Did Moldova Receive “Russia’s Last Warning”?

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Sergiu CEBAN
With the latest unfriendly statements by its officials, Moscow has essentially drawn notorious red lines for Moldova: our country is threatened with major problems if it continues to move towards NATO, unirea and tight reintegration
The escalation of hostilities in Ukraine’s eastern regions has to some extent coincided with Moscow’s media activity. Importantly for us, the speeches of Russian officials have once again focused on Moldova. All of this looks worrying, and it looks very much like they are also trying to lead us into a complex geopolitical game with totally unpredictable consequences. It is not for nothing that the Moldovan intelligence service, closely cooperating with its Romanian colleagues, warned that in February the country could face a possible attack, without specifying in what format. The main “flare” was the recent statements by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who unexpectedly announced that Moldova, along with Ukraine, was also seemingly being prepared for the role of “anti-Russia”. He said that the election of Maia Sandu as president, who is “striving by all means to join NATO”, was an indication of this. Being a Romanian citizen, the Head of State is allegedly ready not only to unite with Romania, but also to do much more, Mr. Lavrov intrigues us. In addition, he pointed out that our authorities, with the support of the West, insist on the withdrawal of the Russian military from the left bank of the Dniester and refuse to resume the 5+2 format, which apparently gives Moscow the opportunity to feel again like a “decision-maker” on one of the cells of the post-Soviet “chessboard”. The Foreign Ministry responded to the Russian official by categorically rejecting such unfriendly comments, which are not true and are part of the already well-known threatening rhetoric of Russian diplomacy. The Ministry reminded the Russians that the Moldovan residents, regardless of their political or geopolitical preferences, are striving for peace, freedom and democracy, and Moldova has clearly chosen its future, and this future is “to be part of the free world”. Lavrov’s unfriendly message consists of three components traditional for Moscow: increasing ties with NATO and abandoning neutrality, reunification with Romania, and the Transdniestrian settlement. The Kremlin’s threats came precisely at the moment when all three issues began to shift in a definite direction away from Russian interests and the conditional consensus that underpinned the post-Soviet model of Moldovan-Russian relations. Obviously, there is a strong irritation accumulated in the Russian capital against the background of the increasingly loud statements of our leadership about the planned strengthening of cooperation with the North Atlantic alliance and requests for Western armaments. Obviously, the qualitative increase in the popularity of unirea and the freezing of the 5+2, coupled with the increased pressure on Tiraspol through the adoption of a law punishing separatism, are also perceived negatively there. For all the frankness of Lavrov’s passages, much, as they say, is, of course, hidden between the lines. Therefore, the Minister was followed by so-called “diplomatic-to-human” interpreters, including a variety of Russian propaganda experts. They again began to hint at the need for Chisinau to weigh the pros and cons, to soberly assess the regional situation and to try to stick to a neutral status. They said that only in this case would our country still have a chance to avoid getting into the vortex of military-political events and to preserve its territorial integrity by uniting with the Transdniestrian region. What is particularly noteworthy in Sergey Lavrov’s statements is the direct parallels with Ukraine, which also allegedly did not heed Moscow’s appeals and “ended up paying” for its willfulness. In other words, for Russia, as before, neither Kyiv nor Chisinau has the right to behave sovereignly and subjectively. Therefore, any decision of their rapprochement or accession to any politico-military alliance is a serious challenge to which the Kremlin will react harshly and aggressively. That Moscow is going to behave offensively in the coming years surprises few. But the problem is that our leadership has no one to lean on inside the country. The PAS’s domestic political position is becoming more precarious and unenviable with every passing month. Clearly, something will have to be done if the ruling team does not want to part with power so easily. It seems that our authorities have little choice but to employ more radical political methods to try to reverse the rapidly spiralling situation in the state. The results of a recent survey by WatchDog, a non-governmental organisation that is difficult to suspect of having links to Moscow or the oligarchic opposition, clarify several very important and worrying trends. For example, it is becoming clear that the ruling party will probably no longer be able to count on a mono-majority at the end of the next parliamentary elections. The government leadership is not even in the top ten officials who are still at least somewhat trusted by the population. In addition, the top five political formations include four parties with political ties to Moscow, while the electoral prospects of the pro-European forces are barely visible. The PAS reform agenda is gradually dropping out of the top themes for citizens, who are increasingly placing responsibility for their socio-economic and everyday problems on individual government officials. Moreover, more than half of the population is not ready to defend the country with arms in their hands in case of Russian aggression against Moldova. Amid such sentiments in society, the statements of Russian propagandists, including Lavrov, are quite organic and have a chance to settle in the “fertile Moldovan soil”. Probably, Moscow expects in this way to further fuel nostalgic feelings in Moldova, as well as to breathe strength and hope into our opposition underground so that it will continue to rock the current political regime with redoubled force and fight in anticipation of the arrival of the Russian army. As noted by a Russian political scientist, Chisinau may face real problems only if Moldova is given the go-ahead to move towards Transdniestria and Gagauzia to suppress them by force, after which our country will allegedly become another hotspot on the map of Europe. Whether it is a coincidence or not, the Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration visited Georgia last week to study Georgian practices and exchange best practices in policies for the reintegration of uncontrolled territories. So, it appears that our authorities are no longer responding to Moscow’s blackmail and will continue to pursue their objectives.