Moldova Forced to Join the Anti-Russian Sanctions. What Next?

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Semyon ALBU
It is believed that getting involved in the sanctions war is not the only requirement for Moldova in the escalating geopolitical conflict between the West and Russia
Indeed, it is interesting to witness a dramatic increase in the dynamics of events during the war in Ukraine and the global conflict between the West and Russia. In normal times, some processes could take years, but now even capital decisions are taken at an astonishing speed. Only a couple of months ago I wrote that the European Union demanded, almost in ultimatum form, that Chisinau impose sanctions against Russia – and now this is all happening. Nicu Popescu announced that Moldova “has gradually started to join the EU sanctions against Russia”, and in a few weeks our sanctions against Russian citizens “involved in the aggression against Ukraine” will follow. In general, this whole story is illustrative of the extent to which our country is sovereign and how our cooperation with Western partners is actually structured. After all, as we remember, the authorities were not initially going to impose any sanctions - on the contrary, it was clear that they wanted to distance themselves from the Ukrainian conflict as much as possible. However, as the war dragged on and the West became more and more involved in it, including through sanctions packages introduced one after another, the situation changed radically. Senior European officials started to pay regular visits to Moldova, apparently to explain to the ruling regime how to behave in the new reality. The result –  the anti-Russian hysteria among the top officials, targeted sanctions and restrictions, ritual visits to Ukraine, loyal voting at the UN, and so on. Nevertheless, they did not dare to take the final step of actually joining the sanctions against Russia until now. And that angered the West, as it had already given lots of advances, both political and material. At first, they simply hinted that it would be good for an EU candidate country to show solidarity and join the ranks. When this did not take effect, the partners in fact resorted to blackmail. It suddenly became clear that the European integration process was weak and shaky, and against this background there is no guarantee that it will be possible to launch negotiations on Moldova’s accession to the European Union in 2023, on which PAS is betting in the pre-election year. The threats, as we can see, proved effective. Thus, Moldova is nearing the finish line of what we have been writing about for the past year – the severance with Russia. This is confirmed by the hasty “extraction” from the Commonwealth of Independent States, the first step of which was withdrawal of the Moldovan representative from the CIS executive bodies. There are also plans to withdraw as soon as possible from the CIS agreements, and Moldova has more than 300 of them. But Nicu Popescu is sure that he will manage to single out and abandon all the “unimportant” documents because we should now go to the EU. But it is not only anti-Russian sanctions that Brussels needs from us: it is no less important to drag the republic into the Ukrainian conflict as much as possible. We have evolved from a truly neutral country at the beginning of the war into a potential transit hub for military and not only military goods, equipment and weapons. We should not forget about including Moldova in the EU military mobility project, so that NATO battlegroups and many other stuff could follow through our transport corridors. It is naive to expect that Russia will idly watch all this and do nothing. Yes, it is obvious that the Kremlin would not like to have a conflict with Moldova, but on the other hand we are a much more appropriate sparring partner, with no formal “cover”, like the Baltic states. Besides, Moscow has something to retaliate with. The other day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova confirmed that a response would definitely follow. First of all, we can at least expect the closure of the Russian market for all Moldovan goods. Yes, exports to Russia are insignificant compared to those to the EU, but many agricultural producers and jobs are still linked to it. Our agricultural sector is already facing a crisis due to the events in Ukraine and the grain deal, to which new problems with a large market will be added. PAS, of course, does not care about it, since this is not like embezzling a new grant. However, even the field minister Vladimir Bolea, one of the few seemingly adequate members of the government, admits that many farmers have no other markets but the CIS, therefore it is “immature” to hastily remove this direction. Next – forget cheap energy resources. Now the authorities are fooling around, claiming that the price of gas is irrelevant to the welfare of the population and the economic development. Such nonsense is striking! First of all, the huge sums on the bills directly affect the wallets of the citizens. Secondly, many economic agents simply could not handle such tariffs and went bankrupt. And third, the energy independence from Russia, which the government so boasts about, was paid for with a huge loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. I repeat, this is not gratuitous aid but a loan which we “burned” in winter, which in no way helped the long-term development of the country but which we will have to pay back with interest. And after that, one wonders why the national debt of the PAS-led Moldova is growing at such a frantic pace. And it was only one winter, which by the way was relatively warm. What next? New loans? Skyrocketing tariffs? Is there any common sense and a long-term strategy in all this? None of that, just pure (geo)politics. After all, now we will live without gas dependence on Russia, and this is an achievement, of course. True, the authorities feel embarrassed but still buy cheap left-bank electricity generated with “free” Russian gas. But immediately they stipulate that this step is only to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Transdniestria. Well, these words make sense, but I think that the ruling regime is clearly lying about the motives. These are the most minor consequences that can arise if a confrontation with Russia deepens. After all, there is also a bunch of security issues. For example, Igor Muntean’s well-known CUB called on the government to withdraw from the 1992 agreement on the principles of the peaceful settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict, thereby eliminating the peacekeeping operation on the Dniester, and also to demand that a joint group of Russian troops be withdrawn within a month under the supervision of international observers. Of course, a non-parliamentary party’s statements may not be taken seriously, but CUB itself is a project of Western embassies and is reasonably seen by many as a future successor, or at least a coalition partner for PAS. Therefore, it is possible that behind the scenes Western partners voice such demands to our leadership. Could this be why everyone is so concerned about the need to protect the Moldovan sky. 40 million euros are already on the way, at an accelerated pace, most of which will be used to buy the air control radar. Moreover, from what Radu Marian says, Romania, the USA and the EU are also ready to help with the anti-aircraft systems. Why make all these preparations? To be able to repel the Russian missile strikes? But why should they follow? Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers so far. But it is already clear that the final break with Russia is very close, and this existential step will have serious ramifications for Moldova, which are difficult to measure at this point. One thing is certain – nothing good awaits our country then.