Romania as a “Reserve Airfield” for Moldova

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Sergiu CEBAN
Lately, unionist tendencies seemed to have receded into the background. But given the fading hopes for Ukraine’s convincing victory in the war and failures in European integration, official Chisinau has to return to the idea of strategic rapprochement with its western neighbor
Opening the autumn parliamentary session, Igor Grosu declared an “ambitious agenda” that will only come true if all MPs “join forces and pass good laws for all people”. The speaker named breaking off relations with Russia as a consolidating idea for all parties. In his opinion, regardless of political views and offences, everyone should use the opportunity to break away from the “toxic space” and join the territory of peace, freedom, “where human life matters”. The statement clearly gives the sense of some anxiety, the proximity of a decisive moment, which our elites would like not to miss and not fall into another trap of history. Apparently, given the course of events in Ukraine, this message of Grosu will become the keynote of the next 6 months. At the same time, the parliament is likely to focus not on further withdrawal from Russia but on accelerating the Romanian direction in Chisinau’s policy. After the Action and Solidarity Party came to power and after obtaining the candidate status for EU membership, our authorities made many tough commitments, including reforms in justice, economy and security. However, despite external financial assistance and expert support, the results of the PAS activity are not very encouraging, and, to be honest, are totally disappointing. Besides, we cannot ignore that with the acquisition of the candidate status, Chisinau once again felt a firm ground under its feet, believing in itself and in Moldova’s subjectivity. Therefore, integration processes with neighboring Romania and unionist ideas seemed to be moved aside, while Ukraine and all forms of our support for it came to the forefront. However, when Kyiv’s chances of turning the situation around and achieving its goals militarily decreased, and there was nothing to boast about on the European integration fronts, the Moldovan authorities remembered again that accession to the EU could be presented in the form of a strategic rapprochement with Romania. Despite the hesitation of its “younger brothers”, Bucharest is still ready to lend its strong hand and pull Moldova into the gravitational zone of Eastern European geopolitical alliances. Last week, Maia Sandu went to the neighboring capital for the Three Seas Initiative regular summit, where, in addition to the decision to admit Greece as a full member of the organization, Moldova was granted associate membership - probably due to serious efforts of the Romanian diplomacy. President Klaus Iohannis claimed that this status makes it possible to include Moldova in cross-border Eastern European infrastructure plans. As known, Three Seas Initiative is closely linked to a number of major projects in the region. These include the Via Carpatia north-south motorway connecting Klaipeda in Lithuania with Thessaloniki in Greece, as well as the construction of a liquefied natural gas infrastructure with offshore terminals in Poland and Croatia and a connecting pipeline. In addition, there are plans to create a Baltic-Adriatic corridor, including the Via Baltica motorway as well as the Rail Baltica and Amber Rail Freight Corrido railway connections. Another Rail-2-Sea project plans to connect the Polish port of Gdansk with the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta via 3,663-km railways. While in Bucharest, Sandu talked to Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu about cooperation in the energy sector and the development of cross-border infrastructure. The construction of a bridge over Prut near Ungheni, the reconstruction and widening of three other bridges, the erection of a 400-kV Balti-Suceava overhead power transmission network, the expansion of the interstate border control system and its gradual transformation into joint checkpoints are expected to be the priority projects for the coming years. In addition, Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development Andrei Spinu, who accompanied president on the trip to Bucharest, signed several documents. One of them will help to remove barriers and facilitate cross-border trade, as well as improve efficiency and strengthen commercial corridors, while simplifying the state border crossing. In turn, aware of the risks our country is facing, the Romanian Ministry of Energy has officially published a 2023-2024 winter program, which provides for the supply of electricity to Moldova as well, should an emergency arise. At the same time, Bucharest is ready to find additional generating capacities even by restarting some coal-fired power plants, which are currently closed. We should admit that despite a quite restrained policy towards Romania during the first half of the year, Chisinau has recently started to make decisive steps towards its neighbor. First of all, the transfer of the Moldovan gas transmission system to the Vestmoldtransgaz management, a company owned by the Romanian national operator Transgaz. Putting a strategic sector of the state under the control of Romanian companies and investors means a lot. It would be appropriate to mention that on 4 September, the aqueduct running along the Prut River from the Romanian county of Iasi to the Moldovan village of Macaresti was officially opened. It is also a rather significant event, which is the first stage of a long-term project to build a network of water pipelines to supply drinking water from Romania to the north-western regions of Moldova. Of course, everyone still expects Ukraine to win the war, which will make it possible to push Russian ambitions away from our borders and set a different course of events in the entire post-Soviet region. But let’s be frank, with each passing month, expectations of a convincing victory for Kyiv in a military confrontation with Moscow are becoming less and less justified. This uncertainty is forcing neighboring countries, Ukraine’s allies, and Western elites to consider alternative ways out of the current geopolitical crisis, which may not be entirely acceptable both for Kyiv and for all the countries of our regional space. Apparently, Chisinau understands that European integration will take longer period and, most likely, will not have a decisive impact on regional processes, and the further course of events will depend on the Russian-Ukrainian post-conflict settlement, which will, one way or another, be configured within the framework of a European security dialogue. Therefore, Chisinau and Bucharest are realizing that two countries need an alternative integration breakthrough as soon as possible, which would take Moldova out of the so-called “geopolitical compromise” zone.