What Does TurkStream Bode for Moldova’s Foreign Policy?

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Sergiu CEBAN
The ruling party has to sacrifice its principles by flirting with Turkey, contrary to its general policy of rapprochement with Romania, the EU and the United States. Why?
Among the series of our leadership’s international visits, Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Nicu Popescu’s trip to Turkey stands out. At a meeting with his counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, our diplomat discussed the development of interstate relations and the reduction of negative factors related to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. It is important that there are still hopes to overcome the threshold of one billion dollars in bilateral trade, for which it is planned to move further in the process of its liberalization, adjusting and updating the relevant agreement on the free exchange of goods. Speaking to journalists, Popescu said that he had handed Cavusoglu a personal invitation from Maia Sandu to Recep Erdogan to visit Moldova and take part in the second meeting of the Strategic Cooperation Council of the two countries. Such unexpected splash of diplomatic activity in the direction of Ankara somewhat surprised experts, especially in view of the orientation of the current government to the United States and the European Union, with which Turkey has very difficult relations. In general, the policy of strategic rapprochement with the Republic of Turkey began several years ago, when Vlad Plahotniuc and Igor Dodon were in power. Then the two countries celebrated the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and decided to make a qualitative leap in these relations. In addition, the previous generation of our politicians, who fell out of favor with the EU, apparently tried to find a place for themselves among the autocratic regimes, which began to actively flock together. Since PAS came to power, the rapprochement with Turkey has noticeably slackened. One of the stumbling blocks was the ruling party’s tough stance on the notorious expulsion of several Turkish teachers from Moldova. However, the series of crises faced by our country over the past year seems to force us to abandon our principles and seek support not only in European capitals, but also in less familiar destinations. The government has even sent delegations to distant Azerbaijan in search of alternative sources of gas. But later, we probably realized that we need to negotiate first and foremost with Ankara, Baku’s senior partner. And there is a chance to agree with the Turks, at least because our country is in the zone of their strategic interest, extending to all the borders of the former Ottoman Empire. Being geographically located in the Black Sea basin, Moldova has always been seen by Turkish ideologists as an important part of the larger Black Sea perimeter. In recent years, the importance of this region has changed significantly and continues to change. It quickly became a link between the Middle East and Southeast Europe, the Caucasus and the Balkans, the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean. Being in a favorable geopolitical position, Ankara is increasing its influence, acts as an active international player, wishing to establish peace, stability and cooperation in the region in a configuration that would ensure its national interests. Moscow is now playing along with Turkey’s strategic narrative, which, in turn, has become Russia’s economic donor. This tandem, despite all contradictions, will grow stronger. The joint creation of one of the largest gas hubs has already been announced. After the destruction of Nord Stream, the Kremlin actually abandoned the idea of such a partnership with Berlin and reoriented towards the south in order to implement its long-term plans in Europe, but in partnership with Turkey. And here, of course, our diplomacy should keep its nose to the wind and use the Trans-Balkan gas pipeline, which passes through our territory, to become part of the future energy landscape in the region. Apart from that, Istanbul, being at the junction of Europe and Asia, is growing into a center of wide-ranging international efforts. We know that this spring Kyiv and Moscow were almost one step away from ending the war after a series of meetings in Istanbul. The city is also a venue for the recently increased and far more productive US-Russian contacts to discuss de-escalation of relations, resumption of strategic dialogue and exchange of prisoners. While in Turkey, Nicu Popescu admitted that the security situation in the Black Sea region remains very difficult, and stressed an extremely important role of Turkey in grain talks. According to our minister, Ankara is making a significant contribution to the peace process in the current dramatic moment, in addition to the fact that it has always supported Moldova’s territorial integrity. Given the PAS’s general policy in favor of stronger ties with and greater influence from Romania and the U.S., the MFAEI chief’s revelations combined with diplomatic compliments look ambiguous, to say the least. Moldova itself is a country in which interests of many different players intersect, therefore any pronounced gesture towards one of them risks disrupting the delicate balance of perceptions in one or the other capital. Any rapprochement between Chisinau and Ankara will inevitably be seen through the lens of geopolitical realities. For example, Romania will obviously not be happy with such a swing, as it competes with Turkey for the title of the leading NATO country in the Black Sea region, with the status of the Alliance’s outpost on the Black Sea. Moreover, Ankara’s strong support for the Gagauz autonomy actually implies, among other things, less prospects for Moldova’s reunification with Romania. Nor can we rule out the possibility that Chisinau is trying to set the role of Turkey in our country’s history against that of Russia. Moscow’s stance in relation to Moldova has weakened considerably over the past year, with its main leverage now only in the energy sphere. Therefore, diversifying energy sources at the expense of Ankara’s capacities and involving the Turkish factor in principle based on the example of Ukraine could counterbalance the Kremlin and neutralise any attempts at political pressure. It is quite possible that our top officials also see the Istanbul venue as a good alternative for talks on Transdniestria. Especially given Ankara’s principled position on the overall concept of resolving our territorial conflict.