Will Bucharest Take Moldova Under Its Wing?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Regardless of the European Council’s decision, patronizing Moldova and supporting its pro-European course will mainly be the task of Romania in the next few years
On 1 December, Romania celebrated the National Day, which this year was marked by an anniversary - 105 years since the Great Union Day, which gave birth to the modern Romanian state. This holiday, for various reasons, increasingly resonates in Moldova as well, both among ordinary citizens, political elites, creative intellectuals and business representatives. This is a natural phenomenon. In recent years, the neighboring country has become much closer, significantly increasing its presence and influence in our republic. Thus, its share in Moldova’s foreign trade, which was quite mediocre in the early 90s, has now grown so much that it has made Romania our main economic partner. Last year we exported $1.24 billion worth of goods there, and in the first nine months of this year - more than a billion dollars, which is more than a third of the total exports. Apart from trade, a strategic breakthrough is expected in other spheres through the implementation of long-term infrastructure projects. The most recent example is yesterday’s signing of a memorandum of understanding for the development of projects to interconnect the natural gas and electricity networks of the two states, which will allow Moldova to become part not only of the Romanian, but also of the single European energy market. In her very warm congratulatory address, Maia Sandu was not stingy with words of praise, noting that “Romania is loved in our country for its constant help, but above all for what unites us” - language, history and culture. Even specific “acts of love” were listed, like help in supplying electricity or modernizing localities. In addition, Sandu called Bucharest “a pillar of resistance and the most ardent defender of our European path”. The solemnity of the moment, of course, requires some poetry and political pathos, but there is a certain truth in the president’s words. Judging by the current situation, in the coming years Moldova will have to rely on Bucharest alone. At the same time, in order to stay in the focus of Romania’s foreign policy priorities, Chisinau, in turn, will have to make serious counter steps towards the rapprochement of the two states, and not only to engage in nominal restoration of historical and linguistic justice. A day before the start of the European Council Summit, many things indicate that the probability of opening accession talks with Moldova and Ukraine is extremely low. In the best case, this issue will be postponed until the spring meeting of EU leaders. In the worst case, the decision will be postponed until the new composition of the European Commission and the European Parliament is formed. And they may consider the European prospects of Chisinau and Kyiv from a different point of view. Whatever the outcome of this situation, in the next few years most of the burden for Moldova’s guardianship and support of its pro-European course will anyway fall on Bucharest, for which the European integration of its brother state is not only an important foreign policy project, but also an existential geopolitical goal. Recently, NATO Deputy Secretary General and once Speaker of the Romanian Senate Mircea Geoana shared doctrinal insights on the role and place of his homeland in the historical perspective. He spoke of Bucharest’s aspirations to stop being a European periphery and the eastern frontier of Western civilization once Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkans become part of the Euro-Atlantic space. According to him, this expansion of the Western area of influence will allow Romania to change its status of a geopolitical province and become an influential center with the right to make strategic decisions. One of the most pronounced signs of Bucharest’s ambitions, which are probably fueled by its main ally - the USA, can be considered the recent visit of the head of the Romanian government Marcel Ciolacu to Washington. In an open part of the meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the politician urged the American authorities to pay special attention to Moldova, which is “the most vulnerable country after Ukraine”. The reasons for such alarmist statements are quite obvious. The geopolitical fate of the republic is once again under threat amidst the expected decrease in the speed of European integration and the change in the balance of power in the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation clearly not in favor of Kyiv. The fact that the Romanian leadership is openly appealing to the White House is also not a coincidence, and may indicate both the inclusion of the “Moldovan issue” in the agenda of relations with the American administration and the desire to convey a corresponding preemptive message to Moscow. The day before, Prime Minister Dorin Recean had a telephone conversation with his Romanian counterpart who returned from Washington. The polished press release says that the topics of conversation were bilateral cooperation and the implementation of joint projects in the energy sector and the development of cross-border infrastructure. However, it is quite possible to read between the lines that the Romanian government delegation brought clear instructions from across the ocean to continue to keep Moldova in the orbit of its influence and to integrate it into the single Euro-Atlantic space. The statements about a forced merger with Romania as the alternative to European integration that recently seemed to be a figure of speech, are now perceived as an inevitable reality and, in fact, the only option for the Moldovan authorities to maintain the current foreign policy course. It is quite possible that soon this process will not only evolve as theory but also take on a tangible practical content. By and large, the ruling PAS, which was elected to parliament in 2021 as a moderate centrist political force, at the current stage has already settled on the right flank and has become pro-European Unionist in its line of work, rhetoric and policy. Now it relies, first of all, on the segment of voters who have grown considerably over the last years and who support the idea of integration of Moldova and Romania. Certainly, some of our politicians will have new reasons to scare the population with formulaic phrases about unirea. However, a pragmatic and rational view of the situation suggests annexation is not in question. Only an absolutely natural and at the same time demanded socio-political project of defining Moldova’s historical place, which in the coming decades will almost inevitably be fixed in the zone of influence of Romania and the West as a whole, is being implemented.