Moldova’s Risky Moves in Munich

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Anton SVET
At the Munich Security Conference, Maia Sandu did her best to “squeeze” Moldova into the Ukrainian context. Why?
The Munich Security Conference is a very representative forum that sets the political-military trends in contemporary international relations. Its extreme iteration, held late last week, differed from many previous ones in a limited palette of views. The U.S. and NATO succeeded in maximizing the consolidation of allies’ military, financial and diplomatic support for Ukraine. There are no doubters left, the West stands united in its intention to bring the situation to a complete defeat of Russia. To some extent, only the views on how soon the victory will be achieved and on the further arrangement of the defeated Russian Federation differ. A summary of the Western plan was voiced by Russian oppositionist Garry Kasparov – a Ukrainian flag over Sevastopol. Kyiv and its patrons do not seem to be considering options with a temporary truce and a restart of diplomatic negotiations on rational terms to separate the conflicting sides. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned that a precondition for peaceful dialogue should be a complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian constitutional territory, including Crimea. Volodymyr Zelensky made an optimistic statement about the possibility of a cease-fire and a final victory for his country as early as this year. In fact, the Munich forum turned into a competition to see who would express support for Ukraine the loudest. The usually diplomatic French President Emmanuel Macron predicted a long war: “We must build up support for Ukraine so that it can launch a counteroffensive, win, and then begin the negotiation process on its own terms.” The head of the fifth republic even threw in the topic of the exclusion of Russia from the UN Security Council. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called Russia an aggressor and demanded the withdrawal of troops. However, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was ahead of the curve, promising for the first time to provide Ukraine with long-range missiles. In these circumstances, the Chinese peace initiative announced at the conference by Wang Yi, a member of the Politburo responsible for foreign policy, seemed unexpected and even out of place. According to the former Chinese foreign minister, Xi Jinping will put forward concrete proposals for peace talks that respect the principles of international law, including the territorial integrity of states, on the anniversary of the start of the conflict, February 24. Beijing is interested in the broadest possible reaffirmation by the international community, especially Washington, of its commitment to the principle of territorial integrity and inviolability of borders, because it is trying to avoid military escalation around Taiwan and, in particular, U.S. intervention. However, such a serious initiative could hardly have appeared without a strategic expectation that it would find understanding among decision-makers. The Chinese plan is already at the disposal of Kyiv, as well as the U.S. and Germany. Wang Yi went to Moscow after the Munich conference and Xi Jinping will go there later. For his part, U.S. President Joe Biden is holding talks with the other belligerent side, visiting Kyiv on Monday. Publicly, the U.S. president announced full support for Ukraine, new military supplies, multibillion-dollar funding for the Ukrainian budget and another package of sanctions against Russia. However, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser who still communicates with Moscow, took part in the talks. Thus, statements made by Ukraine and its patrons at the Munich Security Conference about the impossibility of peace talks may only be an element of bargaining, the maximum overstatement of the starting negotiating positions. If Washington has demanded a truce from Kyiv, Volodymyr Zelensky will not be able to refuse. The statements of our leaders in Munich should be viewed through this very prism. President Maia Sandu and Interior Minister Ana Revenco went to the forum. Taking into account the increased attention to the Ukrainian issue, the Moldovan representatives were destined to play the role of an extras. However, Maia Sandu did her best to fit into the Ukrainian context and to put Moldova on the military-strategic map of Europe. First of all, together with Zelensky, Sandu continued to stir up the topic with the alleged Russian plan to destabilize Moldova. Once again, we heard about the citizens of Russia, Belarus, Serbia and Montenegro who were supposed to take part in the protests. The President complained about cyber-attacks, false bomb reports and sabotage. Maia Sandu announced the adoption of a law to control propaganda and disinformation in the online space. However, the key topic of her speech was the issue of missile defense: “The priority now is projects with immediate impact, and the biggest issue we have now is the need for airspace surveillance and air defense. This is a need not only for the Republic of Moldova, but for the entire region. Given what Russia has done in Ukraine, it is clear that neutrality cannot protect us, it can only protect you if other states respect it.” The president’s bellicose rhetoric was supported by the recently appointed Prime Minister Dorin Recean, who demanded the demilitarization of Transnistria by withdrawing Russian troops and ammunition and disarming the local army. The head of the government has also repeatedly criticized the neutrality of the republic. Ukraine, for its part, persists on the subject of hybrid threats to Moldova, predicting an almost invasion. At the same time, some media outlets are paying increased attention to the situation around the Russian arms depots in Colbasna and the maneuvers of the Ukrainian armed forces on the border with Transdniestria. In this way, the West, through its clients in Chisinau and Kyiv, is threatening Russia with the opening of a second front. Dorin Recean even uses terminology from NATO methodology in his reasoning, setting the goal of inflicting unacceptable damage on Russia in the event of a conflict. The West expects to enter the negotiating cycle from the most advantageous positions, demonstrating to the Kremlin the readiness to go all the way, including setting Moldova on fire. In doing so, our country is artificially placed in the context of the Ukrainian crisis not only to weaken Moscow’s negotiating position, but also to ensure that this topic is included in a potential deal. Washington expects to close with one deal not only the Ukrainian case, but also the Transdniestrian file. The appointment of Dorin Recean, as well as the adoption of the “law against separatism” suggests that the settlement of the problem will be implemented without excessive diplomacy and negotiations. The game is played at the highest possible stakes. By dragging Moldova into this subject, Maia Sandu and her handlers are taking a big risk in the hope of taking the bank by conquering Transdniestria. It must be understood that Moldova will remain in this militaristic context even if the deal falls through. And the cover of neutrality will no longer work.