Is Moldova Being Driven to Acts of Force on the Dniester?

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Visits of foreign intelligence chiefs, rumors of a government reshuffle, and peculiar nocturnal meetings in the presidency may indicate preparations by the authorities for withdrawal from the 1992 cease-fire agreement and a possible military operation in Transdniestria
Sergiu CEBAN, RTA: The cascade of recent high-profile events reflects the complex processes hitting Moldova. The leaks of the personal correspondence of the Minister of Justice and the Secretary of the Supreme Security Council seem to be attempts to influence decision-making in Chisinau. We cannot rule out that this is a way of playing to weaken the positions of certain leaders inside the government, especially amidst new rumors about the premiership of Dorin Recean. If such a switch of premiers happens after all, it is safe to say that Moldova is preparing for a radical forceful development, which is why the Cabinet of Ministers needs a person with an appropriate experience. Many observers call last night’s meeting of the PAS faction another proof of the government’s inevitable reset. However, in order to bring the necessary instructions to each member of the ruling majority, a meeting in Parliament would have sufficed. But the meeting was organized in the President’s Office. Therefore, probably, the deputies were informed about much more interesting layouts, such as what awaits Moldova in the near future and what, as a matter of fact, the people’s elected representatives should prepare for. In light of recent events, we cannot exclude the intra-party friction, forcing Maia Sandu to resort to a “manual control” mode to preserve the stability of power. Many were quick to claim that the regime seemed to have “bent” to the pressure of the street protests, which required an urgent regrouping of forces. Such a theory does not seem very plausible, even though it has a point. However, only extraordinary circumstances, which are now taking shape not on the internal but on the external perimeter and directly affecting our country, could have prompted Maia Sandu to dismiss the government and risk sharply changing the intra-party balance. The regional landscape, with the basic backdrop being the military-strategic situation in Ukraine, is rapidly changing. Kyiv and Moscow, mediated by Washington, are still trying to negotiate a kind of “winter truce”, which will undoubtedly be very fragile and short-lived. The retreat of the Russian military from Kherson suggests that Moscow has given up, at least at this stage, on advancing toward Mykolaiv and Odessa in order to cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea. So there is a possibility that Western military and political strategists have plans to take advantage of this tactical setback to squeeze the maximum out of it. In such a context, future scenarios can be very different. Last week, the visit of high-level European representatives was a kind of cover visit. It was important as political support for our leadership and the EU’s willingness to allocate resources for social expenditures and macrofinancial assistance to our country. However, this will presumably be followed by not the most popular decisions with the support of the development partners. By the way, many people noticed that Roberta Metsola, the head of the European Parliament, after the talks with Maia Sandu, said that neutral Moldova should join the NATO complementary defense alliance for some reason. The MEP said our country is facing a severe war and must strengthen its military infrastructure, recalling that European MPs have spoken in favor of creating a defense alliance under the North Atlantic Alliance to bolster the security of non-aligned partners like Moldova. Therefore, some eager minds are already saying that another high-profile incident will happen in our country in the near future, triggering relevant decisions by the Parliament and the Presidency. It seems that the fall of the Russian missile was a test balloon to understand the reaction of the society and, above all, of Moscow. Last week, conveniently enough, it was reported on social media that the Head of the British secret service, accompanied by his Romanian counterpart, came to Chisinau on a blitz visit, allegedly to meet with the President, the Head of the ISS, and the Minister of Defense. It is not yet clear to what extent this corresponds to reality. However, if we assume that such meetings did take place, they clearly covered very serious issues that required a face-to-face meeting. Russia’s retreat from Kherson does give reason to believe that the Kremlin is in a weakened state. And while it gathers its thoughts and strength, a series of steps can be taken to strengthen the positions of Moldova and Ukraine, and, consequently, the collective West. For Western partners it would now be tempting to neutralize the Russian military presence in our country and, in particular, to show the whole world that the peacekeeping mission on the banks of the Dniester is non-functional and not in keeping with present-day realities. We might recall that quite recently there was a fairly large incident in the security zone involving security forces on both sides, which could have had tragic consequences. As a matter of fact, we have not appointed our JCC co-chair for several months now, and by doing so we are apparently indicating our readiness to cease participation in the peacekeeping operation. That is why the decision to withdraw from the 1992 agreement is one of the expected options for the situation, as a result of which the whole Russian military grouping will find itself illegal. After that our demands for its immediate evacuation from Moldovan territory, especially with the support of our Western partners, will be more persuasive to the Kremlin. In addition, one cannot but notice the rapid build-up of military contingents and deployment of special units to neighboring Romania. Therefore, one of the hypothetical scenarios, which could contribute to the energy stabilization of Moldova and the Ukrainian regions, strengthening the military potential of Ukraine and another reputational blow to Moscow, is to conduct a rapid special operation from the territory of Ukraine to seize two strategic objects. This refers to the regional power generating hub – the Moldovan GRES, and the military depots in Cobasna. In such a scenario, temporary Ukrainian control could be established over them with the prospect of their return to Moldova after the end of hostilities.