With vigorous arms deliveries to Ukraine, NATO countries have now turned their eyes to Moldova and provide financial and material support to enable re-armament and virtual restart of the national army. Will such aid ensure Moldova’s self-defense capability?
A month ago, the Information and Security Service chief issued a highly resonant statement arguing that Russia would attack Moldova no later than April in an effort to reunite with Transdniestria. Many pro-government experts and government officials attempted to mitigate the strong political effect of the message. However, the current Moldovan elite, if one believes in its intellectual independence, lives solely in the logic of a planned military standoff with Russia.
If we decode the rhetoric of the president, the speaker of the parliament and other representatives and appointees of the PAS party, the war between Russia and our country is already underway (whether because of Transdniestria, or Ukraine, or Gagauzia, or even because of Russian gas) – the only thing is that hybrid methods are used. A direct frontal attack by the Russian Armed Forces is allegedly delayed only because of Ukraine’s remarkable progress on the front, so Moscow is now content with the tools to undermine the internal political situation, to create problems in the energy sector, to foster information confrontation and propaganda.
This picture of the current military-political reality is very close to the personal beliefs and world view of Maia Sandu and her team. Chisinau is willingly and doggedly implementing the public part of the methodology from the Western embassies. This includes quite open theses on renouncing the principle of military neutrality, allegedly in order to shield us from the Kremlin’s aggressive plans. The topic of neutrality, in particular, is a core issue for parliamentary speaker Igor Grosu. He is already counting the missing votes needed for a qualified majority to enable relevant constitutional changes, and is trying to detect all signals from the West in order to find the perfect timing for an appropriate legislative initiative.
The problem, however, is not only in legislation and outreach, but also in concrete practical steps to transform the military and political role of our country in the region. Last year saw significant shifts – Moldova became a candidate for EU membership and for the first time ever attended a NATO summit.
The country’s military budget this year should grow at once by 50% and exceed $87 million (four times more than a decade ago). Last year, the European Union allocated two tranches of 7 and 40 million euros in aid to the defense sector. Much of this year’s package of 250 million euros is meant for military expenditures.
Without lagging behind, the United States has already provided Moldova with more than 260 million dollars since February 2022, including for the sovereignty and security protection. In the last 18 months, U.S. military transport aircrafts have landed at least three times at Chisinau airport with cargoes that the authorities have never disclosed publicly. Last week, Germany started deliveries of two dozen Piranha armored personnel carriers. At the ceremony of receiving the equipment, Defense Minister Anatolie Nosatii said that the goal is to replace all Soviet equipment with that used in the West. And this is a position of principle reflected in the new individual cooperation plan between Moldova and NATO.
Back in November, it was announced that our country would join the military mobility action plan of the European Union, which would also provide Chisinau with certain funds, as well as obligations to facilitate the transit of military equipment. Moldova’s border management is largely outsourced to EU experts. In the past, this was handled exclusively by EUBAM, but now the EU Center for Internal Security and Border Management (Frontex) has joined, ensuring the permanent presence of EU border guards on our territory.
The year ended with a series of landmark dialogue events on NATO’s role in the region involving participants from Moldova, including the NATO Building Integrity Conference, conference in Chisinau on Developing NATO Partnerships in a Changing Security Environment, and the Eastern Forum on Security and Border Management.
In December, the parliament vested the border police with extra powers to check citizens of Russia and several third countries, while simplifying procedures for those from the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and the European Union. At that time, Moldovan secret service representatives were authorized to have dual citizenship, with a special reservation that the second one must necessarily be that of one of the European Union countries.
The participation of national army servicemen in international exercises under the auspices of NATO or individual member countries of the Alliance has intensified. Fire Shield 2022 and JCET-2022 drills took place in Bulboaca, in September and October respectively. In November, a Moldovan-Romanian drill at the Dealul Vulpii site in Piatra Neamtz county in Romania took place at the level of motorized rifle brigades to improve interoperability and to synchronize the operational activities of the military personnel. In December, a group of soldiers from our army participated in the international exercise South-Eastern Europe Simulation 2022 (SEESIM 22) held in Bucharest.
At the same time, the National Army remains one of the weakest in the world today and is not capable of carrying out serious combat tasks, including countering Russian armed forces. Moldova is vulnerable even to occasional rocket attacks. The fact that missiles regularly cross our country’s airspace and their debris uncontrollably fall on our territory proves that.
Russia does not even need to cross Ukrainian territory to solve its military goals in Moldova, should there be such goals. It is obvious that, the Russian general staff, contrary to the SIS director’s careless remarks, does not view Moldova as a potential theater of military action and prefers not to respond to negative rhetoric, Moldova’s efforts in maintaining the Ukrainian energy balance, in supplying it with fuel and other essential commodities.
Yet, the West is steadily reinforcing our national army with funding and expertise. It seems that Moldova’s armed forces are rebooted to solve a very specific task, if and when it is needed. It is not only a question of Moldova being able to act as a single front with NATO countries should there be a large-scale conflict with Russia. It is likely that Western strategists are working out scenarios to solve a local problem – Moldova needs military and police forces sufficient to remove approximately 2,000 Russian servicemen in Transdniestria, as well as local armed forces, border guards, police and dissenting citizens.
Washington hopes to ensure that Russian troops are halted deep in Ukrainian territory (or even at the initial boundaries) by military means or, as a last resort, via diplomatic talks. This will allow Chisinau, without the risk of escalation with Russia, to try to resolve the Transdniestrian conflict in a semi-military way, using the police, as was done in Tbilisi, with no success, and Baku, rather successfully. Importantly, Washington invariably acts as the ideological inspirer of such projects. Thus, the U.S.-backed militarized pressure is working well in Kosovo, finally destroying Serbia.
To implement these plans, we need particular resources, which the West is now actively pumping into our country. Western equipment and doctrinal unification are needed to make the work of Western advisors comfortable. In this regard, the Moldovan government is also a reliable ally for the West.
The last stumbling block is the peacekeeping mission on the Dniester, the functioning of which allows Russia to keep its contingent in the Security Zone. A force scenario, if initiated, would probably first destroy the peacekeeping mechanism and dissolve the Joint Control Commission. The question is whether the current government can soberly and maturely assess the risks resulting from militarization, rejection of neutrality, and interrupted peacemaking on the Dniester. Where no peacekeeping mechanism is provided for (as in Ukraine), or is no longer in place (as in South Ossetia), force is used to resolve disputes. And the outcome is not always acceptable to the capital of a state that has a separatist conflict.
Should our authorities abandon the peacekeeping mission to forcefully suppress the Transdniestrian region, they will have to take full responsibility for giving up 30 years of peaceful development and diplomatic negotiations, with the consensus approval of the international community. It seems that Washington has found clients obedient and shortsighted enough to carry out such a suicidal plot. Of course, we wish this were our delusion.