Government to Promote Giving up Neutrality?

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Sergiu CEBAN
More than half of Moldovan citizens still consider it necessary to maintain a neutral policy in international affairs, which stands in the way of the country’s leadership plans to abandon constitutional neutrality as early as next year
The results of Saturday’s meeting of the Supreme Security Council leave no doubt that it was devoted to the country’s security amid the rapidly changing realities of the conflict in Ukraine, including the emergence of nuclear risks. While the situation is still relatively distant from our borders, the country’s leadership has a little time to (re)think things through and make quick decisions. In the near future, the state machine is preparing to apply targeted sanctions (deprivation of citizenship and increased sentences for participation in hostilities) in order to rule out direct involvement in the conflict on Ukrainian territory. In addition, it is also necessary to minimize a number of factors that could be seen as legitimate reasons for any disproportionate reactions from both Moscow and Kyiv. At the same time, one cannot ignore the fact that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is entering a new, much more complex and dangerous, phase of escalation. This will require our authorities to make more mental efforts and, at the same time, to take tougher and more decisive actions. The “referenda” that have taken place in the occupied Ukrainian territories pose a serious danger and fuel separatist sentiments in some regions of Moldova. That is why, perhaps, for the first time since the 90’s, proposals to toughen penalties for treason and separatism have been heard from the President. Changing circumstances in the region and the world are dictating the rules and forcing countries and their elites to adjust to the new reality. Back in June, parliamentarians and officials of various ranks announced the start of work on a new National Security Strategy that would meet the current spirit. The Secretary of the National Security Council, Dorin Recean, recently said that working groups should prepare a draft document by April 2023. There is no doubt that it is being developed in close cooperation with qualified foreign specialists, primarily from Bucharest, where the main European and American think tanks are concentrated. The covert part of the work is surrounded by public debates of all kinds. They are largely aimed at making the process at least nominally transparent and at the same time to throw innovative ideas or proposals into the public arena. Monday’s round table with participation of local and foreign experts and representatives of the power bloc is also among such events. At it, for instance, the director of the Security Information Service, Alexandru Mustiata, spoke in favor of establishing strategic communication with citizens on the most sensitive issues of national security: Transdniestrian separatism, disinformation, corruption, pandemics, etc. Also, in his opinion, the state needs to “cultivate” among the population a culture of security, the understanding of which now seems to leave much to be desired. However, Dorin Recean’s statement that Moldova can no longer rely solely on foreign policy instruments for state sustainability, implying the status of neutrality, was pivotal. Therefore, Recean concluded, Moldova must work on improving its defense capabilities. Maia Sandu has previously spoken on the lack of guarantees that adherence to the current neutral status will protect Moldova, because countries with a similar status spend a lot of money on defense, while our country does not have a sufficiently trained army. Moreover, despite the fact that neutrality is constitutionally enshrined and is supported by the citizens, according to Sandu, it is necessary to understand why they believe in it so much and whether this choice of the population is not the result of misinformation that it seems to be the best choice for our country. According to this year’s opinion polls, despite the militarization of attitudes in Europe, the growth of the military threat and the decline of security, more than half of Moldovans still consider it necessary to maintain a neutral policy in international affairs. The authorities seem to have decided that something must be done about it, since the only obstacle to initiating a fundamental shift in state security is the rooted stereotypes. Therefore, Recean’s comments may well be seen as a desire to probe public opinion and begin its smooth readjustment regarding the perception of such a seemingly inviolable constant as neutrality. As the experts like to say lately – the world will no longer be the same. And in fact, much has changed in the last six months in the behavior of our politicians and the country’s approaches. The period of foreign policy balancing seems to have come to an end. More and more often one hears from the country’s leadership quite clear assessments and judgments that reflect a principled position on this or that issue on the international agenda. We have long seen no attempts to somehow round off or soften any statements in order to “walk safely through the storm”. This leads to an obvious conclusion: the current generation of elites is ready to implement radical changes. Moreover, many of the current politicians realize that the time has come historically to make important strategic decisions that will determine the course of the state’s history for the next several decades. It is very likely that within a year, maybe two years, the constitution and its individual fundamental provisions will have to be significantly amended. The authorities certainly want to see Moldova as an organic element in the Baltic-Black Sea zone of Euro-Atlantic security, and they also hope that the new dividing lines in Europe will pass as far away from our borders as possible.