While it is very probable that the authorities will abandon the neutral status of Moldova, they continue to lay a strong foundation for an enhanced partnership with NATO
As the next NATO summit approaches, this time in Vilnius, the attention of experts is focused on Ukraine and its prospects for joining the alliance. Meanwhile, behind the batch of heated discussions about Kyiv’s (un)justified expectations, Moldovan-NATO cooperation is becoming more and more intense. Over the past year, amidst the conflict in Ukraine, the number of joint projects within the defense capacity-building program has tripled (from 6 to 18).
According to various sources, our country’s interaction with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will be one of the topics of a special meeting at the upcoming Vilnius summit. It is expected that the partnership will further strengthen in the Lithuanian capital. Moreover, according to NATO officials, the alliance is ready to cooperate with the Moldovan authorities as broadly and systematically as the official Chisinau wants.
At a recent NATO contact group meeting on Ukraine, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Moldova is a partner of the alliance and there is a general consent among member states on the need to strengthen mutual relations. The organization considers ways to help us reform the defense and security institutions, in order to ensure the possibility to defend the air space, as well as other forms of support. In addition, the alliance highlights the experience, unique in three decades of independence, of covering the Moldovan airspace with modern Western systems and aircraft, gained during the recent European Political Community summit.
The growing volume of military support for the Moldovan army also evidences the West’s principled decision. Another batch of German Piranha armored personnel carriers was delivered in April. Earlier this year, six similar vehicles were received by our military, and further deliveries are expected by the end of the year, out of 19 APCs. Alongside this, the European Union also plans to deliver military equipment as well as a radar station.
It is clear that Moldova does not yet have sufficient resources to restock with more or less modern small and other weapons. In addition, the Western countries and NATO are now focused on providing maximum military assistance to Kyiv. Therefore, no matter how many times our defense minister attends “Ramstein format” meetings, it appears that in the near future we will receive moderate amounts of obsolete military equipment and other defense systems.
Meanwhile, there are definite expectations from neighboring Romania. Moreover, last week the defense ministries of both states signed an inter-ministerial cooperation plan, which involves promoting the reform and modernization of Moldova’s defense sector in line with international (NATO) standards, as well as increasing interoperability.
Obviously, being at a safe distance from Russia, the main threat seen by the Moldovan authorities from Moscow is the ‘long arm’ in a shape of Russian missiles, which can still seriously threaten Moldova’s security due to the possibility to hit critical infrastructure facilities from afar as well as combat formations and units. Therefore, the focus is on acquiring detection facilities. Although our responsible information providers say radar has already been purchased, it is not enough, as we need more or less modern means to shoot down missiles.
It is noteworthy that on the eve of the summit in Vilnius, national experts suddenly activated reviving the issue of relations with NATO. The main message came down to the need to review the status of neutrality and to reorient the country’s defensive course towards accession to the alliance. While the Moldovan elite and the ruling political class have no particular disputes over the importance of an earliest rapprochement with the North Atlantic bloc, public opinion is still dominated by concerns about joining this organization.
The appearance in the media field of Ambassador Viorel Cibotaru, who is also head of the Moldovan Mission to NATO, who also made some frank statements, of course not without coordination with the political centers in Chisinau, was not accidental. In particular, he spoke negatively about Moldova’s policy of neutrality and demilitarization, which ended up being a ‘big trickery’. Besides, the ambassador expects that in Vilnius NATO will consider all requests of Chisinau on strengthening of security and defense needs with the full openness. In his opinion, more certain results and statements about security guarantees for Moldova would help convince citizens how beneficial the country’s relationship with NATO is.
Ukraine, unlike Moldova, is in a much more difficult situation, and the possibility of Kyiv being granted full NATO membership is becoming increasingly remote as the Vilnius meeting approaches. All allies agree that the alliance keeps its ‘doors’ open to Ukraine and it will eventually become part of the organization. However, only when conflict with Russia will come to an end. It is logical to ask about this ‘door’ for Moldova, and to what extent similar requirements apply to our country. Moldovan experts see among the main obstacles to further progress on the Euro-Atlantic path not so much the Transnistrian settlement as the presence of the Russian army and military depots in Cobasna.
Therefore, the authorities face a serious dilemma: what steps to take to resolve the Transnistrian conflict, not to provoke a sharp response from the Kremlin, but rather to make it believe that continued presence in the region is a burden rather than a defense of its interests. So far, Moscow does not believe the ‘Moldovan tears’, and through the mouth of the Foreign Ministry, they systematically say that the West prepares Moldova to become the second Ukraine, and the Moldovan government plays along with it.
We cannot say that NATO itself is running smoothly. The alliance is ready for swift and decisive action. There are contradictions within the bloc, which have been aggravated by the Russian-Ukrainian war. Recently, for instance, the defense ministers of member states failed to agree on new plans to counter Russian military threats. The so-called regional plans - secret documents thousands pages long - describe in detail what the NATO would do in the event of a Russian attack.
Nevertheless, despite all these disagreements, our society still hopes that this year NATO will introduce a new form of bilateral interaction with various countries (non-members) in the form of the so-called Individual Adapted Cooperation Plan. It could become a convenient intermediate stage in Moldova’s preparation for accession to the alliance as a full member.
Many experts remember that last year, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our government pompously announced consultations on a new national security strategy. However, they decided to postpone the final version. Apparently, the government and the parliamentary specialist committee are still waiting for some specifics from NATO to clarify the way forward in the sphere of country’s security.