Moldova and Romania in the New Context – Will “Unirea” Take Place?

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Anton SVET
The status of a candidate for membership in the European Union and the front-line territory provides a solid financial backing for Moldova from the West. However, the prospects of joining the EU in a national capacity are still vague, which will inevitably bring back to mind the infamous “Unirea”
Since its establishment, the Moldova Support Platform has already had three meetings – in spring, in summer, and this Monday. Almost 50 countries and international organizations actually took financial patronage over Chisinau, helping the country to survive the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine, the rising cost of energy resources and inflation, and the blatant miscalculations of our government. In July, in Bucharest we were able to get up to 615 million euros of aid, including more than 430 million in grants. Speaking in Paris, Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu called for a renewed focus on grant rather than loan resources – for the purchase of electricity in Romania and for European integration reforms. According to calculations of the French President Emmanuel Macron, Moldova received in Paris 100 million euros to support the Ukrainian refugees, 90 million – for the purchase of energy resources and reform of the energy sector, as well as 26 million for business assistance. If we look at the figures, the enthusiasm of our European partners is waning, but they are not going to leave us without support at all. Especially in view of the approaching fateful winter period, when huge sums of money will be needed to buy gas and electricity. Obviously, donor funding is an inevitable payment for Chisinau’s political loyalty, but the strategic outlook remains bleak. The recent confession by Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa that the EU is unable to meet expectations for the accession of new members under the current institutional and budgetary arrangements sounded very alarming. Earlier we have repeatedly written that Brussels (read: Berlin and Paris) will hardly be interested in giving Moldova and other candidate countries, even the Western Balkan ones, an equal voice in the structures of the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament. Amid the dim chances of membership in the European Union, calls for a fast-track “Unirea” will become louder and louder in the coming years. Civil society and external partners have become convinced that the current government is capable of establishing political and logistical support for Ukraine and distancing itself from Russia as much as possible, but is completely unsuited to the long-term effective management of the country, its restructuring and economic recovery. Even the stationing in the capital of dozens of high-level EU advisors and various consultants from the USA and NATO does not guarantee the stability of the political situation, which is constantly descending into mass protests and crises. The irritation provoked by the leaks of messages from government officials within the ruling party has been countered with great difficulty through minor changes in the composition of the executive branch. Natalia Gavrilita’s cabinet survived, but it is not clear how long she will stay in office, especially given the U.S. Embassy’s interest in promoting Dorin Recean to a formal leadership position. The political class’s inefficiency in governing the country is offset by the rapprochement with Romania hailed by international partners. Apart from this year’s long-term trends, we should first of all highlight the start of Romanian power supplies to Moldova. Once supplies from the Moldavskaia GRES were terminated, Energocom JSC, alongside the independent generation at thermal power plants in Chisinau and Balti and interflows from Ukraine, started to purchase all the missing volume of electricity in Romania through the hub substation in Isaccea. Considering that there is no guarantee of Russian gas supplies even with current reduced volumes (Gazprom warned about possible reduction starting November 20 if the volumes contracted for Moldova remain in Ukrainian gas storages), in the near future Romania may become a transit country for gas supplies to Moldova. Today Romania has already partially stored the gas volumes to be consumed in winter that were saved by our government. Current trends prompt bold statements. For instance, a member of the new Unionist party CUB, Anatol Tăranu, calls for “an extraordinary step in an extraordinary situation”, namely uniting with Romania as a solution against the stoppage of Russian gas supplies. Like, “the Republic of Moldova will be Romania, and Romania by definition cannot be brought to knees by Russia”. CUB’s geopolitical aspirations are well-known, but the situation is similar in the ruling party’s ranks – not long ago one of its deputies, Lilian Carp, joined the Romanian radical political party “Save Romania Union”. Predictably, no violation of the law was found in such a move. After all, Maia Sandu herself admitted that she had Romanian citizenship and claimed that she would vote “for” in the referendum on unification with Romania. The parliamentary PAS faction is composed almost entirely of Romanian citizens. The oppositional BoCS also has many of them, though it formally advocates a “pro-Moldovan” political philosophy. Today one third of our citizens have Romanian passports. Referring to the state language as “Romanian” has long been mainstream. Even politicians who are not overtly pro-Romanian, such as Ion Ceban and Irina Vlah, agree that they speak Romanian. “Unirea” could have been established back in the early 1990s, but the Transdniestrian conflict prevented it, especially the fact that attempts to keep control over the right bank city of Bender and, accordingly, over the historic border along the Dniester failed. Bucharest itself has for years encouraged unification and is insistent on the concept of two states of one Romanian nation. Our young people study in Romania, and then they find jobs in the Moldovan authorities. More recently, joint meetings of governments and parliaments have been regularly held, which suggests an exceptional degree of integration. Bucharest has nothing to lose along the way, since a number of EU countries (primarily the Netherlands) still block Romania’s accession to the Schengen area, and this actually retains a kind of conditional boundary between Romania and the rest of the Union. The ongoing military cooperation should not be overlooked: joint drills are growing in number, and a project of joint border patrols is also underway, although the state border line is not clearly defined by a bilateral agreement. The Metropolis of Bessarabia of the Romanian Orthodox Church is steadily expanding its influence: already more than 20 percent of our believers affiliate themselves with it, and in the past 15 years the number of its parishioners has increased sevenfold. Romania is our key trade partner, with the mutual trade turnover of 2.4 billion dollars in 2021. This year, given the Romanian electricity supplies, the trade dependence will grow manifold. As of today, it is obvious that the authorities seek to remove Moldova from the Russian sphere of influence at any cost. But it is also clear that this will not make the country happier or richer. Given all the ambiguity of EU membership prospects and the deep socio-economic crisis, the “Unirea” issue will emerge with renewed vigor – and it should not be ruled out that PAS or its successors, promoted by Western partners, will at some point dare to bring this scenario to life.