Is Moldova in a Hurry to Join NATO?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Relations between Moldova and NATO have markedly intensified this year. Many indications suggest the authorities are already preparing a large-scale propaganda campaign on the need to abandon neutrality and join this military-political bloc, as well as a number of relevant legislative initiatives
Last week, Prime Minister Dorin Recean showed up at the prestigious Global Gateway Forum, organized by the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels. The event, entitled “Stronger Together through Sustainable Investment”, gathered many well-known politicians, representatives of international organizations and businesses. Routine meetings with European officials no longer cause any excitement, which is not the case with Recean’s statements after his meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Thus, the prime minister openly announced Chisinau’s desire to participate in international missions and military exercises of the alliance “in order to strengthen the capabilities of the national army and increase interoperability”. Many experts suggested that the meeting at the NATO headquarters was in fact the main motive for the trip to Brussels, which, pro forma, was defused with an economic forum and another piece of European integration promises. By the way, the meeting with the NATO Secretary General took place amidst the Moldovan-US military drills “Aurochs Partner” launched on 25 October at the training center of the Decebal Aviation Regiment in Marculesti. More than 200 servicemen of the Fulger Special Forces Battalion and paratroopers of the US Army were involved in the training. It is noteworthy that for the first time, a North Atlantic Alliance C-17 Globemaster aircraft flew over Moldovan territory, from which the servicemen performed parachute jumps near the towns of Floresti, Falesti and Balti. At a joint press conference, Jens Stoltenberg assured our prime minister that Chisinau will receive the alliance’s permanent support. In addition, he confirmed full recognition of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and demanded that Russia withdraw its troops from Moldova. It is not a rosy picture, given the unresolved conflict, coupled with the already high threshold of military sensitivity in our region. A few weeks earlier, the situation around Moldova became a topic of discussion for the delegations of NATO member states gathered at the Annual Session of the Bloc’s Parliamentary Assembly in Copenhagen. Ion Spac, a ruling party deputy and member of the commission for national security, defense and public order, visited it on behalf of Moldova. During his speech at the assembly, Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana said with absolute certainty that Moldova’s place is in NATO, and this will happen sooner or later. It is not specified what exactly lies behind these statements by Geoana, but apparently, we should prepare for something. We cannot rule out the connection between Recean’s trip to Brussels and the release of the draft of the new National Security Strategy, one of the authors of which is the current Prime Minister. Besides, it is necessary to pay attention to the document’s section, where one of the key components of the national security is the strategic partnership with the USA and increasing cooperation/interoperability with the North Atlantic Alliance. Thus, without waiting for the approbation procedure, the head of the Cabinet left for NATO headquarters in a hurry, as if he wanted to put some provisions of the future strategy into practice as soon as possible. Moreover, over the past few weeks, expert discourse on NATO has markedly revived in our media space, with opinions about the importance of raising public awareness of the benefits of being this bloc’s member and changing its public perception. According to polls, the number of supporters of Moldova’s accession to the alliance doesn’t exceed 30%. But this is, in fact, quite a high indicator in conditions when the authorities have not yet practically conducted open campaigning and, for example, have not yet conditioned integration into the European Union with the need for parallel accession to NATO. Nevertheless, the first signs that the situation will definitely change are already visible. Thus, at the conference “Building Resilience through Partnership” organized by the NATO Documentation and Information Centre in Moldova on 24 October, Government Secretary General Artur Mija stated that neutrality can no longer be the solution in ensuring the republic’s security. The official was concerned about the insignificant number of people who want to see our country in NATO, although “there is an understanding in society that only the North Atlantic Alliance can provide security guarantees”. The situation, in his opinion, should be changed and the actual picture should be explained to citizens. Amidst all this military-political campaign, the words of former Gagauz ex-bashkan Irina Vlah were left unheeded who stated that deputies of the ruling party are secretly developing a package of legislative initiatives that envisage abandoning neutrality and accelerated accession to NATO on the model of Sweden and Finland. It is difficult to assess how reliable this information is, but Vlah has never been seen in openly dirty propaganda campaigns. Therefore, based on the general context, it is quite possible to assume that such legal preparations are indeed being worked on in the parliamentary halls. Many people have long noted that relations between Moldova and NATO have gained momentum, especially this year, and this trend is likely to continue. For instance, in 2024, we will host a seminar of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which takes place at the level of alliance and cooperation between the countries of Central and Eastern Europe under the name Rose-Roth. The central event will be the bloc’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington. There is no doubt that preparations for this important date are already underway, including important strategic decisions that should give the North Atlantic Alliance a new historical meaning and define its place in the future world order. Experts disagree about NATO’s prospects, which depend on many factors related to regional and global security. Thus, according to some estimates, the war in Ukraine allowed the United States to strengthen its position in Europe and consolidate the bloc’s member states around itself. Even so, European leaders are still trying to realize the idea of “the European Union’s strategic autonomy”. In mid-October, several European countries held collective military exercises outside NATO in Spain, which the media have already dubbed as “the first in the EU history”. Just as importantly that last week the United States submitted its proposals to the Kremlin on the issue of strategic stability. In the current circumstances, the prerequisites for negotiations on this key topic are not particularly visible, but there is obviously a certain desire on the part of the US administration to resume contacts with Moscow. There is no doubt that the first condition to be set by the Russians will be a freeze on the NATO’s further expansion into post-Soviet countries. In such a complex international context, our authorities are in a strange hurry and inexorable desire to speed up the process of rapprochement with NATO, no matter what. Most likely, the main bet is made on the radical wing within the bloc in the hope that Moldova will not be left behind the line of possible geostrategic separation and will be accepted into the unified Euro-Atlantic security circuit at the last moment.