How Can Moldova Evade War?

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Sergiu CEBAN
The situation around the republic is heating up: terrorist acts in the Transdniestrian region and bellicose statements from Moscow and Kyiv point to Moldova’s increasing involvement in the conflict
The military situation in Ukraine continues to slowly drift into another phase of fierce confrontation. According to experts, the main focus of hostilities will be the Donbass region, where the main forces of the two opposing sides are concentrated. Moscow continues to launch missile strikes against critical infrastructure in Ukraine on an almost daily basis. Over the past few weeks, we have all somehow gotten used to the idea that the battlefield is at a far distance and the likelihood of the front approaching our borders is not so great. However, statements about the strategic goals of the next stage of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, namely the desire to take control of the entire Black Sea coast with access to Transdniestria, made by a high-ranking Russian military official, put our country back in the risk zone. This was followed by a variety of comments, including from the State Duma, hinting at possible recognition of the Transdniestrian region. This could not escape the attention of the official authorities, and the Russian ambassador to Moldova was summoned to the Foreign Ministry for the second time last week to give explanations and to demand that he express Moscow’s position on the Transdniestrian settlement. After a series of ambiguous statements by the Russian military and MPs, the Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday tried to “bring down the heat” by saying that a solution of the Transdniestrian conflict should be reached “provided that Moldova’s territorial integrity and the special status of the left bank region are respected. It also confirmed that Moscow did not see any risks of escalation in Transdniestria and threats to its citizens in the region. However, it soon turned out that the Russian Foreign Ministry was overly optimistic in its assessments. Yesterday evening there was an unpleasant incident in Tiraspol, when unknown persons fired grenade launchers at the building of the local security service. Then, closer to nightfall (as we learned today from statements by the regional administration), a military unit in the Transdniestrian village of Parcani was attacked. And already this morning there were reports of explosions at radio towers in the village of Maiac. There are no answers to the question of who carried out these provocations and for what purpose, but it will soon be clear whether this was the reason for making decisions at the external level (reactivation of the Tiraspol airfield, reinforcement of the peacekeeping contingent) or only for internal measures, namely the introduction of martial law and curfew. Some experts considered the statements of the Russian command, together with the terrorist attacks, as a possible reason for the aggravation of the situation around the left bank of the Dniester river, which can be seen in Kyiv as a bargaining chip. Therefore, it did not take long for the Ukrainian president to make a statement. In response to a question about whether a new Mariupol in Odessa might happen, Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the possibility of such a scenario, noting that the Kremlin has plans for a corridor to Moldova, so he does not believe that Russian troops will stop only on Ukrainian territory. Apparently, the attempts of Ukrainian representatives to “test the Moldovan waters” that followed are related to this. According to Roman Kostenko, a member of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, at present, while conditions are still favorable, Chisinau could take advantage of the situation and regain Transdniestria. Obviously, the Moldovan army alone cannot solve such a problem, so, according to him, if the government receives such a request, the Ukrainian army will help. At the same time in the social networks and some media there was an information that the Polish troops were transferred to the territory of Romania to create a separate grouping of strikes. For Bucharest and Chisinau, the approach of Russian military units to the borders, as has been said repeatedly, is a strategic threat. Therefore, purely theoretically, it should not be excluded that the defeat of the Ukrainian army could be an occasion for the international contingent to withdraw to the territory of historical Bessarabia to meet the Russian troops in order to keep the front line at a maximum safe distance. The fact that Russia has announced its goals, which are getting close to the borders of our country, should not surprise anyone – we knew this before. One may recall Lukashenko’s notorious map, which he showed during one of his meetings, and that very arrow pointing towards Moldova from the sea. That’s why our leadership still faces the question of what scenario we should choose in case of a radical change in the Odessa region. Despite the fact that outwardly on both banks of the Dniester River the usual rhythm of peaceful life is maintained, in terms of security all the military forces are in military readiness mode. Ordinary citizens obviously do not want any conflict developments and the opening of an additional “Moldovan front” in the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation. Another question is what are the sentiments of our political elites, who are under considerable pressure from the current circumstances. It is clear that the corridor of possible actions of the country’s leadership is constantly narrowing, but the military adventure into which they are trying to draw Moldova (with all the benefits of the country’s final reintegration) may subsequently have disastrous consequences not only for the territorial integrity, but also the existing internal political configuration, as well as the pro-European foreign policy. Therefore, the authorities should be more cautious and think carefully before making any drastic decisions. Of course, it is up to our authorities to decide how trustworthy the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statements about respecting someone’s territorial integrity are. However, in this difficult period, such assurances do not add to confidence; on the contrary, they can discourage our vigilance. Moldova does not have any significant military potential and even in case of supplies of quality modern weapons it is unlikely to be able to withstand a military invasion for a long time. Therefore, the political and diplomatic route, despite all its weaknesses, is still the best possible way to keep Moldova from devastating and tragic events.