Expert: Militarization Threatens to Turn Moldova into Another “Hot Spot”

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Anton ŠVEC
The response of our authorities to international and regional instability was the intention to “hide under the NATO umbrella”. Meanwhile, militarization in an anti-Russian spirit without solid public support and documented security guarantees may have the opposite effect
The armed conflict on the Dniester in the early 1990s was a catastrophe for the region, causing casualties and destruction and setting back its development for decades. At the same time, the war clearly demonstrated the value of peaceful ways for discussing political contradictions, becoming a kind of “vaccination” for the vast majority of society. For three long decades, the relations between the two banks remained fairly stable, supported by the population and elites, and framed by negotiation formats with international participation. However, today, amid the geopolitical cataclysms and transformations, Moldova’s stability and security are seriously tested. This is largely due to irrational steps of the current authorities, who for a number of reasons do not support the conventionally pacifist worldview of their predecessors. The militarization of the current elites’ consciousness was obviously provoked by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The attack and destruction of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic by Azerbaijan and the unprecedented events in the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation have only strengthened the idea that international institutions are unable to cope with modern challenges, and that they can be solved only by taking the situation into own hands. The way the ruling regime responds to international processes is specific and has nothing at all to do with reinforcing the available crisis management tools. The Joint Control Commission, in which the Moldovan delegation has been functioning without a co-chair for over a year, is unable to make a decision even on the issue of missiles that struck the country’s territory. The authorities and experts loyal to them openly criticize the current format of the peacekeeping mission and want to replace it with a UN or OSCE mission, although they proved to be of no use in Ukraine. The 5+2 format, as well as direct negotiations between the leaders of the two banks, have now become a thing of the past. Instead of political instruments that would guarantee peace through sustainable dialogue and mutual trust, the republic’s leadership focuses on strengthening cooperation with the EU and NATO to ensure defense. In other words, it is a question of directly strengthening the combat capabilities of the national army and other agencies responsible for military strategy, on the condition of their total alignment with the Western community. The problem here is not even that such an approach may make Moldova a so-called “legitimate target” of Russia. The problem is that militarization and the transfer of all security control powers to the USA and NATO may itself trigger a military spiral. Direct financial injections from the European Union, the United States, Romania and NATO have already led to a threefold increase in the country’s military budget. Despite the economic crisis, in the coming years the Ministry of Defense intends to reach the target of the armed forces spending at the level of the NATO standard - at least 2 percent of GDP. In the last year alone, we received Piranha armored personnel carriers, light and heavy small arms, including machine guns, sniper and assault rifles, drones, military vehicles and equipment, including vehicles, helmets and body armor, from Germany, the United States, Poland, Romania and the European Peace Foundation. A French air surveillance radar for recognizing drones and missiles is expected to be delivered by the end of the year - the cost of the installation, bought with EU money, reaches 14 million euros. At the same time, back in the summer, Maia Sandu appealed to NATO to allocate air defense systems to Moldova. In 2023, our military contingent took part (and plans to take part) in almost two dozen military exercises led by NATO or individual countries of the North Atlantic Alliance on the country’s territory and abroad. For instance, in February and April, the “JCET-2023” exercises were held in Romania and Moldova together with the UK and US military. In March, we took part in the Sea Shield 2023 training in the Black Sea and the Danube Delta. In the same month and in April, a joint exercise involving Romania, the USA and the UK, Joint Combined Exchange Training, took place at Moldovan training centers. In April, Moldovan and Romanian artillerymen conducted the exercise “Fire Shield” at the Romanian Smardan training area. The largest two-month exercise of the United States and allies in Europe, “Defender-23”, also involved a Moldovan contingent. In May, Moldova hosted joint exercises of Moldovan and Polish police officers and the international air defense exercise “Air Bastion – 2023”. In summer, Moldovan military participated in the maneuvers “Saber Guardian 23” in Romania and “Agile Spirit 23” in Georgia. Moldova hosted the “Blue Helmets” peacekeeping exercise with the participation of experts from 10 Western countries, as well as joint training with the North Carolina National Guard. In September, representatives of the national army took part in the “Rapid Trident” and “Zimbru” drills. A number of other drills are scheduled for the autumn, including the US-Moldovan “Partner Tour 2023” in the north of our country, in Balti and Marculesti. Internal training camps for national army reservists also take place much more frequently than in previous years. The focus of all these trainings is on combat cohesion and greater interoperability between the Moldovan army and its NATO partners. In other words, Moldova is being integrated into the Alliance’s security system, making it an internal territory of the bloc and a springboard for confrontation with Russia. However, no guarantees are given as set out in Article 5 on collective defense of the NATO treaty. Worse yet, the intensification of military preparations contributes to the militarization of consciousness, both at the level of officers and among the political elite. Former defense ministers and current members of parliament have already called for the use of military methods to solve the Transnistrian issue, following the example of Azerbaijan. This trend is extremely worrying, because in the current conditions, even minimal instigations that are not addressed on time can provoke violent scenarios and conflicts. And our leadership may find itself not where it plans to be – not “under the NATO umbrella” but on the battlefield, which would be a defeat for the country, regardless of the results of the military gamble on our territory.