumulating anti-Russian points at the same pace, soon we risk cross that critical line, beyond which relations will begin to rapidly cool down to absolute zero, as is happening now in Russia’s relations with the West. Every day Maia Sandu and her “yellow team” are getting more and more stretched “in the foreign policy splits”, trying to please the ones and not to fight with the others too much. That is, instead of strengthening our neutrality, we still decided to join the current geopolitical confrontation, but somewhat low-key. I think that such a double-dealing policy in today’s extreme conditions is futile and will only lead to the point where we will eventually ruin relations with both Ukraine and Russia.