Moldova as a Point of Shifting the Red Lines

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French military and political ambitions projected in Moldova increase the risk of military escalation in the region
Vladimir ROTARI, RTA: Emmanuel Macron has undoubtedly become one of the main providers of “breaking news” for the world press. His statements on the conflict in Ukraine helped shift the West’s attention away from pessimistic assessments and forecasts, and also introduced the previously taboo topic of sending NATO contingents to the neighboring country. The French leader is often accused of populism and idle rhetoric, but this time it seems that he is not going to give up his proposals so easily, even despite the sharp criticism of the opposition and disapproving reactions of his North Atlantic Alliance partners. The topic of the Western military presence in Ukraine is not leaving the front pages of the mass media, adding more and more details. Thus, at a meeting with French parliamentarians, Macron reportedly mentioned the rapid advance of the Russians towards Kyiv or Odesa as one of the conditions for the deployment of troops on Ukrainian territory. The web is flooded with videos of echelons of military equipment being moved, and the influential Politico magazine says that “French troops are preparing for a high-intensity conflict in Europe against an enemy who can match them with firepower”. The unexpected belligerence of Paris, which almost single-handedly took on the task of pushing the limits in Ukraine, crossing the “red lines” drawn by the Russian Federation, is now causing amazement and surprise around the world. On the other hand, the behavior of France is rather understandable and follows from the logic of the era. It has always been characteristic of great powers, including France, to take advantage of the “winds of change”, turning global events to their advantage. Everyone knows how the US became a superpower after the decline of European empires as a result of the world wars. A similar period in terms of its scale and aftermath is taking place right now. Apart from the conflict in Ukraine, which has created deep dividing lines in Europe, another important, perhaps even the most important, trend is the rise of isolationist sentiment in the United States, where focus is on domestic issues. American foreign policy gradually veering away from the ideological concept of a “world democratic gendarme” in favor of its practical interests in key regions, primarily Asia and the Pacific. Thus, in the near future, Europe may suddenly find itself in a vacuum of security, where the previous policies for maintaining security will no longer be viable. Paris, aware of the strategic situation, is trying to be proactive, securing its place in the sun and claiming continental leadership, including by launching and leading bold defense initiatives. France has enough competitive advantages for achieving a major role in European affairs. These include huge historical traditions and experience, and the good state of the national economy, which, unlike the German economy, demonstrates decent growth rates and attracts foreign investment. The country has its own military-industrial complex and - the only one among EU members - has nuclear weapons, which automatically makes it the number one candidate to provide a “security umbrella” over Europe in case the US steps back from NATO or even leaves the bloc. It may be recalled that Paris was among the initiators of the idea of creating the EU armed forces, as well as of reforming the Union, including abandoning the principle of unanimous decision-making, which would dramatically shift the balance of power in favor of large countries. Another point of endeavor is the intrusion into the sphere of root interests of its geopolitical adversary and expansion of own influence. French-Armenian cooperation, which Moscow cannot ignore, is becoming a rather prominent factor. The well-formed prospect of Armenia’s withdrawal from the CSTO, which would be, at the very least, a strong image blow to Russia, can be considered one of the benefits of this endeavor. France has an even closer cooperation with Moldova, which is emphasized by recurrent mutual visits at the highest and other levels. More importantly, Paris has strengthened its role as a “guide to the EU” for Moldova, having a strong influence when deciding on the candidate status in 2022 and starting accession negotiations in 2023. Moreover, France was one of the initiators of the Moldova Support Platform, which attracted solid aid, as well as of the European Political Community, whose summit took place in Bulboaca last year. Of course, Paris has purely practical interests, within the framework of which Moldova is assigned the role of an instrument for fulfilling quite specific military-political ambitions. Therefore, defense cooperation is the headliner of Moldovan-French relations. Last year, the French defense minister first visited Moldova to announce a batch of military aid for the National Army. Subsequently, an air surveillance radar was purchased from the French, which initiated the construction of a modern air defense system. Plans for new purchases of radars and air defense equipment have already been announced. At the European level, Paris has been successfully lobbying for increased defense support to Moldova in the face of “aggressive destabilization attempts by Russia”. On 7 March, Macron and Sandu, who also exchanged the two countries’ highest state awards, signed several documents in the French capital, including an economic cooperation roadmap and a defense cooperation agreement. In addition, Emmanuel Macron once again stirred up the media by reports on the opening of a permanent French defense mission in Chisinau in the coming months, which will train the Moldovan military in order to increase the interoperability of the Moldovan and French armed forces. It can be said that the French leader questioned another red line of the Russian Federation, which consisted in at least formal observance of Moldova’s neutrality. With the presence of servicemen from the NATO country officially declared, the neutral status is further impaired, actually making it legally null and void, which Moscow will have to respond to. In general, France is confidently bolstering its influence in Moldova, especially in its defense sector, creating a geographically unfavorable zone of tension for Russia. The accelerated process of militarization of our territory under the control of NATO, including France, and the appearance of a military mission with the prospect of Western military contingents stationed here, which will be only tens of kilometers away from the operational group of Russian troops located on the left bank of the Dniester, will be an additional trouble for the military and political leadership of the Russian Federation. The fact that Paris is considering the option of unfreezing the Transnistrian conflict is not just obvious, but is even emphasized by Macron’s statements about the withdrawal of “illegally stationed Russian troops”, assistance in disposing Cobasna arsenals and participation in the settlement of the Transnistrian issue. Being a pragmatic player, France also pursues quite pecuniary interests related to a wider geography of its arms export, which, as it seems, are actively supplied to Armenia and now to Moldova. Naturally, the French would like to take the key role in the rearmament of our country, utilizing the budgetary and grant and loan funds allocated for this purpose. The Moldovan authorities tried to slacken the information hype somewhat by stating that the French military mission in Moldova consists only of moving the military attaché from the embassy in Bucharest to the embassy in Chisinau, and the option of a permanent foreign military presence on the right bank of the Dniester is not being considered. However, such an interpretation is clearly at odds with the Macron-stated objectives of the mission. Besides, we already have cases of misleading reports from our Ministry of Defense, as it was with the participation of the Moldovan military in the NATO exercise Steadfast Defender 2024.