Moldova and “Rule-Based Order”

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Anton ŠVEC
The Moldovan authorities push hard to fit into the controlled chaos of the international order functioning in the interests of the United States. However, there are sometimes overwhelming mishaps along the way
On Monday, the International Criminal Court sought arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Galant, as well as three leaders of the Palestinian Hamas Movement. Netanyahu and Galant are accused of attempted assassinations and murder of civilians and using starvation as a weapon of war. ICC panel will now consider an appeal of the Chief Prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan and the decision may become binding in 124 states globally. The ICC draft judgement against the Israeli leadership has provoked an extremely harsh reaction from Western states, especially the United States. President Joe Biden refused to consider the situation in the Gaza Strip as genocide and rejected any ICC claims against the Israeli leadership. And the speaker of the House of Representatives of Congress Mike Johnson threatened sanctions against the judges (previously, the US had already resorted to similar tools in 2018, when it demanded that the court refuse to investigate their war crimes in Afghanistan). The U.S. Department of State goofed up by stressing the alleged “fundamental differences” in the ICC decisions on Russia and Israel, namely that one of the parties to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict (Ukraine) recognizes the jurisdiction of the court, while Israel does not. Washington, however, disregarded the ICC’s view of the right to prosecute Israeli and Hamas leaders because Palestine is a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Karim Khan’s opinion has also provoked in Israel the most negative reaction, with hints about the Muslim background of the ICC chief prosecutor, accusations of anti-Semitism and provoking conflict. Paradoxically, the ICC’s position may strengthen Israel’s political system by promoting unity against the “common enemy” and settling the differences between Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoav Galant. It should be recalled that the country’s long-term political crisis began precisely with the defense minister’s criticism of the government’s proposed reform of the judiciary and the Prime Minister’s attempts to have him dismissed, which led to mass protests in Israeli cities. Our ruling regime since 7 October 2023 and later has repeatedly expressed solidarity with Tel Aviv. Moldova, remaining in the minority, does not recognize Palestinian statehood and territorial claims (although it formally maintains diplomatic relations with Ramallah without opening a representative office). Unlike most post-Soviet republics, Chisinau is not bound by any obligations that would contradict such vigorous support for Israel. On the other hand, Moldova has signed and ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC, thereby accepting its jurisdiction since 1 January 2011. Last spring, after the ICC approved an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman, Maia Sandu promised to arrest the Russian head of state if he came to Moldova: “Yes. Moldova has signed an agreement on the criminal court and Moldova will respect the court’s decision.” This issue was purely theoretical at that time, as no visit of Vladimir Putin, who had been to Moldova more than two decades ago, was naturally planned. In fact, our country does not often use such tools in the interests of criminal proceedings in other countries. In the spring 2021, judge Nikolai Chaus was kidnapped in Chisinau and subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison in Ukraine for bribery. In 2023, former Romanian MP Cristian Rizea was expelled from the republic for 15 years for attempting to “forcibly overthrow the constitutional order” and was instantly put in a jail in Vaslui. The official position of Chisinau towards Israeli officials is difficult to predict if the ICC judges issues arrest warrants against them. Legally, Moldova is obliged to respect the verdict of the international court (in general, we have a long history of serious interaction with international courts - for example, regular payments are made on claims of the European Court of Human Rights), but politically, the authorities have supported Tel Aviv and justified its actions in the Gaza Strip. Lacking prompt comments of national leadership on Karim Khan’s appeal is not surprising, as the current collision looks as unfavorable as possible. Probably, the Moldovan Foreign Ministry is following the Western reaction to take a similar position. The problem is that it will be difficult in this particular case to take the line of least resistance and traditionally solidarize with Bucharest. Romania recognizes Palestine, and there are even protests against the Palestinian genocide in the university community. And Brussels is careful to express an opinion that clearly contradicts the United States, the essence of which is to respect for the ICC decision. Moldova cannot let accusations of anti-Semitism take place, which will definitely follow if the court’s position is recognized. Especially since Jewish organizations have repeatedly expressed their indignation at the opening of monuments in Moldova and the promotion of the Romanian military, who took part in the Second World War on the side of Hitler’s coalition and were directly responsible for the genocide of Jews and Roma on the territory of Bessarabia. The most appropriate tactic seems to be a refusal, in order to avoid conflict, of undue attention and an unambiguous position on the arrest of Israel’s leadership, if Washington allows it. However, no one can guarantee Chisinau’s right to pursue a foreign policy line in its own interests without regard to overseas demands, even regarding such a private issue. The membership in the “golden billion”, as a great aspiration for our authorities, is fairly charged at a price, which contradicts the needs of genuine sovereignty and independence. Therefore, the Moldovan leadership will soon face the necessity to pass another loyalty test, which will allow to say a lot about the degree of its political capacity.