Relations between Russia and Moldova on Last Legs?

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Sergey CHEBAN Moldova and Russia have come close to a historical crossroads; the two countries will either have a new form of relations, or quit them. The day before interstate relations between Moldova and Russia turned 31 years. This is basically an ordinary event, but it is impossible to simply ignore it in the current circumstances. Of course, you can close your eyes and pretend that the Russian Federation no longer exists, as many politicians and experts have already done. However, alas, no matter how difficult is the question “how to proceed with Moscow”, you will have to find at least some intelligible answer to it sooner or later. Our leadership definitely preferred not to particularly remember the anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Russia. There are many reasons, and the main point is that, to be honest, it sticks in the craw to call normal “relations” what is happening now between Chisinau and Moscow. Among all prominent domestic politicians, only ex-president Igor Dodon recalled the need to preserve them. Moreover, representatives of the Socialist Party suddenly left for a working trip to Moscow. This is despite the fact that the PSRM is crumbling away now and obviously not without a hand of “Russian friends”. Commenting on relations with the Russian Federation, Head of the Foreign Ministry Nicu Popescu announced that two countries should maintain the contacts at the level of embassies. At the same time he quite frankly and not in a festive way condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, support of separatism in the Republic of Moldova for 30 years and the illegal deployment of troops in the Transnistrian region. Moreover, he recalled that Moscow used trade restrictions, embargoes, blocked wine, the export of vegetables and fruits to Russian markets. The official called all this “an unfriendly policy that has been applied for a very long time.” Moscow, on a commemorative date, also decided to refrain from excessive signs of attention, confining to a small publication authored by Ambassador Oleg Vasnetsov. This is also a kind of signal that the Russians are dissatisfied with the way official communication with Moldova proceeds. At the same time, judging by the tone of the Russian ambassador’s note, the Russian Federation is still counting on levelling off the Moldovan-Russian dialogue, which, frankly, is on its last legs. Being fully aware of this, it is no coincidence that the Kremlin draws attention to two fundamental points: Chisinau joining the anti-Russian sanctions and withdrawing from the CIS, which, most likely, will lead to the final destruction of ties between the two states. As an unambiguous hint, the Russians defiantly held a round table with representatives of Tiraspol on the day of the anniversary of relations focusing on “preserving peace and stability on the banks of the Dniester”. It cannot be ruled out that the public event was organized specifically to sound some signals to Chisinau, first of all, that settling the Transnistrian issue without Moscow is inadmissible. Left-bank participants, taking advantage of the opportunity, cited with undisguised hopes the provisions of the new concept of the Russian foreign policy, which, in fact, unties the hands of the Kremlin in the post-Soviet space. Despite the defiant nature of Russia’s renewed foreign policy, Moldovan diplomacy seems to be trying to maintain at least a semblance of own firmness. Nicu Popescu, with calm worthy of a better cause, argues that Moscow can formulate its foreign policy preferences in any way, but Moldova knows what it wants and will continue to move towards the European Union. Another Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian reacted differently to all these hints from Moscow, in fact, threatening that the recognition of the Transnistrian region would lead to an “unpredictable situation”. According to him, there have not yet been any official wording calling for the independence of Transnistria; however, of course, everyone understands what will happen in this situation. Many experts read between the lines something completely different and noticed the ambiguity of such words by the chief negotiator on the Transnistrian issue, who admits the possibility of recognizing Transnistria and calls the only obstacle to this “the emergence of an unpredictable situation”. It turns out that if these risks are eliminated, it is possible to assert the sovereignty of the left bank. Against the backdrop of all the regional processes, Serebrian’s statements look rather irresponsible. Although perhaps we do not know something, while the authorities are testing public opinion in this way? Generally, the protracted deterioration in relations between Moldova and Russia has probably reached its lowest point, although there is still room to fall. At least, it is too early to talk about a complete break. On the other hand, the reduction of any ties is most likely almost inevitable. In addition to joining the anti-Russian sanctions, we, for example, can reduce the number of Russian diplomats and other representatives up to closing the Russian Centre for Science and Culture, tighten the rules for the entry of Russian nationals, including completely prohibiting the entry of men with Russian passports. Moldova can further minimize participation in the CIS and even begin the procedure for withdrawing from the Commonwealth, which coincides with the contours of Moscow’s area of particular interests. However, here is a danger of creating problems for ourselves out of the blue, which our officials also recognize. True, if we are talking about a historical and civilizational choice, then Moldova will have to sacrifice something in any case. In case of further aggravation, Moscow may first of all add our country to the list of so-called “unfriendly states”. This will certainly result in an almost complete cessation of mutual trade and other unpleasant social, migration and political consequences. However, the Kremlin is already signalling that Moldova is playing a dangerous game, and if our actions threaten Russian interests, Moscow reserves the right to reconsider its position on the territorial contours of Moldova. In general, the Kremlin shows with all its appearance that only it, and no one else, is the real guarantor of our national territorial integrity. Moldova and Russia have apparently come close to a historical crossroads; the two countries will either have a new form of relations, or quit them, alas, there is no third way. The old 30-year model has finally gone down in history, and with it, the entire architecture of interstate relations is collapsing. There is no alternative in the offing acceptable to both sides, and nature, as you know, abhors a vacuum. Therefore, there is a risk that Chisinau and Moscow will fill the emerging vacuum with something else, which will finally bury hopes for a return to normal interaction.