Expert: Relations between Moldova and Russia Are Becoming a Thing of the Past

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Sergiu CEBAN
Even if the latest escalation between Chisinau and Moscow with mutual expulsion of diplomats will not spiral into a real diplomatic war, the old model of Moldova-Russia relations has no future
The PACE session that started yesterday paid special attention to the Russian factor in the internal political events in our country. The open debate on Russia’s role in rising tensions in Moldova was attended by several deputies from the ruling majority, whereas those from the opposition ignored the event. What happened at PACE was in fact a prologue to the political commitment to introduce a new EU sanctions regime against those involved in destabilizing Moldova. This would primarily target citizens and official figures of the Russian Federation. The mere fact that the topic of relations between Moldova and Russia is considered in such major European forums is evidence of their extremely vague prospects. It is obvious that Western partners fully endorse a possible rupture with Russia, and such an outcome is inevitable if there is further accumulation of negativity. All the more so because neither we nor Moscow are short of reasons to curtail mutual contacts and diplomatic presence. So, the day before, another political scandal erupted between our countries, because the border police turned back the plane of Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov at Chisinau airport, forbidding him to visit the Gagauz autonomy. Dorin Receanus noticed that the visit of the Russian delegation was not welcomed as it could have impacted the pre-election campaign in the region. Then, it turned out that Minnikhanov’s ‘non-admission’ included a fact of pressure by the Russian ambassador (and not only) on airport employees, as a result of which the MFAEI expelled one of the Russian diplomats. In addition, two more employees of the Russian embassy were deprived of special access to the capital’s airport, and the CEC denied Russian observers the opportunity to participate in the Gagauz elections. The ruling party seems to say, however, that it is premature to talk about a diplomatic war. After all, over three dozen Russian diplomats are still accredited in our country. However, it is obvious that many of them are related to the law enforcement and surveillance agencies rather than to the Foreign Ministry. Therefore, in the run-up to the big pro-European meeting in the central square of Chisinau, as well as the summit of the European Political Community, the authorities may well decide, if not to remove completely, then to significantly minimize the mutual diplomatic presence as a precaution. This will also be another bright symbol of breaking with the ‘Russian world’ and joining the European civilizational project. By the way, Igor Grosu has already admitted the possible cut in the number of Russian diplomats in Moldova to equal it to the number of our diplomats in Moscow. To this end, the Speaker said, the MFAEI should submit to the deputies the information justifying the presence of the current number of Russian representatives with diplomatic status in Moldova. Given the number of Moldovan citizens on the left bank of the Dniester, who are also Russian passport holders, a critical reduction in the staff of the Russian embassy will lead to difficulties with consular service in the Transdniestrian region, sparking a new diplomatic crisis. Meanwhile, Russia decided to return a favour and declared an employee of our embassy persona non grata, as well as banned entry to Anna Revenco and several parliamentarians for “anti-Russian statements”. Moscow also reminded its international partners of its presence on Moldovan territory. According to our officials, Russian military officers at the peacekeeping posts in the security zone started arbitrarily checking the documents and vehicles of diplomatic missions, who travel between the two banks of the Dniester. In addition, last week the Russians defiantly transported personnel and military equipment deep into the night. Naturally, no one explained the purpose of these actions, but it was probably intended not only to stir up anxiety in Chisinau, but also to stress the fact that the Kremlin continues to be in first fiddle in the Transdniestrian issue and that the conflict on the Nistru will not be resolved without its agreement. So far the peacekeeping posts stay out of the public and political spotlight, but the topic of the “border” on the Dniester River will apparently soon make the front pages. This week, near the checkpoint at the entrance to the city of Bender, civic activists are going to launch weekly protests against the illegal customs in Transdniestria for the first time in many years (if not for the first time at all). According to the organizers, it violates Article 27 of the Moldovan Constitution and the right to free movement. The demonstrations will continue until the relevant infrastructure is removed from the Chisinau-Bender highway. The security zone and the unresolved Transdniestrian conflict thus remain one of the main tension points in the Moldovan-Russian relations, where difficult-to-manage crises can be provoked at any moment. Against this background, it was most probably not by chance that the OSCE Special Representative for the Transdniestrian settlement visited Moldova recently because, as many experts believe, the partners suspect something is wrong, and the OSCE was tasked to somehow stabilize the situation. The Kremlin, even despite the current diplomatic squabble, probably still expects good-neighborly relations with our country (possibly after reshaping our political field, which is what the Russian Federation is striving for). Meanwhile, according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Galuzin, at the current stage Moscow sees no signs that the Moldovan government is ready to build up contacts, because of an unfriendly policy by the Moldovan authorities, their support for the western hostile policy and frozen bilateral channels of communication. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Nicu Popescu said back in February that Moldova was planning to withdraw gradually from several dozens of CIS agreements. So far, the leadership of this organization has not registered any of our real steps. Nevertheless, throughout the last year we ignored the CIS meetings; in early February we recalled our permanent representative to the secretariat of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly Council, and this month we stopped participating in the Commonwealth interstate TV and radio company MIR. In general, only the most ardent optimists (it seems Moscow has such) can cherish the hope that our authorities can change their minds and start restoring ties with Russia. In fact, everything has long been thought out, planned and, most importantly, agreed with the partners. So the Moldovan-Russian relations will be severed gently and consistently, and the Kremlin should put up with this and work on a new type of contacts with Chisinau in the new geopolitical setting.