Moldova and NATO: Window of Opportunity or Overton Window?

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Anton ŠVEC
The visit of the NATO Deputy Secretary General to Chisinau has officially launched the discussion on Moldova’s prospects of joining the North Atlantic Alliance. Open campaigning is still out of the mainstream, but the discussion itself threatens to change the political landscape in the country
Backed by the candidate status granted last year, the prospect of Moldova’s membership in the European Union is key to the political survival of Maia Sandu’s regime and the PAS party. In the name of European integration, the current authorities are severing traditional ties with neighboring countries, destroying years of cooperation with Comrat and Tiraspol, dismantling the sovereign economy and accelerating defense convergence with NATO and the West. There is an opinion that membership in the European Union without rapprochement with the North Atlantic Alliance is just impossible. When discussing Moldova’s European prospects, as a rule, the opposite examples are given, but the facts are stubborn. The cases of the Baltic countries, as well as Romania and Bulgaria, speak about the primacy of joining a military-political bloc in relation to joining the EU. Thus, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia, without clear guarantees and a roadmap for EU membership, have already rushed to join the Washington-led military alliance. Last week saw a landmark visit to Moldova by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana who is expecting a swift political career in neighboring Romania after returning from a long mission in the West. The high-ranking emissary of the alliance met with all key Moldovan leaders - the president, the prime minister and the speaker of parliament. Mircea Geoana’s fundamental message was to cement Moldova’s alleged belonging to the “family of European democracies” and “to make it clear to the entire Moldovan population, whatever language they speak, whatever political preferences they may have, that life in a democratic, prosperous and secure Europe is preferable to any alternative that may be offered”. The NATO Deputy Secretary General spoke about how the bloc’s assistance in cyber security, resilience to hybrid attacks and combating disinformation, as well as “ensuring the interoperability of the national army with NATO forces” are linked to “a historical moment precipitated by Russia’s aggressive, cruel and illegal war against Ukraine”. Geoana explicitly hinted at the correlations between Moldova’s partnership with NATO and its status as an EU candidate state. In an interview with NewsMaker, a high-ranking Alliance’s representative said that Moldova could join the EU while maintaining the status of neutrality, which is allegedly the main scenario now. Although he left the issue of Moldova’s accession to NATO to the discretion of official Chisinau. Anyway, he said that “we are working together with our partners from the Republic of Moldova to have an army and national security structures compatible with us, efficient and motivated. And I welcome that additional funds are allocated from the budget to strengthen Moldova’s defense capability”. All these statements match the spirit of military-political development of Moldovan territory and controllability of local elites without formal membership in the alliance due to objective obstacles. NATO is ready to use the left bank of the Prut as a bridgehead to contain Russia, but will not accept Moldova into its ranks until the Transnistrian issue is resolved and the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the Security Zone and the task force of Russian troops from Transnistria is ensured. At the same time, the issue of membership, if interoperability and modernization of the national army according to NATO standards are achieved, can be quickly resolved at almost any suitable moment, as it happened with de jure neutral Finland and what will happen with equally de jure neutral Sweden after delays are over. Nevertheless, there were some “talking heads” in the ranks of the ruling party who decided to test the limits of the Overton window and start campaigning for the country’s accession to NATO. The ruling PAS deputy Andrian Cheptonar called the visit of the NATO emissary historic and declared his personal support for Moldova’s accession to the alliance, considering that the ruling party lacks only four votes for a constitutional majority. In his opinion, cooperation with NATO should be strengthened in the fields of defense, security and intelligence. This statement provoked a nervous reaction from the so-called left-wing politicians. Ex-president Igor Dodon threatened protests and claimed that the PAS party has already dispersed the opposition, joined the aggressive anti-Russian rhetoric and fights against the church and traditions. According to him, the next step is “joining NATO, possible war and country’s elimination.” Other commentators reminded that the decision to revise the constitutional status of neutrality can only be made via a referendum. Given the dominant public opinion, it would be useless for the authorities to hold such a referendum now. Even if the votes of the Transnistrian and Gagauzian population are not taken into account, the probability of popular approval of NATO membership is negligible. Nevertheless, the positions and arguments of NATO supporters and opponents цуку recorded and are now publicly disseminated, which can be considered the start of a discussion with a well-defined timing. Thus, Mircea Geoana mentioned the NATO Summit planned for June 2024. It is assumed that the current regime will prepare a specifically formulated attitude on the issue of alliance membership for this event. The current task is to increase interoperability, i.e. to actually ensure organizational preparedness for a possible political solution, as well as to transform public opinion under the guise of fighting disinformation and Russian influence. As part of promoting the Overton window, advertising campaigns will be conducted to explain the imminence of Moldova’s choice in favor of NATO. The already established platforms - the NATO cybersecurity center, the StratCom center, the information center - along with NGOs and mass media controlled by the US Embassy are ready to play the most significant role in this propaganda. There are enough NATO-oriented “talking heads” in the PAS party, too. Once again, a lively discussion about the country’s development prospects, points of economic and agrarian growth, democratic transformation and ensuring people’s right to a decent life will be replaced by an ostensible geopolitical choice dividing the population into friends and foes, people of the first and second class, progressive and democratic or reactionaries nostalgic for the USSR. Apparently, it could not be otherwise on the eve of local and presidential elections.