Expert: the West Will Soon Offer Moldova to Take a “Loyalty Test”

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Anton SVET
Recently, it became known about Serbian arms deliveries to Ukraine. Despite the dominant pro-Russian sentiment in society, elites in Belgrade, who aspire to join the European Union, relented under pressure from the West and thus passed their “loyalty test”. Moldova may soon face a similar test
In recent years, the policy of Serbia, Russia’s traditional ally in the Balkans, has undergone significant changes. And the transformation has been ahead of public opinion, which remains predominantly pro-Russian. Serbia is in a difficult environment – Croatia, Albania, with which Belgrade has historically conflictual relations, and Montenegro are NATO countries. For many years, soldiers of the Alliance peacekeeping mission have been stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, exercising de facto control over these territories and determining the vector of their foreign and domestic policy. Russia’s support for the territorial integrity of Serbia and the supply of cheap energy and technology help to maintain a favorable attitude toward Moscow among the population, but do not influence the general policy of the elites. Today the Serbian politics is defined, first of all, by the aspiration for membership in the European Union (the candidate country since March 1, 2012) as a result Belgrade faces regular loyalty tests coming from Brussels. The same approach has been repeatedly felt over the past year by our leadership, which, due to its sharply pro-Western views, demonstrates diligence and zeal, sometimes even more zealously than required. For Serbia, following the mainstream and EU guidelines has resulted in relentless concessions and crises. Recent tensions with Kosovo over the issue of license plates and control over ethnic Serb-populated areas in northern Kosovo ended with Belgrade capitulating. The rights of Serbs, including to free competitive elections, were violated, while Kosovars were allowed to enter Serbia freely in their private cars. Last week, Belgrade and Pristina agreed on mutual recognition of internal ID cards for movement in the territories of the parties. Moldova is close to the Serbian-Kosovo theme. Our peacekeeping contingent of ten servicemen has been serving for many years in KFOR in Kosovo. We do not recognize the independence of the province, supporting the territorial integrity of Serbia, but we have to take into account the position of the West and, for example, resolve the issue of Kosovo passports to ensure the arrival of the Pristina delegation to the summit of the European political community in June. And the country’s football teams have already repeatedly played with teams from Kosovo, a FIFA and UEFA member since 2016. The concessions that Belgrade has made in recent months regarding “Kosovo separatism” should not seem formally critical to our authorities. After all, it has long been allowed to enter the right bank with a Transdniestrian passport or in cars with Transdniestrian license plates, and there are even separate agreements on this. However, the ruling party is unlikely to agree to new agreements with the Transdniestrian administration that would imply recognition of certain powers and symbols for the region. Amid the dire situation in the Kosovo conflict, hostile environment and aspiration for EU membership, the news about Serbian arms deliveries to Ukraine leaked to the media did not surprise anyone. Serbia through a Canadian intermediary company had sent 3.5 thousand 122 mm M-21 rockets for the Grad MLRS to a warehouse in Bratislava, which were intended for delivery to Ukraine. This type of projectiles is in high demand by the Ukrainian armed forces. Although the volume of this particular batch is comparable to the daily consumption of all types of artillery ammunition by the AFU, the intermediary schemes with Serbian involvement are difficult to trace and quantify. In the case of Serbia, the “when in Rome do as the Romans do” approach has worked without fail.  Belgrade has integrated into the Western mainstream, despite the fact that it contradicts national interests and dominant public opinion. Serbia’s inclusion in broad anti-Russian sanctions will also be decided in the coming weeks. Moldova, for its part, demonstrates unconditional solidarity with Kyiv; its leaders have visited Ukrainian cities and participated in various pro-Ukrainian platforms. Our diplomats have repeatedly supported resolutions and statements against Russia at the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe, NATO and other international forums. In parallel, we are leaving the CIS structures and have frozen any communication with Russia. The current anti-Russian hysteria in the country also has elite roots and does not reflect the opinion of the majority of the population. The authorities seek to change this political reality by banning any information from or about Russia, except for the official PAS party line. At the same time, Moldova is the most important transport hub for supplies of various products to Ukraine, including those with military applications. Some Ukrainian experts claim that weapons are already being delivered to Ukraine through our territory. Such logistical support will increase, which is confirmed by the parliamentary declaration “on the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine”, adopted today, in which a whole paragraph is devoted to the so-called “corridors of solidarity”. However, as in the case of Serbia, the “loyalty test” to the West may require even more effort. Moldova itself has almost no armaments; we ourselves are the recipients of military aid. But one must not forget the enormous amounts of artillery shells and ammunition stored in Transdniestria – in the Russian depots in Cobasna. A veritable battle has erupted around this topic in recent weeks, with everyone cyclically accusing each other of provocations and military preparations. It is clear that both Russian and Ukrainian forces are now experiencing a “shell famine” that is limiting their ability to conduct major operations. Given the already announced counterattack by the AFU in the first half of the year, it is easy to assume that at some point Kyiv’s frontline interests may demand supplies of ammunition and weapons comparable to those in Cobasna. Or they already have. Washington and Bucharest, the key players in our politics, will not be able to remain indifferent to the requests of Ukraine fighting in the interests of NATO for long. And they will offer Chisinau a loyalty test – the deal to exchange military supplies to Kyiv for the clear prospect of membership in NATO and the EU. It is possible that such hints have already been voiced informally. The central authorities, even with the Romanian support, not being able to independently conduct the operation to seize the depots: not only the limited numerical and technical potential of the National Army, but also the objective geography, which dictates the parameters of the theater of military operations, impede this. However, within the framework of international law, we can make an appropriate request to Ukraine. Ukrainian politicians, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, have repeatedly stated this and their willingness to “help”. Moldovan policemen and servicemen are quite capable of blocking the Russian-Transdniestrian forces in the Dubossary direction, effectively cutting off the north of the region from communication with Tiraspol, where the OGRF headquarters and the Transdniestrian “Defense Ministry” are located, which would greatly simplify the tasks of the AFU in Cobasna. It was with the unsuccessful attempts of Moldovan police and mobilizers to dissect the territory of the Transdniestrian region in the Dubossary direction that the war began in 1992. Our authorities have been analyzing such a scenario for a long time, training their own fears and waiting for Washington to take the baton. Today’s parliamentary statement is another step in the legislative justification for forceful action. At the same time, the ruling regime takes little interest in public opinion, which, according to all polls, is in no mood to get involved in the conflict and give up ties with Russia. As in Serbia, it can simply be ignored. The only question is whether our leadership will heed the voice of reason and the warnings from Moscow. After all, the country still does not have an air defense system, which should cool down the anti-Russian fervor of the current elite. And any military action on the right bank, even in the form of missile strikes, could deal a fatal blow to the socio-economic and demographic situation in the country, which is far from brilliant as it is.