Authorities Preparing a Revolution in Moldova’s Security?

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Christian RUSSU
The current national security strategy, which the PAS is going to change next year, if we look closely, includes everything that the ruling party seems to want: strengthening defense capabilities, cooperation with NATO, etc. What does the government really want? 
Fuss about neutrality Since the war between Ukraine and Russia broke out, expert and academic circles in Moldova, supported by Western foundations, have started to argue about the expediency of maintaining neutrality as a guarantor of stability, security and statehood as such. Even outside our realities, such talks amidst a major regional conflict near the borders cannot be regarded other than as a dangerous gamble. In theory, neutrality is exactly what should be manifested in periods of aggravation of military and political situation around the country, becoming an indisputable core of its foreign policy. In peaceful and quiet times, it is merely a state attribute. However, in our country everything is just the opposite. As soon as war loomed, officials, diplomats, academics and experts of all sorts rushed to debate: why do we need neutrality, what it really means, how it works in practice in Europe, what are the international trends, etc. It is not hard to guess what conclusions they reached in the end. Indeed, there are almost no examples of countries with full-fledged neutrality. Switzerland, for example, actively applies sanctions against Russia. Sweden and Finland have applied for fast-track accession to NATO. In our case, another sign of “leaky” neutrality is the preservation of a foreign military presence in addition to the de facto existence of another state entity within the country with an alternative foreign policy vector. What should our authorities do in such a situation? Giving up neutrality outright by changing the constitution is too bold, although the ruling party’s monopoly position allows it to do so. As a compromise, they may have decided not to abandon the existing neutral status, but to twist it to a certain extent. In recent months and weeks, our leaders – President Maia Sandu, Parliament Speaker Igor Grosu, Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu – have promoted the idea of defending state neutrality by building up military capabilities. The latter, in turn, requires close cooperation with strategic partners. Nicu Popescu listed them at a press conference with British Minister for European Affairs Leo Doherty: the UK, the U.S., the EU and NATO. Such flexibility and ingenuity in the interpretation of neutrality reduces it, in fact, to a decorative piece with no real meaning or content. In reality, in non-public conversations with foreign politicians, our side expresses a complete openness to military cooperation and readiness to mobilize, as one could see from the sensational prank of Maia Sandu. We can only guess, what interesting conversations the heads of our power departments have with their Western colleagues behind the closed doors. It is already clear that the concept of “defending neutrality by strengthening defense capabilities” is only a transitional stage, which should reassure the population for now. In this regard, it is worth paying attention to the expanding forefront of politicians and experts advocating a revision of doctrinal documents that define the state’s foreign, security and defense strategy. Significant in this regard was the statement by the presidential advisor Dorin Recean that Moldova can no longer rely only on its neutral status and needs a new security strategy. Supporters of the changes believe that the current document, adopted 11 years ago, is clearly outdated. Since then, Moldova has become a candidate country for EU membership, and the regional security situation has changed radically. Risks in the energy and cyber threats have also increased. Another telling point was the advocated need to revise the provision preventing Moldova from arming itself to build up its defense capabilities. The whole point is that within the international consensus established in the past decades, there was an understanding that in the process of the Transdniestrian settlement there would be a mutual demilitarization of the two banks. Therefore, strengthening the country’s military potential was considered inexpedient. Now, given the new realities and the actual cessation of the negotiation process, our Western partners are pushing our authorities to abandon these attitudes. By the way, the Minister for European Affairs of Great Britain Leo Doherty, during his visit to Moldova, made it clear several times that Great Britain and other Western countries are ready for a qualitatively different level of military cooperation with Moldova. Another of the experts’ creative ideas is to fix in the national security strategy the inviolability of the European integration course, excluding the attempts to revise the country’s foreign policy as a result of the change of power. It's all been written before us Interestingly, despite its solid 11 years, the current version of the national security concept does not seem inconsistent with the spirit of the times. By the way, when it was being developed, experts voiced similar reasons why a new document should be adopted to replace the old one. Turning to it, we can see that the main objectives of the foreign policy of the Republic of Moldova relating to national security and the effective promotion of national interests are:
  • the country’s integration into the European Union;
  • maintaining mutually beneficial relations and building strategic partnerships with the EU, Romania, Ukraine, the United States and the Russian Federation;
  • developing international cooperation to learn from the EU experience in building an effective national security sector.
Thus, the course towards European integration has already been set, as well as the defense modernization based on the experience of the EU (i.e. NATO). There is nothing in it that would prevent us from increasing our military capabilities as part of our cooperation with the Alliance itself. Section 3.3. Cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization provides for the development of relations with the goal of moving “from being a consumer to being a source of regional security and stability”. Moreover, it is explicitly stated in the text that the further process of individualization and deepening of cooperation with NATO, “is intended to confirm the vector of European action, which the Republic of Moldova has pledged to follow”. Thus, in fact, two inherently different processes are synchronized – cooperation with NATO and European integration. We can also find a provision that the Republic of Moldova promotes a strategic and special partnership with Romania and Ukraine for European integration and strengthening national security. And the priorities in cooperation with them are regional security, including in terms of economic, energy and environmental issues. There is a chapter in the strategy devoted to information security, including counteracting cyber-attacks and cyber-crimes, which have been much talked about this year because of the mass “mine-layings”. What does it say? Either the authorities are simply going to “rewrite” the already prescribed principles to demonstrate loyalty to the West and adherence to its geopolitical course. Or they are actually going to modify other provisions of the document, which neither the authorities nor experts are still talking about. Thus, we can assume that in the new version, the Russian Federation will not be on the list of external partners with whom Moldova wants a strategic partnership. Its place will most likely be taken by Great Britain, which in the meantime has left the European Union and requires a separate mention. The clause that cooperation with NATO falls within the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace is likely to be reformulated as well, “without violating or exceeding the constitutional provision on the status of permanent neutrality”. Obviously, the new concept of neutrality should be more in line with the current reality. After all, our ambassador to Belgium, Viorel Cibotaru, openly posts on his social media that he has been in the NATO office more than anything else lately. The signals that the current understanding of Moldovan neutrality is allegedly “outdated” are also produced by foreign experts working as advisors. For example, at one of the recent round tables Stefan Wolf expressed the opinion that neutrality for Moldova can remain a principle of foreign policy, but in a limited form, and not as a guarantee for Russia that Moldova will not join NATO. Generally speaking, he believes that non-aligned and, moreover, “multivector” foreign policy is now more or less impossible given the deep rift in Europe. This volatile approach of the authorities to strategic documents is also not an invention of Maia Sandu’s party. In the summer of 2017, in order to consolidate the country’s constitutional neutrality internationally and on the eve of parliamentary elections, Igor Dodon proposed to revise the draft national defense strategy and the action plan for its implementation for 2017-2021. But the Plahotniuc-controlled government did not support the president’s initiative, considering it opportunistic. At the same time, the final text adopted by the parliament for 2018-2022 listed the Russian military presence in Transdniestria and the power structures of the left bank as the main threat to the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It was also prescribed to take into account attempts to expand Russian influence in Moldova, “not least through economic and military pressure, propaganda, disinformation and even political bribery”. As for the provision on neutrality, one can see there the painfully familiar lines that it does not mean isolation, but rather the participation of the country as “not only a beneficiary, but also as an active party to the security process”. Around the same time, the Constitutional Court declared that the left bank of the Dniester is occupied territory, which in April of this year was recognized at the level of the Council of Europe. Thus, it is not excluded that in the near future (the draft of the new strategy is expected by April 2023) we will see already familiar provisions from the doctrinal documents developed during the reign of Vlad Plahotniuc, but already in the cover of the ruling majority party of Maia Sandu. Interesting items may be added to them, concerning, for example, possible scenarios of actions in cooperation with neighboring Romania in case of a sharp regional escalation around Moldova. In any case, one thing is certain: the neutral status will increasingly turn into a fiction, to the point that at the right moment it will be finally “erased” from all the fundamental documents on security and, eventually, from the Constitution.