Why Has Moldova Suspended Its Participation in the CFE Treaty?

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Yesterday’s decision of the government to suspend Moldova’s participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe spread wide in the European media space. RTA experts examined what’s behind this move which seems to confirm militarization plans of the authorities
Sergiu CEBAN, RTA: NATO will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a summit in Washington this summer. Organizers expect the forum to be the largest since the Cold War, and Alliance members will discuss ways to respond to major threats and the bloc’s multi-year action plan. Obviously, one of the oldest security organizations needs to reflect on its continued existence in a rapidly changing world and a severe military crisis in Europe. Attempts to build solidarity and confidence within NATO by the departing Joe Biden administration are unlikely to have the desired effect against Donald Trump’s high scores, who will be the Republican candidate in the presidential election, if no force majeure occurs. His possible victory will clearly not add credibility to the North Atlantic Alliance. Trump is known to have threatened the allies during his past tenure that he would encourage Russia to “do whatever it wants” to countries that fail to meet financial obligations to the bloc. The results of the meeting in Paris on February 26 could tell much about the state of affairs within NATO. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Polish President Andrzej Duda, prime ministers of 20 other European countries, as well as representatives of the USA and the UK arrived at the Elysée Palace. Volodymyr Zelensky also joined via video link. All of them recognized Ukraine’s dire situation, which requires more action in supporting Kyiv and making “strong decisions”. The situation on the front line have indeed become, in a sense, a turning point in the war, because of which the West’s strategy of defeating Russia on the battlefield has reached a certain dead end. Because of this, NATO countries need to move to a conditional plan “B”. At the Paris meeting, Emmanuel Macron reportedly voiced the possibility of sending the alliance soldiers to help the Ukrainian army. Yet, his statements were quickly refuted by other bloc members revealing internal contradictions and continued hesitancy. Meanwhile, there is a solid consent on everything related to expanding the zone of strategic influence. Thus, on 4 March, the large-scale military exercise Nordic Response 24 kicked off in northern Finland, Sweden and Norway. For Helsinki, this is the most significant participation in this kind of event in the history of the defense forces, as well as the first experience of a joint defense exercise as a member of the alliance. The opening of the first NATO base in the Western Balkans in Albania on the same day was another notable event: Kucove Air Base, 80 kilometers south of Tirana, will serve as an important air hub. And, of course, yesterday’s decision by our government regarding the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) cannot be separated from all this. State Secretary of the Defense Ministry Valeriu Mija said that, given the radical change of circumstances since the agreement was signed in 1990, Moldova suspends its validity, with the possibility of returning to it later. The cabinet decision is expected to enter into force 150 days after the treaty’s member states are notified. The first thing that comes to mind is that participation in the CFE Treaty allowed our diplomacy to use conventional legal arguments and demand from Russia the unconditional fulfilment of the commitments to withdraw Russian troops and armaments from the Transnistrian region made at the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit. Now one can’t help but get the feeling that this sets the course for using other methods to “solve” the problem, and the first step towards this is to balance the combat potential of right-bank Moldova with the combined military forces on the left bank of the Dniester. Recently, Dorin Recean stated that Moldova plans to buy at least two more radars of the same level as the previously purchased Ground Master 200 from France in order to cover the entire territory of the country. However, it is obvious that detection systems are only one component of air/missile defense. Therefore, the next stage, according to the prime minister, should be the procurement of weapons capable of shooting down missiles and drones of various size. The cost of a full-fledged air defense system is estimated at several billion euros, which the country doesn’t have, so it seems to rely on the help of external partners, especially NATO member states. Just in time, Maia Sandu has left for Paris today on a two-day official visit to sign “cooperation agreements”, according to the press service. The defense ministry says that the delegation headed by the president includes Minister Anatolie Nosatii, who will hold an official meeting with his French counterpart Sebastien Lecornu and sign an agreement on cooperation in the defense sector. The document will address the following areas of development and modernization of the National Army: defense policy, participation in international missions and operations, control and management of airspace, military information and telecommunications technologies, military geodesy, logistics, medicine, financial and budgetary management and so on. Earlier, Germany, Poland, Great Britain and the USA contributed to the re-equipment of the Moldovan army. While in Chisinau, the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that so far our armed forces have received 87 million dollars in assistance from the European Peace Facility, and after the new package is finalized in 2024, another 50 million dollars will arrive. Apparently, the plans to militarize our country and abandon its neutrality, which just recently seemed to be the fantasies of biased politicians and experts, are beginning to take on quite visible outlines. It is difficult to understand what exactly is pushing the current leadership to step up these processes and choose such dubious options, whether it is the situation on the front line or uncertainty about its electoral prospects. But it is becoming increasingly clear to any, even to an unskilled observer, that the current ruling group is playing with fire and leading the nation down some dangerous path, which definitely does not promise us anything positive or good. Christian RUSSU, RTA: Reports about Moldova’s suspension of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe got into the news agencies’ feeds yesterday almost as “breaking news”. Both Moldovan and foreign experts were taken by surprise. On the eve of the government meeting, nothing foreshadowed such high-profile decisions on a regional scale. Such a resolution was not on the agenda, nor was it on the government portal, where draft decisions are published in advance. Nevertheless, the suspension of the treaty was agreed without any questions or objections. The state secretary of the Defense Ministry, Valeriu Mija, justified the need to adopt the draft law by Russia’s withdrawal from the CFE Treaty in November 2023, military aggression against Ukraine, one of the parties to the treaty, and a fundamental change in the regional security system. The government decree itself provides for the draft to be sent first to the president for approval and then to the parliament. Thus, it will be sent to the MPs by Maia Sandu, who will have an opportunity to politically promote herself in front of her electorate and demonstrate solidarity with European partners. There are a lot of questions as to the timeliness of this step. Four months have already passed since the completion of all the procedures for Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement, while the military aggression against Ukraine has been in place for two years already, so the explanations of the defense ministry officials citing the Russian factor look dubious. It is worth recalling that Moldova stopped fulfilling its CFE Treaty obligations towards the Russian Federation as a non-compliant nation back in December 2011. This concerned the point of providing information and notifications, as well as hosting Russian inspections. Only some NATO members, including the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands as the guardian of the treaty, made similar remarks to Russia and reservations on the CFE Treaty back in 2011. Therefore, our references to the importance of joining a group of CFE Treaty participants that are united against Russia’s position also seem a bit far-fetched. No, I am not saying that Moldova does not follow the policy of the collective West, but the formal reason seems a bit different. After all, nothing prevented the authorities from declaring the suspension of the CFE Treaty simultaneously with the majority of its participants on 7 November last year or, say, with Romania on 14 November. They could have waited to take such a step at all, since not all EU and NATO members have opted out of the treaty. Moreover, the ruling party’s main priority of late has been to break off relations with the CIS space, including in military and political terms. An agreement on military observer groups and collective peacekeeping forces in the CIS and a protocol on the temporary procedure for the formation and deployment of such forces in conflict zones between states and in CIS member states were among such denounced documents last week. As for the latter, we can speak of a deliberate policy to destroy any legal references that could be exploited by the Russian Federation in case of unfreezing the Transnistrian conflict, and such a scenario is not excluded. The congress of deputies in Tiraspol with its requests for help to Russia only added arguments to our law enforcement “hawks”. On the other hand, while having no obligations in the military-political and even law enforcement sphere with the CIS countries, Moldova will have an additional reasoning to exclude any format of Russia’s participation in reformatting the peacekeeping mission on the Dniester into a conditionally civil-police mission following the example of Kosovo. For a long time, the Moldovan military has been looking into the experience of this mission, trying on such a model, and the options for solving the Transnistrian problem discussed behind closed doors cannot be seriously considered without the military component. Recently, defense minister Anatolie Nosatii personally visited Kosovo to meet with NATO officers and our KFOR military. At the same time, it seems that the main reason for the decision to start the CFE Treaty suspension procedure right in these days is the inherent desire of PAS politicians to show their best side at meetings in European capitals, especially if it is necessary to ask for something without counter obligations. Returning to the fact that all the ruling party’s actions on the outer perimeter are designed to maintain the impeccable image of its candidate in future presidential elections, we find that today and tomorrow Maia Sandu will be in Paris, and she will be accompanied by defense minister Nosatii. They also plan to sign a new defense cooperation agreement with France. This immediately brings to mind the case with the French radar, which failed to detect a Russian military drone, and prime minister Dorin Recean’s promise to attract international assistance to create a full-fledged air defense system in Moldova, capable of not only tracking but also shooting down air targets. If Ukraine can ask for special formats of relations and assistance, why can’t Moldova? And French politicians are often at the forefront of the EU and NATO. Another extremely sensitive issue for the authorities is related to the failed tender, which was to be won by the French company Lagardere Travel Retail. In this case, Maia Sandu should invite not the minister of defense, but the head of the ministry of infrastructure and regional development, who promised to transfer premises in the Chisinau airport to French partners. Generally speaking, Sandu has a lot of tasks in Paris, but no achievements to report. That is why they have to resort once again to a reliable combination of anti-Russian rhetoric, political gestures of solidarity such as the suspension of the CFE Treaty and requests for help in countering threats to national security. It should work!