Moldova in NATO: Has the Principle Decision Been Made?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Public opinion is being prepared for the fact that in the near future Moldova will have to give up neutrality and join a military alliance for its own security
Last week several international events took place at once, the results of which are very important for the further development of the situation both in Europe and in the world. To begin with, it is worth mentioning the regular meeting of the Ramstein Group, which co-ordinates military assistance to Ukraine. Our Minister of Defence Anatolie Nosatii traditionally took part in the meeting. The official results were not exactly what Kyiv might have expected. Stocks of Soviet weapons in NATO countries are practically exhausted, and Ukraine’s allies are in no hurry to share the heavy weapons of Western production. Some experts say that the unwillingness to hand over tanks and other offensive weapons to the Ukrainian authorities will further motivate Moscow to make a new rush into Ukrainian territory from various directions, including the southern one, which poses the greatest threat to Moldova. Maia Sandu, in the meantime, went to the World Economic Forum in Davos to seek financial support from international partners. It is expected that this year Moldova will need at least last year’s amount of investments equivalent to 600 million euros. But, as it turned out, in addition to purely monetary and investment issues, the talks at the forum were also about security: Sandu once again asked for the provision of air defense systems. The annual conference in Davos is not an ordinary event. The high level of participants has always been a sign that the world’s top leaders and major financial magnates hold informal discussions on issues of regional and global significance and then shape them into political solutions. Obviously, one of the main topics of the forum was the general principles and future formula for security in Europe. Therefore, the statements that were heard from the backstage of the conference have quite definite motives. It is hard to know whether our leadership was given any recommendations, but it was in Davos that Maia Sandu publicly announced that there is now a serious discussion about Moldova’s ability to defend itself, and whether it must do so alone or as part of a larger military alliance. The president also made it clear that if the public comes to the conclusion that our neutrality must be changed, it must be done through a democratic procedure. Such blunt signals are clearly not just an ad hoc message, but a calibrated political message. Nicu Popescu’s statement that Moldova needs to strengthen its relations with those countries and organizations, including NATO, which help our country to pursue a European course and preserve its security, also confirms this. He also recalled that he met NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe in December and conveyed a desire to move towards a closer partnership in order to increase Moldova’s confidence in its security. NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana, who plans to visit Chisinau in the near future, immediately responded to such an appeal. In his opinion, Moldova is a “common partner” of NATO and the EU, so the two organizations together have a lot to offer. Moreover, he believes that Moscow currently has no military capacity to create a land corridor to Transdniestria, so Moldova has a real chance to break out of the difficult geography and become part of the civilized world. If the decision to speed up our country’s military and political integration into the common defense space of the USA and the EU is made, then, of course, our partners have something to offer and help. A team of EU military experts from the European Peace Foundation visited Moldova last week to discuss military cooperation between Moldova and the EU, modernization projects of the National Army and priorities for foreign aid to strengthen the capacities of the Moldovan armed forces. It is obvious that the mentioned modernization will be carried out according to NATO standards, so, most likely, the representatives of the fund will help develop an optimal “roadmap” for adapting to them. The most obvious obstacle to a fast rapprochement with NATO is the factor of the 1992 agreement, which is the legal basis for the presence of the Russian military on our territory. At the end of last year, official speakers of the Russian Federation already threatened Chisinau that intensified military cooperation with NATO threatens the security of the republic and “brings the country closer to catastrophe”. Because of Moscow’s unpredictable behavior, the question of the Russian military contingent is likely to be left out of the equation until new circumstances develop. However, the decision in principle to converge with NATO has already been made by our authorities. A number of Moldovan experts began to prepare the public opinion, saying that in 2023, Moldova will have to give up the idea of neutrality and join the alliances with other countries, which can provide the national security, as far as possible. If before the official rhetoric was moderately balanced and implied the nominal preservation of neutral status while increasing the capacity of the armed forces, the current statements of the leadership, as we can see, have become more explicit. It is difficult to understand what caused such a concretization of foreign policy priorities. Perhaps in the current geopolitical situation, our top leadership was advised to demonstrate its military-political choice as quickly as possible. Some analysts express doubts about the realism of full-scale integration into NATO, with regard to the norms of the current legislation, in which the status of neutrality is encumbered with “protective” procedural requirements. One thing they most likely cannot understand is that at such moments in history, the state has to make quick and crucial decisions, and it will have to do so even against peacetime rules. No matter how unpleasant or frightening it may seem to some, the course towards the North-Atlantic alliance is finally set – and apparently there is no turning back.