The ruling party’s actions do not sync well with the current reality of the Ukrainian conflict
Political prognosis is not an easy task, especially in the current turbulent realities and armed conflict in Europe. The current geopolitical confrontation has a wider geography than the area of direct hostilities, as well as much more aspects: sanctions and economics, transit, informational propaganda, ideology. All of these are essentially facets of a single process involving the revision of the established world order. Some influential players, including Russia, view this process as insufficiently fair and not sensitive to their interests and needs.
The reasons for fast trek granting Ukraine and Moldova the status of candidates for the EU membership also lie in purely geopolitical confrontation between Russia and Western countries. However, the skew towards symbolism in the unanimous adoption of this decision by EU countries does not cancel its multifaceted influence on Moldova.
To a large extent, to date, the interests of forcing integration into the EU, as well as the perception of the events in Ukraine by the authorities, determine the country’s internal and foreign policy. Such basic things as respect for their own economic interests, inflation administration and lowering the standard of living, investment, trade and other things are ignored by the government as not fitting into the primitivistic geopolitical frame. For our pro-European leadership, it has long been set out and implies assigning specific labels to all participants in the Ukrainian crisis.
However, there appears to be a major time lag between the events on the front, their interpretation by the ruling party, and the responses, not less than several weeks. It appears today the authorities are still convinced that Ukraine is successfully repelling the Russian attack, that the conflict has become as protracted as possible, and that the advance of Russian troops remains limited.
This impression was reasonable in May and early June after the long-lasting tight defense of Mariupol and Russia’s refusal to mobilize. Some hopes came from the AFU counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast and near Kherson, strikes on Snake Island, and deliveries of Western arms. In May, Kyiv promised to conduct offensives on all fronts in summer or early fall.
Clearly, at that time there was no serious threat of a large-scale Russian offensive against Mykolaiv and Odesa. This was also covered in our country, for example by Maia Sandu. Just a few days ago, she claimed that she did not expect a Russian attack on Moldova in the near future stressing how the Transnistrian settlement was connected to the course of military action in Ukraine.
Wanting to curry favor with the EU leaders amid the favorable news, the country’s leadership not only toughened its anti-Russian rhetoric, but also took a series of political steps demonstrating a negative attitude toward Moscow. Russian news content was restricted in Moldova, and symbols of the “special operation”, including the St. George ribbon, were banned. Today, our politicians are discussing with all seriousness the possibility of joining the anti-Russian sanctions in the economy. And yesterday Maia Sandu paid a visit to Ukraine for the first time since the conflict began. She met with Volodymyr Zelensky and visited a number of war-affected cities, expressing full solidarity with Kyiv.
All of these demarches clearly will not remain unnoticed by Moscow. Dmitry Medvedev, Dmitry Peskov, and Maria Zakharova have already spoken out publicly. However, the organizational and strategic decisions that are being made right now, including those on the Transdniestria case, will be much more important, given the crisis in the negotiation process in the international 5+2 format.
As of today, Russia still supports settling the conflict between Moldova and Transdniestria on the basis of the republic’s borders and the territorial integrity inviolability. Additionally, it mentions Transdniestria’s special status and the neutrality of Moldova proper. This position of the Kremlin has not changed for 30 years, and preserves the possibility of compromise both between the parties and, above all, at the level of the international community. Subject to certain conditions, for example, the inadmissibility of strengthening the influence of the United States and NATO in Moldova’s military.
However, there are serious difficulties in this regard. Maia Sandu, Igor Grosu and other top politicians talk about the need to modernize the national army according to NATO standards and ask for military assistance from the West, including lethal weapons. At the same time, Kyiv is seriously considering the option of using weapons stored in Cobasna depots in northern Transdniestria and regularly sends threatening signals to the region. Moscow can hardly ignore this reality or accept it indifferently.
Meanwhile, the situation on the Ukrainian front has changed in recent weeks. The advance of Russian forces in the Donbass has accelerated, the AFU is suffering enormous losses in manpower and equipment, and is ceding more and more settlements and territory. At the same time, the Russian Federation is launching devastating missile strikes deep in Ukraine’s rear, weakening the defense capabilities of its regions. Of course, there are still stronghold cities on the territory of Donbass that are capable of long-term defense – Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, and Avdiivka. However, it is becoming quite clear that it is only a matter of time before they reach the republic’s borders to southern Ukraine, trying to cut Kyiv off from access to the sea.
Meanwhile, the loss of key fortifications, the most combat-ready units and heavy weapons, as well as a drop in the spirits of the Ukrainian army may lead to an offensive by Russian troops at an accelerated pace, in some cases without even the need for active combat operations. In this case, the advance of Russian troops to the central section of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border still cannot be regarded as an entirely unrealistic scenario.
Hence, Chisinau may very quickly find itself in a situation where the inputs for the Russian-Moldovan relations and the Transdniestrian settlement will change completely. And then the current intransigence, the country’s leadership’s rigid course, and the anti-Russian sanctions will count for even more. Chisinau has repeatedly missed the chance for resolving the Transdniestrian conflict. It would require compromises or even concessions, but it would generally be on our terms. But in the coming months, Moldova may face a new reality, where preserving the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will no longer be true for all.