US Department of State Testing Moldova’s Operational Readiness

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Anton ŠVEC
Antony Blinken’s visit to Chisinau, which took place amid worsening internal political strife and international escalation, was probably intended to inspect the manageability of his subordinates in Moldova and their readiness to act as another tool to contain Russia  
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Chisinau yesterday. He held a series of meetings with regime officials and expressed support for Moldova’s European integration path. At a briefing with Maia Sandu, he pledged $50 million in funding “that will strengthen Moldova’s ability to resist Russian interference and help hold free and fair elections”. With Prime Minister Dorin Recean, Blinken travelled to the village of Braila, where he spoke of $85 million in USAID assistance to “increase the country’s energy independence”. This includes building high-voltage power lines and storing batteries in Braila in case the power grid needs to be stabilized. The visit of the American envoy, presented by the authorities as one of the key political events of the year, was accompanied by few but colorful flash mobs of the opposition involving young people. In turn, they resulted into police brutality. Peaceful but creative protest rallies were dispelled with inadequate use of force as hindering the creation of an illusion of universal support for Moldova’s Euro-Atlantic course. Ahead of his supervisor’s visit, US Ambassador Kent Logsdon, who was completing his mission, spoke in an interview about almost all acute Moldovan topics - from the sale of the former Republican Stadium for the construction of a new US embassy complex to the ongoing scandals in the justice sector and relations with Gagauzia. Logsdon essentially gave carte blanche to deny the appointment of Evghenia Gutul to the government, calling it “a decision of Maia Sandu and the government.” The ambassador was also humble when speaking about the conflict between the head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office and a former member of the Vetting Commission appointed under the presidential quota, Tatiana Raducanu. According to him, he supports both the vetting procedure and the activities of Veronica Dragalin, who is obviously a favored client of the USA and one of the agents of Washington’s influence. The current situation outside and inside Moldova, apparently, required a prompt fixation of Washington’s key role in all processes affecting Chisinau. It was necessary to signal to external and internal players, who do not support Maia Sandu’s ardent Euro-Atlantic vector, that the territory of Moldova is mastered and controlled by the USA. In general, “to set the star-spangled banner in Chisinau.” The context of the visit is primarily related to the escalating military and political confrontation in Ukraine. In Western European countries and at the NATO level, the issue of approving Ukrainian missile strikes deep into Russian territory using weapons supplied by the United States and the EU is being actively discussed. Outgoing North Atlantic Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and French President Emmanuel Macron are among those in favor of changing the previous strategy to a more bellicose one. Russia, faced with Ukrainian drone strikes on its own early warning facilities, is responding with joint Russian-Belarusian nuclear deterrence exercises, as well as a number of high-profile statements of a preventive nature. For example, Vladimir Putin recently explicitly warned “small but densely populated EU countries” of the danger of further escalation. All this is taking place amid the Russian offensive in Kharkiv, Russia’s tactical successes in Zaporizhzhia and Donbass, and Kyiv’s expectations that the front will open in Sumy oblast. In turn, some EU countries are seriously discussing the deployment of their military in Ukraine on an official basis. Meanwhile, the security situation in Moldova itself is also far from peaceful. Recently, another American military transport aircraft with paratroopers and weapons from the United States arrived in Chisinau. On 26 May, we completed the NATO staff exercise Regex-2024, a little earlier we had a large-scale combat training exercise Swift Response-2024, and the Moldovan-American exercise Peace Shield-2024 is scheduled for June. Against this background, the director of the Russian Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov, said that Chisinau had lost its political independence and was being drawn into a military confrontation with Russia on the NATO side. And Oleg Belyakov, co-chairman of the JCC from Transnistria, accused Moldova of accumulating military equipment at the Bulboaca firing range (one of the nearest settlements to the city of Bender, controlled by the de facto authorities of the Transnistrian region and the headquarters of the peacekeeping operation), practicing real combat operations and testing the mobilization resource. At the same time, the Russian peacekeeping contingent and the OGRF are conducting their own exercises on the territory of the left bank to check the situation of military equipment and personnel, which will last for a month. Meanwhile, there is still no word about the so-called “declaration on peaceful methods of negotiation”, which was proposed by the political representative of Tiraspol at a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Oleg Serebrian. Probably, the authorities have not made a final decision on the refusal to unfreeze the Transnistrian issue, given the uncertainty of the internal political situation. So far, the situation is relatively favorable for Maia Sandu’s team due to various agreements and the lack of a united opposition front. But under certain circumstances, things may take a sharp turn for the government, mired in scandals, corruption and breaking records for anti-rating in the republic’s recent history. So, behind the standard diplomatic rhetoric about support for Moldova’s current course there were quite specific tasks of Antony Blinken, which, although not announced directly, were obvious. The separate meeting at the Ministry of Defense was not a coincidence. Washington checked both the level of mobilization and general combat preparedness of Moldovan structures in case of a managed escalation with an eye on the Transnistrian region, and the degree of consolidation of the elites from the point of view of their readiness to execute the command received from the USA without doubts. We should consider in this sense the visit of German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, scheduled for tomorrow, which will be a kind of external audit of Moldova’s military readiness and its military supply needs. Whether Blinken found the current military state satisfactory and sufficient to organize another challenging area for Moscow is an open question, the answer to which will become clear later. Much will depend on the internal political dynamics in Moldova, which is also in the sphere of interests of the US Secretary of State, who invested considerable resources into the victory of Maia Sandu in the upcoming presidential elections. The American envoy, being in Chisinau, must have given helpful hints to all “clients” and demanded to stop, at least temporarily, the internecine wars and struggle for influence. In particular, it concerns the justice sector, where scandals with the appointment of the prosecutor general, the dubious vetting procedure, high-profile resignations of judges, the destruction of the Court of Appeal, etc., need to be extinguished. But the political background of the visit also matters - Ion Ceban will receive American gratitude for abandoning his presidential ambitions. On the other hand, the involvement of Igor Dodon, an extremely favorable rival for Maia Sandu, in the electoral race was discussed. Thus, the Secretary of State visited Moldova to once again highlight Washington’s dominant role in Moldovan affairs, to make sure that Chisinau is ready to act as a tool of the United States and NATO to contain Russia, and to show that the Americans agree to pay for the further severing of Chisinau’s ties with Moscow. Yet, the key element was to check the preparedness and possibilities of instrumentalizing Moldova as a resource for provoking challenges for Russia and weakening it, including through hybrid or direct threats to the Transnistrian region.