The “Curve” of Moldova’s Neutrality: Not Needed Again

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It turns out that the neutral status prevents the authorities from ensuring the country’s security. Although, judging by the fact that Parliament Speaker Igor Grossu is discussing military transit for Ukraine through Moldova, neutrality is rather an obstacle to siding with one party to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict without scruple
The visit of the President of the Council of the European Union Charles Michel to Chisinau and his talks with Maia Sandu were marked by an unusual lack of consistency over the military-strategic cooperation between Moldova and the EU. Although the president tried to promote the topics of involving the country in the euro zone and local telecom operators in the European roaming network, the European official was obviously more interested in talking about security and defense policy. As a follow-up to the meeting, Michel announced new aid for military spending in addition to 7 million euros allocated last year. The package is expected to be much more solid and include a much larger number of areas. As Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu explained after the meeting, six areas of cooperation were agreed upon: military logistics, mobility, command and control, cyber defense, monitoring capabilities and tactical communication. This means an entirely new quality of military cooperation between Moldova and the European Union, which the current authorities, alongside cooperation with NATO, must view as the main tool for ensuring their own security in the conditions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. True, this strengthening of the military line in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration fits less and less into the republic’s neutrality concept. This is probably why Maia Sandu started to prepare media backdrop ahead of the top European official’s visit in advance. In an interview with the influential The Economist, the president made a number of very remarkable statements. For example, she complained that the principle of neutrality enshrined in the constitution would not allow the North Atlantic Alliance to defend Moldova in the event of a Russian attack. At the same time, this constitutional provision would allegedly not stop Russia should it decide to invade Transdniestria. Especially since a limited contingent of Russian troops has been in the region for 30 years, which is a stumbling block in relations between Moscow and Chisinau. After her meeting with Charles Michel, the president expressed concern over statements made by the Russian military about its intention to “reach Transdniestria”, again accusing certain forces inside the region of being involved in the April attacks and the intention to provoke a military conflict. An analysis of recent weeks’ statements made by our opinion leaders and specific actions suggest that the authorities are moving further away from a policy of non-interference and equal distancing from the parties to the Ukrainian conflict. During the first days of the “special operation”, the Moldovan leadership clearly stated its constitutional neutrality, refusal to provide military assistance to Ukraine or Russia and to apply sanctions against Moscow. In particular, Kiev’s requests to sell military aircraft were ignored. It is obvious that Chisinau feared an accelerated solution to the Transdniestrian problem by alienating the region from right-bank Moldova and establishing a land corridor through southern Ukraine. However, the slow pace in the Russian offensive, even after the announcement of the “second phase of the special operation” and plans to seize the southern regions of Ukraine, as well as the spectacular retaliatory actions of the Ukrainian armed forces, allow the authorities to show great “courage” by openly demonstrating their sympathy for Kyiv. All the more so since the issue of Russian natural gas and Transdniestrian electricity supplies to the right bank of the Nistru River has found a solution, albeit a short-term one, which allows making anti-Russian statements without fearing immediate consequences. The American Stryker battalion and F-35 fighter squadron deployed in the neighboring Romania also emboldens. The number of Romanian and Polish contingents on the border with Ukraine is constantly increasing, as is the military activity of Finland and the Baltic states near the borders of the Russian Federation. Thus, Maia Sandu’s initially anti-war rhetoric is becoming more and more assertive and conflictual. Moldova has already joined the overwhelming majority of anti-Russian restrictions, except for those that are simply impossible to implement today (such as giving up Russian gas and oil products). Today, the republic provides transit for various goods to Ukraine, including fuel and equipment. In fact, Moldova in its relations with Russia is already living in the regime of an ordinary EU state (not frenziedly Russophobic as the Baltic States or Poland, but explicitly anti-Russian), which limits Russia wherever possible, if this is not too damaging to its own interests. Such moves include the totally inadequate decision to ban the use of St. George’s ribbon (as an alleged symbol of the war in Ukraine) on the territory of the country and the strong pressure on the Gagauz autonomy local authorities to revise the law adopted there authorizing the ribbon. The next thing – speaker and MP Igor Grosu and Lilian Carp, dressed in camouflage and bulletproof vests, visit Bucha and lash out with accusations of genocide against Moscow. This visit of the closest associate and head of the Sandu-created party is of great symbolic value. But not only symbolic – as the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Ruslan Stefanchuk said, at the meeting with Grosu they discussed the possibility of transit through Moldova of military equipment for Ukraine. Which, no doubt, will mean the final transformation of the country’s neutral status into a fiction, with all the ensuing consequences. We must assume that Maia Sandu’s anti-Russian policy, which has nothing to do with true neutrality, will persist and intensify, unless some drastic changes in the course of hostilities occur. It is not quite clear where the “curve” of neutrality (which one day is necessary, then the next day – not really needed) will bring us to in such conditions. But it’s unlikely to lead to something good.