Moldova as a Border Stronghold of the European Union

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The militarization of the European Union is no longer a theoretical concept, but a fait accompli. Moldova’s geographical location imposes specific obligations on it to strengthen the EU’s eastern frontier
Vladimir ROTARI, RTA: The situation in Ukraine continues to develop adversely for the neighboring country. After gaining control of Avdiivka, Russian forces have been carrying out offensive actions in several directions, capturing smaller settlements. At the same time, the Russians have managed to destroy or damage a number of Western UAS and air defense systems in recent weeks, as well as to hit an American Abrams tank for the first time. The latter fact also reflects the crisis situation for the AFU, which has forced them to risk such expensive equipment that they previously tried to keep away from the line of contact. These trends contribute to the growth of pessimistic attitudes and assessments among Western politicians and the press. Coupled with the still dim prospects for congressional approval of a $60 billion US military aid package, views of a strategic stalemate and the need to move toward negotiations to end the conflict are gaining traction. However, the European Union leaders seem to choose a different option, sending messages to the Kremlin that they will not give up on Ukraine. The security deals that Kyiv signed with Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Denmark and Canada can be considered one such message. Although they are often criticized for lacking specifics and clear commitments to protect Ukrainian territory, they nevertheless enshrine the long-term nature of military and financial support for Ukraine. Realizing the urgent nature of the situation, European partners are even forced to compromise their interests by refusing to demand that ammunition for the Ukrainian armed forces be purchased only in the European Union. At the same time, there is an attempt to frighten Moscow and sharply raise the stakes. The vivid example of this, first and foremost, is French President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement of a coalition to supply medium- and long-range missiles and bombs, which will cross another “red line” marked by the Russian Federation. Second, Macron unexpectedly confirmed the words of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico that the option of sending NATO contingents to Ukraine was being discussed. That turned to be a real information bomb, as the West had previously categorically rejected the idea of its soldiers taking part in the conflict. Later, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal spoke up in a similar vein noting that Paris will not tolerate if Russia wins. As can be seen from the reaction of Washington and European countries, this scenario is still not “on the table”, but the trend itself is rather indicative. It is also worth recalling that proposals for the supply of Western artillery and missile systems, air defense systems, tanks and aircraft were similarly proposed at one time, and over time they evolved from radical to possible and then implementable. All these developments are, one way or another, related to the process of shifting the burden of supplying Ukraine onto the shoulders of the European Union. Several negative tendencies for the EU are developing in the US: on the one hand, isolationist sentiments are growing, and on the other hand, the focus of attention is inevitably shifting to strategically more important regions, primarily East Asia. Therefore, regardless of who wins the presidential election, Washington will keep removing its obligations to defend Europe, suggesting that European allies deal with the issue on their own. However, this process is rather complicated due to dire straits of the EU’s armed forces and military-industrial complex. Starting from 2022, measures are being taken to strengthen them, but they face a number of systemic obstacles: lack of personnel and the low attractiveness of military service, with the involvement of migrants, lack of opportunities to sharply increase military production, and, most importantly, the unpopularity of the military agenda among the people. Nevertheless, the strategic decision to arm Europe has been made, as can be seen by the record increase in military spending in EU budgets. Militarization programmes for the economy and industry have been adopted, which results in an increase in the production of weapons: for instance, there are plans for this year to produce one million rounds of ammunition compared to 350,000 a year and a half ago. The number of joint exercises of European armies has increased, and the idea of creating a common EU armed force is reviving again. Introducing the post of European Commissioner for Defense in the next composition of the European Commission can be considered a symbolic step. At the same time, the issue of support for Ukraine is moving forward. Despite all the procedural intricacies and the Hungarian grievance, a five-year aid package worth 50 billion euros was approved. Thus, the cumulative European spending on Ukraine since the outbreak of the war has exceeded that of the United States. The peace scenario now seems inadmissible for EU leaders, as any decisions on a ceasefire or a final peace treaty cannot be implemented without fixing the Ukrainian territories seized by Russia. Therefore, the EU is bracing for a long-term confrontation, mainly in the “cold” mode, but with the possibility of moving into a “hot phase”. At the same time, Ukraine is hardly regarded as an effective tool for strategically defeating Russia. Now its main duty is to contain the Russians until European military forces and industry become strong enough to create a significant preponderance of power over Moscow. Thus, Kyiv will receive long-term support, which is enshrined in guarantee agreements, but no one in the EU will completely exhaust and hand over their arsenals. The militarization of the EU is a rather unpleasant factor for Moldova that is already having a negative impact. While not yet the community’s member, we are already perceived as an integral element of the Western security and a buffer zone with Russia, which, if necessary, will have to face the first blow. That is why development partners pay so much attention to Moldova’s defense sector, subsidizing it with significant amounts of money. However, our state also has to bear certain obligations, which explains the rapid growth of military expenditures. As in the case of Ukraine, EU leaders are stepping up their own efforts to strengthen Moldova’s defense capabilities. Germany sent 19 armored personnel carriers, the largest military delivery last year. France provided the first batch of assistance from the Ministry of Armed Forces in November 2023, which included small arms, ammunition and equipment. It was agreed upon after the visit of the French defense minister to Chisinau. In addition, preparations to sign a new agreement on Moldovan-French military cooperation are underway. Given Moldova’s inclusion in the EU’s military mobility project, long-term plans for arms purchases and the creation of an air defense system capable not only of detecting but also of defeating aerial objects, we can conclude that our country will gradually turn into an EU border stronghold on the future line of demarcation with the Russian Federation. The Baltic States, which have begun to build an extensive defense line along the entire length of the border with the Russian Federation, and Poland, which wants to significantly increase the size of its army, are also among such countries. Since the outcome of the Ukrainian conflict is vague, it is still difficult to judge how the current processes will affect the security sector. But it’s safe to say that the bias of budget expenditures towards strengthening the armed forces will inevitably lead (already leads) to underfunding of other areas and cuts in social programmes, which is unlikely to meet the expectations of the population from Moldova’s European integration process.