Is Moldova Ready to Find Its Place in the Future?

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Passively anticipating the outcome of the war in Ukraine is the worst possible way of strategic planning in Chisinau. Given the inevitable “big geopolitical debate” that will begin after the fighting stops, our authorities should already have their own concept of what Moldova should be like after the Russian-Ukrainian conflict ends
Sergiu CEBAN, RTA: The armed conflict in Ukraine has become one of the most complex historical milestones for the entire post-Soviet space. As a result, just 3 decades after the collapse of the USSR, the entire region faces another major restructuring in terms of security, politics and economy. All possible consequences are yet to be assessed, but it is already clear how the war has affected many spheres of human activity: demography, energy security, culture and geopolitics. Moldova, being close to Ukraine, is very much dependent on the developments in the regional environment. Over the last two years, our country has gone through a series of trials that led to the severance of traditional ties that our country inherited from the Soviet period. It has become a serious challenge for the Moldovan diplomacy and government, which try to find new markets in times of force majeure and establish sustainable cooperative ties, setting the direction of the state’s development for the coming decades. Since the onset of the Russian military operation, over half a million Ukrainian refugees travelled through Moldova in transit, and about a hundred thousand stayed here waiting for the end of hostilities. As a result of such a large flow, there were difficulties with their accommodation and settlement, resource constraints, lack of people and money to meet the needs of forced migrants. It was only thanks to external assistance that Moldova managed to more or less cope with this serious challenge and adapt to regional conditions. Nevertheless, experts say the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is smoothly reaching the finish line, at least within the current military phase. It is still difficult to say how Kyiv and Moscow will fix the state of affairs after the fierce fighting. But it is necessary to prepare for this today in order to secure the most favorable positions in the future geopolitical balance of power in the region. If someone thinks that the end of war will allow it to breathe out and talk about the “end of history” in a Fukuyama-like manner, it is a big mistake and naivety. We should understand that, most likely, this or next year only interim results will be determined, which will not provide answers about the future of the post-Soviet space and the further development direction of the countries in the region. It is reasonable to ask what we should do: continue to wait for news from the front or prepare a vision of our place and role in future. Today Moldova is in a specific regional situation, on the one hand experiencing multiple difficulties, and on the other hand benefiting from the advantages, such as the status of a candidate country for accession to the EU. As always, any crisis gives additional opportunities that seemed impossible a few years ago. While Moscow is constrained in Ukraine and has lost its former positions in the region, expecting to overthrow the current ruling class in Chisinau, our authorities should intensify their efforts in vital areas. Among other things, we should revitalize the political settlement of the Transnistrian conflict by putting on the table our own model for resolving this protracted problem. Our Western allies have long been waiting for such a document from us and are ready to support it. We cannot rule out that the intermediate stage of the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation with the suspension of hostilities will give time and opportunities for the international solution of the Transnistrian issue, which is firmly built into the architecture of the post-Soviet space and security of the Black Sea region. Meanwhile, one should always be mindful of historical experience and relatively recent examples of ill-conceived political decisions when developing strategies. I refer in particular to the Georgian issue of 15 years ago, when a brief but very violent five-day conflict was unleashed, which ended with the defeat of the Georgian armed forces. As in the case with Moldova today, senior US officials regularly visited Tbilisi at that time, pushing the Georgian government to increase defense expenditure and purchase NATO weapons. There was hope for peace talks until the last minute, but after a series of compromise proposals, a military drama ensued, resulting in a decades-long delay in resolving the conflict with the two former Georgian regions. Unfortunately, Moldova cannot survive and cope alone in the raging sea of geopolitical storms. That’s why our country desperately needs either an alliance of friendly countries or a strong strategic ally that could ensure long-term development and protection of national interests. It is obvious that all attempts to enhance the EU to the status of the main partner-protector are devoid of prospects, and Brussels is not ready to get closer to Chisinau. No matter how much some Moldovan elites resist, only Romania is able to take Moldova under its guardianship and take it out from the geopolitical pressure of Moscow. However, Bucharest expects from our government not nominal linguistic changes in Moldovan legislation, but a long-term plan for cultural, socio-economic and political integration of the two countries. Romania clearly understands that the strategic security of the state extends from the Danube to the Dniester in order to protect the important ways linking Europe to the Black Sea. Therefore, the main goal is to gradually push the Russians out of the Black Sea space beyond Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders. Judging by the recent meeting in Galati, where they discussed the development of infrastructure for transporting Ukrainian products through south-western European corridors, Moldova has an important role as a transit territory. At the same time, the United States is ready to provide financial aid to Ukraine’s neighboring states to improve logistics, facilitate cross-border cargo transshipment and expand transit opportunities for Romania and Moldova. It is hard to imagine a development project under the pressure of war, but anyway, it is an example of how Moldova can benefit from the cooperation between Washington and Bucharest. At the same time, these opportunistic decisions cannot be categorized as long-term. Moreover, they may be reconsidered at any moment due to the situation both on the battlefield and in the United States, where the election season is about to begin. Passive anticipation of the outcome of the war in Ukraine and the inertial alignment with the current projects of targeted US support to Ukraine are the worst possible ways of strategic planning in Chisinau. Given the inevitable “big geopolitical discussion” that will begin after the fighting stops, our authorities should already have their own concept of what Moldova should be like after the Russian-Ukrainian ceasefire. Any decisions behind our back that would lead to the prolongation of the previous status quo in the regime of “post-Soviet Moldova” would become a historic defeat for the current pro-Western authorities and would block any alternative development projects for the country.