What to Expect from New Ukrainian Ambassador to Moldova?

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Sergiu CEBAN
The appointment of Oleksiy Danilov indicates a significant increase in the level and number of tasks that the Ukrainian embassy in Chisinau is going to face
The day before yesterday, the US special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery, Penny Pritzker, visited us. At a meeting with Maia Sandu, she discussed, among other things, Moldova’s role in the future recovery of the neighboring country. Indeed, the geographical location of the republic makes it generally one of the key hubs, so it is likely that Moldova will have its own functional purpose in the course of Ukraine’s infrastructural and economic rehabilitation. Speaking about the Moldovan-Ukrainian relations per se, they remain rather dynamic, with lots of directions, as well as some problematic areas. In general, the level of these relations is quite high, and the contacts has not decreased in intensity for several years in a row. In this sense, there is no doubt that Moldovan and Ukrainian diplomats always have work to do. When it comes to priority areas of co-operation, the first place is undoubtedly given to negotiations and gradual integration with the European Union. Given Brussels’ package approach, no matter how much some people in Chisinau would like it, we will have to be in close coordination with Kyiv on everything related to joining the single European family. One of the binding factors is naturally a number of common military-political challenges associated not only with military operations, but also with Moscow’s hybrid influence on Moldova. The revenge of the pro-Russian opposition in Chisinau is a significant risk for Kyiv, which, losing Moldova as an ally, essentially gains another 1,000 kilometers of border full of new threats. In recent weeks, the energy sector has also been on the top of the agenda, once again at high risk after recent Russian attacks on the gas storage infrastructure in western Ukraine, which is also used by Moldova. The recent strikes on the Dniester HPP also pose a serious challenge, which may cause unpleasant man-made scenarios, loss of generating capacity, interruptions in electricity transit and problems with water supply. Even the above mentioned aspects, out of all the many that exist, make it clear how critical Moldova and its (external) political position are for Kyiv at the current stage, and how crucial it is to retain the current composition of the Moldovan government. Therefore, the dynamically changing external and internal environment in our country seems to have become one of the motives for Ukraine’s diplomatic reinforcement in the Moldovan direction, which led to certain personnel decisions. There are many versions about the reasons for the dismissal of Ambassador Marko Shevchenko, from purely formal to the recent scandals with surveillance of Ukrainian diplomats in Chisinau and frank interviews over the past few months. Be that as it may, the personnel reshuffle, was presumably long overdue, and Oleksiy Danilov’s resignation from the post of the NSDC secretary only accelerated the process. By his guise, Danilov has always embodied a symbol of Ukrainian patriotism and uncompromising resistance, so it would have been logical for him to move to one of the positions, for example, in the Office of the President, which has also undergone personnel changes. But, to all appearances, the Ukrainian authorities are gearing up for a new stage of the war, so in the context of administrative and political consolidation, the arrangement of specific personalities and the forces behind them is done with due regard to the international and regional situation. What does the appointment of a new Ukrainian ambassador to Moldova mean? First of all, it is a change in Kyiv’s approach, as we have already mentioned on several occasions. In brief, it is a departure from the previous paradigm of “aggressive defender” towards active diplomacy aimed at strengthening its position and greater inclusion in regional processes. Assigning Danilov, who is at the top of the Ukrainian establishment’s hierarchy, is evidence of an increase in the level and number of tasks that the Ukrainian embassy in Chisinau will face. Where is Oleksiy Danilov going? He is going to a country where, according to the latest polls of the Moldovan-Romanian sociological company IMAS, over 40% of citizens believe that Vladimir Putin should remain president of Russia, 55% believe that Ukraine should capitulate, and 48% of respondents say that Russia cannot be defeated. In addition, 43% of respondents believe that Putin is getting closer to achieving his military goals. At the same time, no matter how things are in the Moldovan society, according to our own assessments and foreign experts’ forecasts, Moldova has all “chances” to become one of the tension points in the next few years due to various factors both within the country (PAS, Sandu, Gagauzia, Transnistria, opposition’s revenge) and around it. Therefore, the growth of interest in Moldova and strengthening of its presence here in one form or another by Washington, Brussels, Moscow, Paris, London, Bucharest and now Kyiv is the surest sign that something is coming up. The appointment of such a high-profile political figure as the ex-Secretary of the Security Council is a clear indicator that the tasks imputed to him are far from traditional diplomacy. The main strategic goal, of course, is to prevent Moscow from bringing political forces loyal to it to power and to keep Moldova in the zone of full Western control, and at the same time to keep the republic among the countries of the conditional international coalition supporting Ukraine. Therefore, during 2024, we will see Kyiv gradually increasing its activity on the Moldovan perimeter and playing a more significant role in the balance of power on both banks of the Dniester in order, above all, to offset Russian influence in both Chisinau and Tiraspol. Judging by the first narratives of pro-Russian Telegram channels, Moscow expects a certain revitalization of Ukrainian security services to supplant the Russian presence. Chisinau took this extraordinary decision of the Ukrainian authorities rather cautiously, since they were apparently used to receiving ambassadors of a more traditional format from Kyiv. One way or another, we will have to find a common language with such a figure as Danilov and listen to his requests, which cannot always be framed in elegant diplomatic forms. In this respect, the tendency of our policy to a certain sycophancy in the form of maximum postponement of critical decisions, may, of course, become an additional irritant for the firmly-minded ambassador.