Washington and Moscow Prepare for a Fierce Battle in Moldova

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Sergiu CEBAN
More and more signals suggest that Moldova is slowly turning into another spot of geopolitical confrontation and rivalry
Well, Russia is launching new political projects under the patronage of the fugitive oligarch Ilan Sor, preparing for a battle in the presidential and subsequent parliamentary elections. Thus, the Kremlin is making its move to challenge the West by imposing a struggle for political control over Moldova. That said, the showiness of the event which Sor organized in the Russian capital is a sign of his unconditional loyalty to Moscow. Meanwhile, the USA is working to cement the foothold of the current Moldovan authorities, keeping the country in the orbit of its influence. Last week, Washington hosted a regular meeting of the US-Moldova Strategic Dialogue. Our delegation was led by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mihai Popsoi. Four joint working groups analyzed Moldova’s progress, as well as the results of U.S. support programs in defense, rule of law, good governance, energy and economic security. Just before the event, the foreign ministry consulted with the non-governmental sector through a meeting of the Civil Society Platform of the US-Moldova Strategic Dialogue, where leaders of public associations could express their proposals on how to bolster relations between the two states. Launched in 2014, this format was suspended in 2017 after Igor Dodon and Vladimir Plahotniuc came to power, ousting the Western-backed political forces and leaders. However, after the election of Maia Sandu and the PAS mono-majority, the strategic dialogue was restored in 2022, prompting a dramatic increase in aid from U.S. partners. In general, the current high level of interaction influenced the programme of Mihai Popsoi’s trip, which was rather intense. He met with the Under Secretary of State, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence of the Ministry of Finance, the Special Assistant to the President and Chief Director for Europe of the National Security Council, the co-chair of the Moldovan Friendship Group in Congress, as well as experts from the Brookings Institution, the largest think tank in the United States. The head of the American delegation in the strategic dialogue, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Eastern Europe Christopher Smith, who, by the way, visited Moldova at the end of February, revealed some of the key points of these talks to the Moldovan press. They give at least a clue as to the direction in which bilateral relations will evolve and what role Moldova will play in a complex regional environment. Thus, according to the US diplomat, a meeting of this format allows “not only to exchange views, but also to agree on common goals and objectives, identify resources and send mutual messages”. For now, the USA sees no real threat of Russian aggression against Moldova, but at the same time it tries to strengthen its defense capabilities. Washington believes that our country is passing through a milestone and will therefore do everything to favour this “historic opportunity”. In addition, the United States sees Moldova as an important player in the Black Sea region that “can do much for regional stability and security”. And U.S. partners will assist Moldova in its efforts to fulfil its role. They also advocate the continuation of ties and communication between the two banks of the Dniester, which are critical for maintaining stability in the region and finding ways to finally resolve the conflict. There can be no doubt that Moldova is indeed one of the auxiliary elements of the US military-strategic planning in the region. It is no coincidence that in early April we hosted the international military exercise JCET-2024 (Joint Combined Exchange Training) with the participation of the US, Romanian and Moldovan militaries. Officially, the purpose of the exercise is joint training and exchange of experience between Moldovan, Romanian and American special forces, as well as improving interoperability between their army units. The fact that Washington will bolster its presence and influence in Moldova is also indicated by the decision of the American president to appoint a new US ambassador in Chisinau, who can be classified as a diplomat of a completely different stature. The move is due to the understanding that, despite the appearance of full US control over Moldova, our domestic political situation is far from being certain that Chisinau’s current loyalty to Brussels and Washington will be maintained in the coming years. A vivid example of this is the situation with a plot of land in the center of Chisinau for the construction of an American embassy. The current authorities have managed to drag this issue out for years. The forthcoming meeting of the Strategic Dialogue seems to have got things moving forward, and our politicians have found a solution that allows selling a 5.2-hectare plot of land to the U.S. Embassy. The sale price is expected to be around €15m, but final details will be made public once the negotiating team has finalized all procedures. Despite the fact that many things in our country are moving with moans and groans, the Moldovan-American cooperation, one way or another, continues to grow. In March, Dorin Recean signed a memorandum with the representative of North Carolina on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of bilateral partnership and cooperation. A little earlier, in order to intensify interaction in the cyber security sector, Energy Minister Victor Parlicov signed document of understanding with the US Civilian Research and Development Foundation. We cannot fail to mention the purchase of a trial batch of liquefied gas from the United States in early April. Apparently, the purchase of the same Russian gas from intermediaries causes certain discontent in Washington, which also financially supports the Moldovan authorities in their endeavor to get rid of energy dependence on Russia. Therefore, attempts to get Chisinau, as well as other European consumers, addicted to direct purchases of US LNG are another marker of Moldova’s strategic perception in US long-term planning in the region. Apparently, the Department of State heeded Bucharest’s requests, especially after the meeting in December 2023 between Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at which the Romanian Cabinet head emphasized the need to support Moldova as the most vulnerable state in Europe after Ukraine. It must be assumed that the US has taken on a substantial burden, while leaving the operational part to Romania, which is already preparing for various scenarios in the region. This is probably the reason for the already sensational draft law of the Romanian Ministry of Defense on the possibility of protecting the citizens of the country outside its borders in case 12% of the territory of the state where people with Romanian citizenship live is occupied. The recent attacks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov against our leaders, with accusations of attempts to create tension around the Transnistrian region are bad signals that Moldova is slowly turning into another hotbed of geopolitical confrontation and rivalry.