Is Casus Belli Against Russia to Be Found in Moldova?

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Tiny Moldova may play a significant part in a new round of Russia-Ukraine conflict
Vladimir ROTARI, RTA: Two of the largest and most media covered conflicts, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are gradually approaching a new level of escalation. Despite massive international pressure and even, according to rumors, the cessation of US military supplies, Tel Aviv is determined to carry out an operation in the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where the remnants of Hamas have taken shelter, and with them some 1.5 million refugees. The Israeli authorities are making nominal efforts to move them out of the future war zone, but they are hardly able to prevent civilian casualties. In addition, the brutal bombardment of Rafah has already resulted in the deaths of dozens of people, mostly women and children. Events in Ukraine, where Russia continues to hold the strategic and tactical initiative, are also highly intense and dynamic. The fall of the Avdiivka fortification, as experts predicted, has caused a long-term defense crisis for Ukrainian forces, which are forced to cede territory on an almost daily basis. The Russian army appears to have found the best way forward, using the tactic of small assault groups combined with bombardment using powerful smart bombs that literally ruin any fortifications. Kyiv has so far failed to find an effective countermeasure for this. The situation for Ukraine is worsened by the lack of well-prepared backup lines of defense and, probably, a shortage of reserves and weapons. The unblocking of aid from the United States is expected to help with the latter. However, Western experts admit that even this positive factor is unlikely to turn the situation in favor of the AFU in the near future, and they forecast prospects for a new counter-offensive by 2025. Another surely alarming point for the Ukrainian leadership is the continuing decline in Russian losses on the frontline since October 2023, the level of which in March was the lowest since the beginning of the war. This statistic is cited by the BBC and the Russian opposition outlet Mediazona, which researched Russia’s losses based on open-source data. Thus, even in defense Ukrainian army is failing to inflict critical damage on their enemies, who are thus maintaining their offensive potential. The diplomatic sphere is also developing unfavorably for Kyiv. A high-level conference on the launch of the peace process in Ukraine is due to be held in Switzerland in June. At this conference, the leadership of the neighboring country plans to gather representatives of as many states as possible and agree with them on the so-called “Zelensky formula”, i.e. the Ukrainian plan for ending the war, which can then be presented to Moscow in the form of a kind of international ultimatum. The main intrigue is China’s participation, which in itself may be a signal to many other countries of the “global South” on which Russia relies to keep the war going. Yet, the statements of Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to France suggest that Beijing does not support peace initiatives that exclude Russia. Thus, the continuation of the war seems almost inevitable, and the crisis in Ukraine is becoming a challenge for its Western allies that needs a response. So far, it has manifested itself in yet another extension of the unofficial red lines that existed in this conflict. Firstly, French leader Emmanuel Macron opened the Overton Window by floating the idea of sending Western troops into Ukrainian territory. Although it was rejected by most NATO countries, it was tightly incorporated into the public and political discourse in the West, where it took root and over time seemed less and less radical and more and more justified given the dire situation on the front. Macron, accused by many of idle rhetoric, nevertheless continues to insist on a substantive discussion of his idea, sticking to the concept of “strategic ambiguity” for Russia. It consists of ending the practice of self-restraint and red lines that previously allowed the Kremlin to strategize with clear and publicly stated boundaries for its opponents. The second step in the escalation is the statement by the British foreign minister that his country does not oppose the use of the supplied weapons on the entire Russian territory. This is a novelty, as previously the stance of the collective West was to strictly control exported weapons, especially high-precision and long-range weapons, and not to use them for attacks on Russia. In turn, the Kremlin itself raised the stakes dramatically, summoning the ambassadors of France and the United Kingdom and declaring, in fact, a direct threat of retaliatory strikes against military facilities of these countries, including outside Ukraine. Moreover, Moscow has explicitly hinted that it is considering the use of nuclear weapons. In particular, unscheduled exercises were announced for missile units of the Southern Military District and Navy forces to practice the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Similar exercises were simultaneously launched in Belarus. As we can see, the volatile potential of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is growing, as are the prospects for new participants to be drawn into it. The emerging shift in the hostilities in Russia’s favor forces the West to consider increasingly non-trivial and decisive options on how to disrupt the Russian Federation’s attacking tempo and inflict a tactical and then strategic defeat on it. Our country, which is located in the neighborhood of Ukraine and is tightly, also due to the policies of the ruling party, tied into the context of the conflict, is one of the obvious candidates to be involved in it. In this sense, the peaceful attitude of official Chisinau, which was reiterated by Maia Sandu in a sensational interview with the Russian opposition blogger Yuri Dud, is not relevant. The continuing high dynamics of the national army’s joint exercises with Western contingents is more telling: trilateral training with the US and Romania took place in April, and Moldovan troops are scheduled to participate in the large-scale Swift Response exercise this month. Our soldiers and officers, along with the US military, will practice landing and live firing. In fact, there is a constant increase in mutual interoperability, as well as the development of scenarios for the deployment of Western contingents on Moldovan territory. The North Atlantic Alliance’s buildup of forces on its eastern flank, including in Romania, can be construed in the same vein. The question remains as to when they may be used in the Ukrainian conflict. So far, the idea of troop deployment is not popular in Western societies. The war in Ukraine has been going on for more than two years, and it will not be easy for politicians in the U.S. and Europe to justify the necessity of direct intervention now, especially contrary to repeatedly stated past attitudes. Thus, a solid casus belli may be required to justify a drastic change in position. A recent article in the Italian newspaper Repubblica, which, citing sources in the NATO leadership, said that the bloc could intervene in the war in Ukraine under a number of conditions, is noteworthy. Among them are the involvement of Belarus or a Russian attack on the Baltic States, Poland or (beware!) Moldova. Why I’m singling out our country is obvious - unlike the others, we are not a member of the Alliance. It is hard to believe that Russia, weakened by a severe war, intends to actually launch an attack on a NATO country. It is not only a dangerous gamble, but also rather pointless given that Moscow has no such vital goals in the above countries as in Ukraine. Moreover, Russian officials have repeatedly denied the existence of such plans. On the other hand, Moldova is not protected by the NATO umbrella, has Russian troops on its territory, and remains an arena of political confrontation between geopolitically different forces, while the Kremlin, without much concealment, supports those leaders who are inclined to dialogue and cooperation with it. In such a country, it will be much easier to find a casus belli in case of need. The region is already subject to provocations. Unknown drones attack military facilities in non-controlled Transnistria and scaling up such actions does not seem to be a difficult task. Given that this year is crucial for Moldova both because of the presidential elections and the referendum on European integration, it will in any case be influenced from outside. And if it is necessary to slightly stir up the “Russian hybrid aggression”, which is approved by our leadership and their partners as an axiom, to the level of mere “aggression” to justify the deployment of troops, all the tools will be available for this. In any case, our small country will play its part in the new round of the Russian-Ukrainian war. What that role will be, we will find out soon enough.