Cutting Embassy Staff: How Will Russia React to the Expulsion of Its Diplomats from Moldova?

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Anton ŠVEC
The government’s decision to reduce the staff of the Russian embassy in Moldova will inevitably provoke a deep diplomatic crisis in relations between the two countries
Yesterday’s MFAEI statement to reduce staff at the Russian Embassy in Chisinau and the Russian Centre of Science and Culture became some kind of an “exploded bomb”. It is worth recognizing that the diplomatic relations between the two countries, which have long been devoid of mutual visits and constructive dialogue, have finally descended into public bickering and demarches. Summoning of the Russian ambassador to the MFAEI, often on completely far-fetched grounds, have become the new reality, derived from the blatantly anti-Russian policy of the country’s Western-educated authorities. The current expulsion of diplomats is not the first in the history of Russian-Moldovan diplomatic relations. Plahotniuc government also sent away 5 members of the embassy’s military attaché in 2017, while banning Russian presidential representative Dmitry Rogozin from entering the country for 10 years. In mid-April this year, a consular officer of the Russian embassy was deported after allegedly quarrelling with airport services following the scandalous refusal to allow Tatarstan’s head Rustam Minnikhanov to enter Moldova. The government and parliament have long ago announced plans to reduce the number of employees at the Russian diplomatic mission, referring to the need to maintain parity of representation (our embassy in Moscow employs only 6 diplomats). Prime Minister Dorin Recean and Speaker Igor Grosu stated this back in May-June. Similar requirements to the Romanian or American embassy were not put forward. Obviously, we were inspired by the example of our neighboring country - in early summer, 50 Russian diplomats were expelled from Bucharest at once. An untrustworthy and apparently ordered journalistic investigation, in which Russia was accused of using the antenna equipment of the embassy building for intelligence activities and cyber-attacks against Moldovan authorities, was used as an excuse to fulfil long-standing Western plans. These attacks were allegedly carried out during the European Political Community summit in early June. The Russian Embassy and the RCSC in Chisinau had a total of 84 employees, including 50 diplomats. According to yesterday’s note from the MFAEI, 10 diplomats and 15 technical staff, i.e. less than a third of the original number, are to remain. The Russian diplomats must leave the territory of Moldova by 15 August. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova called the actions of our authorities “unjustified and hostile” and promised that they would not go unanswered. According to her, this is “another step towards the destruction of bilateral relations on the part of the Chisinau regime”. Former President Igor Dodon warned that this dangerous game will bring even more misery to the citizens of Moldova, “Maia Sandu and her party got involved in a Russophobia contest under pressure from their Western supervisors who want to use our country and people as a bargaining chip in their struggle against Russia”. From an organizational point of view, Russian diplomacy in Moldova faces a “perfect storm”. The remaining staff is clearly insufficient to deal with the existing tasks, which include participation in the work of the JCC, the negotiation process for a Transnistrian settlement, consular services, including on the basis of the field station in Tiraspol, and the activities of the RCSC. According to the Transnistrian authorities, there are about 200,000 Russian citizens living on its territory, of whom several tens of thousands receive Russian pensions. The total number of the Russian peacekeeping contingent and the Operational Group of Russian Forces reaches 1.5 thousand soldiers. Therefore, ten diplomats will not be able to ensure the functionality of all subordinate institutions. Some institutions, for instance, RCSC or consular bodies will have to be reduced or eliminated. Undoubtedly, the measures of the Moldovan government will also affect Russia’s participation in the Transnistrian settlement. However, our authorities have repeatedly stated that they do not want to see Russian representatives as full-fledged negotiation participants. Moreover, they demand the peacekeeping mission under the auspices of the Russian Federation to be replaced by a civilian or police mission with the mandate of an international organization. Russia cannot and is unlikely to respond to the hostile actions of the Moldovan government commensurately and diplomatically - there is simply no one to deport from the Moldovan embassy in Moscow. That is why PAS is convinced that Russia’s response to this demonstrative action, which actually paralyses the ability to defend its interests in this region of Europe and maintain ties with citizens and compatriots, will be some kind of threatening statements with no real implications. However, this forecast is certainly short-sighted and wrong. Russia has already shown how it acts in case diplomatic agreements are broken down on the example of the grain deal, the termination of which resulted in fierce attacks on Ukrainian port infrastructure. Even if we ignore Russian military capabilities (in the Black Sea, in Transnistria and remote), Russia is able to respond with fatal socio-economic and humanitarian consequences for Moldova. Just because Ukraine is of highest priority, no one in the Kremlin has seriously raised this issue. But now, as it seems, Chisinau has managed to draw attention to itself, being put on the list of the countries hostile to Russia. In addition, Tiraspol is voicing new complaints about aggravation of economic blockade and militarization of Moldova. Having closely engaged in the Moldovan issue, Moscow will be able to cause troubles with the export of Moldovan products to its market, with cargo and passenger road transport, as well as in the migration sphere quite quickly and painfully for us. Expulsion of several tens of thousands of legal and illegal Moldovan migrants will multiply the protest potential in the country and will be a gift for opposition forces. For now, the times when Moscow helped us get rid of the oligarch who had taken over the state, offered us loans and gas on favorable terms, pushed the government of the left bank to negotiate reintegration and removed Moldovan citizens from the warring Sudan are a thing of the past. Apparently, forever.