Moldova’s Foreign Policy Priorities in 2023

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Sergiu CEBAN
Starting the EU accession talks, stronger partnership with Romania and the U.S., new sources of financial aid, gradual withdrawal from the CIS and reducing dependence on Russia – this is what is ahead for the authorities and the Foreign Ministry on the international stage this year
Foreign policy is rightfully considered one of the most successful sectors of Natalia Gavrilita’s government. Despite regular rumors that certain ministers (or even the entire cabinet) will be dismissed, there is no doubt that the current MFAEI’s chief, Nicu Popescu, will retain his portfolio whatever the reshuffle. One must admit, since Maia Sandu was elected president, Moldova’s foreign policy capacities have grown considerably. Moreover, after the PAS party gained full power and the EU candidate country status was granted, our government’s international agenda has become as busy as possible. Today the MFAEI works almost at breakneck speed. In the very first days of 2023, Nicu Popescu paid a visit to the Baltic states – most likely, to help Moldova win a lobbying “group of friends” within the EU to expedite the start of accession negotiations between Chisinau and Brussels. This process is mainly hampered by a strong tie to the prospects for ending (or freezing) the Ukrainian crisis. Unfortunately for our leadership, there is a feeling that European officials have no intent to provoke Kyiv and therefore will not advance in negotiations with Moldova sooner than with Ukraine. Nevertheless, this is not the only thing our diplomats have to do. First of all, the Action Plan to implement the nine recommendations of the EU in the framework of the National Commission for European Integration is to be completed. In addition, more access to European markets and comprehensive integration with the transport, energy, infrastructure and other systems of the European Union is likely to be further ensured. Apparently, one of the important tasks of Moldovan diplomacy will be to refocus local producers towards European consumers and to liberalize trade with the EU to not only reduce dependence on Russia but to completely replace Russian markets, so as to deprive Moscow of one of its levers of pressure. The content of Maia Sandu’s last visit to Washington suggests that the development of relations with the U.S. will be one of the important focal points of MFAEI’s efforts not only this year but in the coming years as well. The day before, our ambassador finally presented his credentials to the U.S. president and can now take up his duties in full. We must admit that, despite the amount of U.S. aid to our country, the level of relations between the two states is very low. So far, increased political contacts with Washington are rather due to the geopolitical interest that America has in our regional space. It seems that the government will try to change this and build a solid ground for cooperation that is more stable and independent of internal political and regional developments. Of course, one of the main priorities is to further strengthen the partnership with Bucharest. In fact, during this challenging time in history, Romania has proved to be a reliable pillar for Chisinau which sustains and supports our country, including in the global stage. The continuing openness of the Romanian authorities creates all the necessary conditions for new sectoral programs and projects under the conventional slogan “Integration with Romania = Integration with the European Union”. Thanks to the joint efforts of Bucharest, Berlin and Paris, it was possible to find new sources of aid to our country last year. Guided by this experience, Moldovan and Romanian diplomacy will try to build on this progress and implement similar initiatives in a broader interstate format. Such collective support will be even more crucial this year, since neither the humanitarian crisis in the region and the refugee issue nor the energy threats are going to disappear. Most likely, our diplomacy will invest much effort in ensuring Moldova’s security, primarily by promoting dialogue with Western partners, with NATO and the current “coalitions” such as “Ramstein”. The security and defense talks with the EU initiated last year paved the way for an in-depth audit of our country’s needs. An important result was the establishment of the European Hub on Internal Security and Border Management. This year we will try to make a concrete “wish list” to enhance Moldova’s defense capabilities. As the only frontline country not covered by any (collective) security system, it is possible that the authorities will seek targeted arms deliveries, including through greater involvement in the “Ramstein” format. Relations with Moscow, which used to be in the top five foreign policy areas, will inevitably continue their steep downward spiral this year. Their final shape will probably be determined only by the outcome of military events in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Moscow ended last year with another series of threats against Chisinau. The Kremlin does not like the Western-backed process of building up Moldova’s defense capabilities, which it interprets as a retreat from the traditional neutrality policy. Further relations with Russia will depend, among other things, on our (non)membership in the CIS. Based on the official statements, although politically we left this platform long ago, a formal withdrawal from the CIS is still fraught with problems, primarily of an economic nature. Therefore, for the time being, our diplomats will focus on mitigating these risks in order to ensure the smoothest possible exit from the Commonwealth by formalizing bilateral agreements with post-Soviet states. The serious fracture in the post-Soviet space, a sign of historical change, opens up a unique chance for certain states, including Moldova, to find their place in the emerging geopolitical reality. So, most likely, all the efforts of our country’s leadership will be thrown to gain a foothold in the new foreign policy heights and take a place on the right side of the barricades.