To protect Europe, the West should send arms to Moldova

The time has come to help Moldova rebuild its army and bring an end to Europe’s frozen conflicts, David Kirichenko writes.

After more than three decades since the unresolved Transnistrian War left a latent conflict simmering within its borders, Moldova remains under the looming spectre of a renewed outbreak of hostilities, shaped by Russia’s geopolitical manoeuvers. 


Central to this volatile situation is the presence of Russian military forces in Transnistria and a persistently aggressive Moscow, which has often sought to undermine the Moldovan government, even resorting to coup attempts.

The key to addressing Moldova’s inherent vulnerability lies in a comprehensive response from the West. 

This response should focus on strengthening Moldova’s military capabilities and enabling it to negotiate from a position of power. Such a move could set the stage for the reintegration of Transnistria and reduce the continued threat from the Kremlin.

Russian troops fighting in Ukraine are not the only ones deployed in Europe

Transnistria, a self-declared unrecognised republic tucked between the Dniester River and Ukraine, has been a persistent irritant for Chişinău since its establishment during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. 

In the 1990s, Russia triggered the violent stage of the Transnistrian conflict, fuelling it with claims of possible unification between Moldova and Romania.

The area along the border with Ukraine, housing around half a million people, has been controlled by pro-Moscow separatists since the Soviet Union’s fall. Approximately 1,500 Russian troops are stationed there, despite Moldova’s demand for them to leave.

This region also holds one of the largest weapons stockpiles in Europe, with about 20,000 tonnes of old Soviet ammunition. 

Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan, who leads the European Parliament’s delegation to the country, stated that Moldova cannot join the EU with Russian troops on its land against its own wishes, and this issue needs to be resolved before membership can be considered.

Despite their isolation, little combat power and inferior equipment, Russian forces in Transnistria serve as a strategic diversion for Russia to destabilise Ukraine and Moldova. 

While not an immediate military risk, their presence is far from benign.

Russian military intervention and continued support for Transnistrian separatists perpetually undermine Moldova’s sovereignty and national unity. 


Russia’s military presence primarily serves as a destabilising factor, keeping both Chişinău and Kyiv in a state of constant vigilance.

A brief history of escalation

Moldova, once part of the Soviet Union and now one of Europe’s most economically disadvantaged countries, is home to just 2.6 million people. 

Its landlocked status, surrounded by Ukraine and Romania, and the presence of Transnistria, with its predominantly Russian-speaking population supported by Moscow, exacerbate its geopolitical vulnerability.

If not for Ukraine’s unbreakable resistance, Moscow could have potentially seized control of Moldova in 2022 and established a pro-Russian administration as Russia’s discourse concerning the current Moldovan leadership’s illegitimacy grows increasingly vociferous.

In such a scenario, Moldova, neither large nor affluent, would have struggled to resist. Russia’s foreign minister even issued a warning aimed at preventing Moldova from becoming another state perceived as “anti-Russian”.


In April 2022, a senior Russian general stated that control of southern Ukraine would grant the Kremlin access to Transnistria, where he claimed Russian speakers were being oppressed. 

Shortly after, explosions targeted government and military locations in Transnistria, sparking fears of the conflict spreading to Moldova.

On 2 May 2022, the Pridnestrovie local newspaper, which is published by the Russian-backed Transnistrian authorities, falsely reported that there were “bloody terrorist attacks” against the region and appealed to Russia’s Vladimir Putin for help against the alleged “Nazi threat”, while blaming the Ukrainian armed forces with NATO support. 

They accused the Moldovan authorities of providing target coordinates, including civilian infrastructure. This gave a glimpse of how Moscow could try to use a diversion to spark hostilities against Moldova itself.

Chişinău strikes back

By February, Ukraine claimed it had intercepted a Russian plan to overthrow the government in Chişinău. 


In March, John Kirby, the White House National Security Council spokesman, stated that US officials believed Russia was attempting “to weaken the Moldovan government probably with the ultimate goal of installing a more Russian-friendly administration.”

Moldova responded by taking a decidedly firmer stance on the issue of Transnistria. As of February, the Moldovan legislature has moved to criminalise separatism — a move which has elicited considerable backlash from authorities in Tiraspol, Transnistria’s capital. 

Moldova maintains that these legislative amendments will not possess retroactive effect, applying solely to future instances of separatist activities. Most recently, in July, Chişinău expelled 45 Russian diplomats over years of “hostile actions”.

The incursion of Russia into Ukraine has catalysed a comprehensive discussion on Moldova’s defence capabilities and the viability of its neutrality. 

For an extended period, Moscow, along with Moldovan political factions favouring Russia, has propagated the narrative that Moldova’s neutral status implies more than just non-participation in military alliances — it essentially required the government to renounce any plans to build its own military.

In this context, any attempt to modernise Moldova’s armed forces was painted by propaganda as a belligerent and unconstitutional move, threatening to destabilise the region, instigate a conflict between Chişinău and Tiraspol, and potentially provoke a confrontation with Russia.

Old weapons in difficult times

However, Moldova’s armed forces find themselves in a precarious position. Armed with outdated Soviet-era equipment and a force comprising approximately 6,000 active-duty personnel and a reserve of 12,000 — many of whom have not been in active training for over 25 years — the combat power of Moldova’s military is notably lacking. 

A majority of its hardware harks back to the Soviet era, with some equipment over half a century old.

However, the 2020 Military Capabilities Plan of the Moldovan National Army outlines a decade-long roadmap to modernise its defence capabilities, transitioning from Soviet-style combat systems to Western models. 

It proposed a comprehensive plan for the armed forces, incorporating technological advancements, improvements in troop readiness, and increased national defence funding. 

Valeriu Mija, Secretary of State for Defence Policy and National Army Reform in the Ministry of Defence stated that helping to revive Moldova’s military would require an investment of around €250 million.

Mija further noted that the watershed moment for public opinion regarding the defence sector was undoubtedly the shocking events of February 2022 in neighbouring Ukraine. 

Yet, any significant shift faces potential obstacles on the path towards comprehensive military modernisation.

Ukraine’s training lessons might be of use to Moldova

However, the Russo-Ukrainian war offers a compelling argument for Western powers to aid Moldova in modernising its armed forces, a process likely to commence in the coming months and years. 

This, despite the fact that the sheer neglect by Moldovan officials over the past three decades rendered this project more challenging than initially estimated.

Western nations can enhance their support by establishing and expanding training operations, similar to their successful initiatives with the Ukrainian army, which has so far trained tens of thousands. 

Poland serves as another prominent training hub, and countries such as Spain, France, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, and Italy, among others, are also actively conducting training programmes.

A similar program should be established for Moldova, with a substantial investment in Chişinău’s military capabilities symbolising an unyielding commitment to supporting Eastern European countries facing comparable threats.

In May, the European Peace Facility (EPF) approved a measure extending financial assistance to the Moldovan Armed Forces. 

This provision, amounting to €40m — or 80% of Moldova’s military budget in 2022 — spans 36 months and is earmarked to fund non-lethal equipment, supplies, and services.

The assistance also covers technical training for the military units, as needed. The financing will cover a broad spectrum of military needs: air surveillance systems, mobility and transportation tools, logistic supplies, command and control instruments, and cyber-defence equipment.

In October 2022, the Moldovan government signed an agreement with Germany regarding the transfer of armoured vehicles and drones to the Moldovan army and the relevant training of its soldiers. 

Then in June, Poland opted to supply lethal aid to Chişinău. This support includes the provision of weapons, ammunition, and equipment intended to enhance the capacity of Moldova’s police force.

Helping Moldova defend itself helps the continent as well

From the international community’s perspective, investing in Moldova’s military modernisation is not just about regional stability but also a strategic investment in deterring further Russian aggression. 

A formidable Moldovan army would deter potential Russian advances and prevent further destabilization of Europe’s eastern front. It would also set the stage for Moldova to negotiate the reintegration of Transnistria from a position of strength.

The objective behind assisting in the development of Chişinău’s military is to have a leverage point in negotiations. However, this should not deter Moldovan and European officials from also adopting a more enticing approach towards the breakaway region by highlighting the economic incentives of integration. 

In fact, the territory’s greatest partner is not in the East, but in the West. The value of Transnistria’s exports to the EU, mainly comprising electricity, steel, and textiles, is estimated to be four times higher than its exports to Russia.

Over time, the economic model in Transnistria has also shifted away from its traditional socially oriented nature, transitioning towards a stricter spending regime. 

Due to Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, subsidies to Transnistria are expected to only further decline as more resources are diverted to support the war effort. In fact, Russian financial assistance has been on a downward trend since 2014.

Ensuring Moldova has a proper military to defend itself also protects the greater European continent, much like Ukraine is doing. 

By taking a more proactive stance, European investment will put Moldova in a position of strength to negotiate the inclusion of Transnistria back into a unified state in the future. 

It will also take away Russia’s power in the country to destabilise Moldova, thereby bringing Europe one step closer to cherished peace across the continent. Now, the time has come to help Moldova rebuild its army and bring an end to Europe’s frozen conflicts.

David Kirichenko is a freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and an editor at Euromaidan Press.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Blockaded on all fronts: Poland and Hungary threaten to cut Ukraine’s export route to the West

As Russia once again bombards and blockades Ukraine’s Black Sea ports — through which the country exports its vast agricultural produce — Poland and Hungary threaten to cut off the country’s western exit routes.

Poland will unilaterally block trade with Ukraine if the European Commission fails to extend temporary restrictions on grain imports at least until the end of the year, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a meeting of agriculture ministers from five Eastern EU countries in Warsaw on Wednesday.

“I want to make it clear,” Morawiecki told reporters, “we will not open our border. Either the European Commission will agree to jointly work out regulations that will extend this ban, or we will do it ourselves.”

Hungarian Agriculture Minister István Nagy echoed Morawiecki, saying his country would “protect Hungarian farmers with all its means.”

Days after killing a deal to allow Ukraine to export grain across the Black Sea, Moscow unleashed a wave of attacks on the Ukrainian ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk — two vital export facilities — damaging the infrastructure of global and Ukrainian traders and destroying 60,000 tons of grain.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borell, called Russia’s escalating offensive “barbarian” on Thursday. “What we already know is that this is going to create a huge food crisis in the world,” he told reporters in Brussels, adding that EU countries needed to step up alternative export routes for Ukraine.

Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest exporters of corn, wheat and other grains. Following Russia’s invasion and blockade of its Black Sea ports last year, the EU set up land export routes through its territory.

In the year since, export corridors set up by the EU called ‘solidarity lanes’ have carried about 60 percent of Ukraine’s exports — mostly along the Danube to the Romanian port of Constanța. The remaining 40 percent has trickled through the country’s own ports under the now-defunct Black Sea Grain Initiative brokered by the U.N. and Turkey.

But the opening of the overland routes also led to an unprecedented influx of cheap Ukrainian grain into neighboring EU countries — Romania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia — which was bought and resold by local traders instead of being exported further afield. The glut has put the solidarity of the bloc’s Eastern members with Ukraine in its war of defense sorely to the test.

With an election looming this fall, Poland sought to appease local farmers — a vital constituency for the right-wing government — by closing its border this spring to Ukrainian imports. Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria followed suit while Romania, which didn’t impose its own restrictions, joined the four in calling for restrictions at EU level.

In May, the five countries struck a deal with the Commission to drop their unilateral measures in exchange for €100 million in EU funding and assurances that Ukrainian shipments would only pass through the five countries on their way to other destinations. 

It’s these restrictions, which will expire on September 15, that the five countries want extended.

Other EU countries have criticized the Commission’s leniency towards the five Eastern troublemakers, saying the compromise undermined the integrity of the bloc’s internal market.

Open the borders

Borrell said that, instead of restricting trade, the EU should respond to Russia’s Black Sea escalation by opening its borders further.

“If the sea route is closed, we will have to increase the capacity of exporting Ukrainian grain through our ports, which means a bigger effort for the Ukrainian neighbors,” he said before a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

“They will have to contribute more, opening the borders and facilitating transport in order to take the grain of Ukraine from the Black Sea ports. This will require from Member States more engagement. We have done a lot, we have to do more.”

Separately on Thursday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on the EU to make “maximum efforts” to facilitate grain exports from the country.

“While Russia destroys the Grain Initiative, attacks Ukrainian ports and tries to make money on rising food prices, Ukraine and the European Union should make maximum efforts to simplify food exports from Ukraine, particularly by increasing the capacity of alternative transport corridors ‘Solidarity Lanes’ as much as possible,” he said.

During Wednesday’s meeting in Warsaw, agriculture ministers from the five EU countries signed a declaration calling on Brussels to extend and expand the trade restrictions, amid concerns that Russia’s renewed Black Sea blockade could further pressure their domestic markets.

Only Poland and Hungary threatened to take unilateral action if the restrictions were lifted.


Despite the threat, a senior Commission official said on Thursday it was “premature” to say whether there was a need to extend the restrictions beyond the September 15 deadline.

In recent months, officials have stepped up surveillance and customs checks, and Romania and other countries have significantly increased investment in infrastructure and investment to facilitate the transit of grain through their countries and to other markets, the Commission official said.

But in the year since the land-based export routes were opened, Poland has taken no major steps to improve its own infrastructure or the capacity of its Baltic ports. Analysts say it is unlikely the country will be able to repeat the feat come this summer’s harvest. The Polish government has repeatedly blamed Brussels for not providing enough help.

Despite the ongoing trade dispute, officials in Kyiv have been careful not to openly criticize their counterparts in Warsaw.

That’s because Poland has played a leading role in supporting Ukraine since the war broke out, acting as the main transit point for Western weapons and sending plenty of its own. It has also taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees.

“We highly appreciate all the work done so far within the solidarity lanes by the European Commission and neighboring member states,” Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Vsevolod Chentsov, told POLITICO.

Still, he added: “Statements by some member states of the need to extend the ban on the export of Ukrainian agrarian production [cause] serious concerns.” Without naming Poland he said that this “politicizes” the practical reality of what is a logistical challenge “jeopardizes the effectiveness of the solidarity lanes.”

Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting

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Moldova ramps up EU membership push amid fears of Russia-backed coup

CHIȘINĂU, Moldova — Tens of thousands of Moldovans descended on the central square of the capital on Sunday, waving flags and homemade placards in support of the country’s push to join the EU and make a historic break with Moscow.

With Russia’s war raging just across the border in Ukraine, the government of this tiny Eastern European nation called the rally in an effort to overcome internal divisions and put pressure on Brussels to begin accession talks, almost a year after Moldova was granted EU candidate status.

“Joining the EU is the best way to protect our democracy and our institutions,” Moldova’s President Maia Sandu told POLITICO at Chișinău’s presidential palace, as a column of her supporters marched past outside. “I call on the EU to take a decision on beginning accession negotiations by the end of the year. We think we have enough support to move forward.”

Speaking alongside Sandu at what was billed as a “national assembly,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola declared that “Europe is Moldova. Moldova is Europe!” The crowd, many holding Ukrainian flags and the gold-and-blue starred banner of the EU, let out a cheer. An orchestra on stage played the bloc’s anthem, Ode to Joy.

“In recent years, you have taken decisive steps and now you have the responsibility to see it through, even with this war on your border,” Metsola said. “The Republic of Moldova is ready for integration into the single European market.”

However, the jubilant rally comes amid warnings that Moscow is doing everything it can to keep the former Soviet republic within its self-declared sphere of influence.

In February, the president of neighboring Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, warned that his country’s security forces had disrupted a plot to overthrow Moldova’s pro-Western government. Officials in Chișinău later said the Russian-backed effort could have involved sabotage, attacks on government buildings and hostage-taking. Moscow officially denies the claims.

“Despite previous efforts to stay neutral, Moldova is finding itself in the Kremlin’s crosshairs — whether they want to be or not, they’re party of this broader conflict in Ukraine,” said Arnold Dupuy, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

“There’s an effort by the Kremlin to turn the country into a ‘southern Kaliningrad,’ putting in place a friendly regime that allows them to attack the Ukrainians’ flanks,” Dupuy said. “But this hasn’t been as effective as the Kremlin hoped and they’ve actually strengthened the government’s hand to look to the EU and NATO for protection.”

Responding to the alleged coup attempt, Brussels last month announced it would deploy a civilian mission to Moldova to combat growing threats from Russia. According to Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, the deployment under the terms of the Common Security and Defense Policy, will provide “support to Moldova [to] protect its security, territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Bumps on the road to Brussels

Last week, Sandu again called on Brussels to begin accession talks “as soon as possible” in order to protect Moldova from what she said were growing threats from Russia. “Nothing compares to what is happening in Ukraine, but we see the risks and we do believe that we can save our democracy only as part of the EU,” she said. A group of influential MEPs from across all of the main parties in the European Parliament have tabled a motion calling for the European Commission to start the negotiations by the end of the year.

But, after decades as one of Russia’s closest allies, Moldova knows its path to EU membership isn’t without obstacles.

“The challenge is huge,” said Tom de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. “They will need to overcome this oligarchic culture that has operated for 30 years where everything is informal, institutions are very weak and large parts of the bureaucracy are made viable by vested interests.”

At the same time, a frozen conflict over the breakaway region of Transnistria, in the east of Moldova, could complicate matters still further. The stretch of land along the border with Ukraine, home to almost half a million people, has been governed since the fall of the Soviet Union by pro-Moscow separatists, and around 1,500 Russian troops are stationed there despite Chișinău demanding they leave. It’s also home to one of the Continent’s largest weapons stockpiles, with a reported 20,000 tons of Soviet-era ammunition.

“Moldova cannot become a member of the EU with Russian troops on its territory against the will of the Republic of Moldova itself, so we will need to solve this before membership,” Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation to the country, told POLITICO.

“We do not know now what a solution could look like, but the fact that we do not have an answer to this very specific element should not prevent us from advancing Moldova’s European integration in all other areas where we can,” Mureșan said.

While she denied that Brussels had sent any official signals that Moldova’s accession would depend on Russian troops leaving the country, Sandu said that “we do believe that in the next months and years there may be a geopolitical opportunity to resolve this conflict.”

Ties that bind

Even outside of Transnistria, Moscow maintains significant influence in Moldova. While Romanian is the country’s official language, Russian is widely used in daily life while the Kremlin’s state media helps shape public opinion — and in recent months has turned up the dial on its attacks on Sandu’s government.

A study by Chișinău-based pollster CBS Research in February found that while almost 54 percent of Moldovans say they would vote in favor of EU membership, close to a quarter say they would prefer closer alignment with Russia. Meanwhile, citizens were split on who to blame for the war in Ukraine, with 25 percent naming Russian President Vladimir Putin and 18 percent saying the U.S.

“Putin is not a fool,” said one elderly man who declined to give his name, shouting at passersby on the streets of the capital. “I hate Ukrainians.”

Outside of the capital, the pro-Russian ȘOR Party has held counter-protests in several regional cities.

Almost entirely dependent on Moscow for its energy needs, Moldova has seen Russia send the cost of gas skyrocketing in what many see as an attempt at blackmail. Along with an influx of Ukrainian refugees, the World Bank reported that Moldova’s GDP “contracted by 5.9 percent and inflation reached an average of 28.7 percent in 2022.”

“We will buy energy sources from democratic countries, and we will not support Russian aggression in exchange for cheap gas,” Sandu told POLITICO.

The Moldovan president, a former World Bank economist who was elected in 2020 on a wave of anti-corruption sentiment, faces a potentially contentious election battle next year. With the process of EU membership set to take years, or even decades, it remains to be seen whether the country will stay the course in the face of pressure from the Kremlin.

For Aurelia, a 40-year-old Moldovan who tied blue and yellow ribbons into her hair for Sunday’s rally, the choice is obvious. “We’ve been a part of the Russian world my whole life. Now we want to live well, and we want to live free.”

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Moldova is resisting Moscow’s maskirovka. Can the West protect it?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Moldova is having a watershed moment in its three decades-long existence as an independent state and its split from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991. 

The eastern European country of 2.6 million is enduring the tensest times in its short history as it found itself targeted by the destabilisation plans put into action by the Russian Federation in an attempt to stir further unrest in Europe. 

Yet, it is under the most significant security protection shield it has ever enjoyed from the West. 

Whether that will be enough for its staunchly pro-European and pro-Western government to survive is still unclear.

But as things stand, the leadership in Chișinău is resisting Moscow’s malignance — and finding ways to fight back.

Fugitive oligarchs, corrupt former leaders and the Kremlin

By now, it is quite clear that Russia’s hybrid and cloaked attacks against Moldova have gained in momentum over the past month. 

Moscow is trying to induce internal destabilisation with the help of its “fifth column,” consisting of its political pawns in Chișinău.

Spearheading these attempts to overthrow the government is the Shor Party, led from Israel by the fugitive oligarch Ilan Shor.

Shor, who is of Moldovan heritage, was convicted in 2017 and 2019 as the mastermind behind the so-called “grand theft” of $1 billion (€948.2bn) from the Moldovan banking system. 

The case that made a dent in Moldova’s public funding equal to one-eighth of its GDP is nearing its third and final sentencing, with Shor expected to be found guilty once more.

Having its interests converge with Shor’s, Moscow is using the protests organised and paid for by him to spark massive social unrest.

On top of that, the Socialist Party, led by former pro-Russian President Igor Dodon, is also involved in the tumult but acts more covertly through televised propaganda and on social networks. 

To Dodon, the potential demise of the current government would represent a get-out-of-jail-free card, having had five criminal prosecution files opened against him on charges ranging from corruption to treason for a foreign power that could see him end up in prison for at least 20 years.

Psychological operations for destabilisation waged by Kremlin

As things are heating up in the capital, Moscow is waging a massive disinformation campaign in the eastern breakaway region of Transnistria and the pro-Russian Gagauz Autonomous Territorial Unit in southern Moldova, where it is hoping to stir further trouble.

Historically, Transnistria and Gagauzia have always been Moscow’s main targets whenever it wanted to muddy the waters in the country. 

In both regions, Russia enjoys fervent support. Yet to the surprise of many outside of Moldova, most of the population is terrified of the thought of the Kremlin exporting the war there.

In its latest psy-ops game, Russia’s ploy heavily hinges on disinformation about an outright military assault by Ukraine on the Transnistrian region. 

Another big lie it is trying to peddle is that President Maia Sandu will push Moldova into war at the behest of the West. 

So far, neither of the two have caught on, despite Russian sympathies the Kremlin is banking on.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Kremlin’s maskirovka aims to camouflage violent characters at the Shor Party protests, there to create confrontational scenarios with law enforcement while the protesters shout peace slogans.

This plot was recently made public by none other than Kyiv after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy revealed on 9 February that Russia already had plans in motion to destabilise Moldova.

Chișinău has learned how to play hardball

On her end, Sandu confirmed the information on 13 February, ordering detailed controls at the border for people who fit a specific profile: young, athletic men with an interest in trouble.

Among those were Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade football ultras, who were prevented from entering the country, and groups from the Russian republic of Dagestan who could not justify their trips to Moldova.

This also sent a clear message to the Kremlin: Moldova has learned how to play hardball on the invisible front of state intelligence.

Since the beginning of the war, Ukraine has been collaborating intensively with Western intelligence services. But so has Moldova, while reforming its Security and Intelligence Agency on the fly. 

Thus, the information about the destabilisation plans thought up by Moscow most likely came to Chișinău through this channel — also representing a clear signal that the West is seriously involved in countering subversive actions of the Russian special services.

Meanwhile, Moldova has asked its Western partners for anti-air defence systems and has increased its defence budget by about 70% for 2023, up to €85 million.

While the allocated budget is insufficient to procure high-performance weaponry, Moldova already received enough military equipment from Western allies to last for a short time in case of armed incidents.

Poland, Ukraine, Romania and the US are now looking after Moldova

Furthermore, there is a sense of determination among Moldova’s neighbours and closest allies to ensure the country’s democratic future. 

During his historic speech in Warsaw on 21 February, US President Joe Biden mentioned that the West would be with Moldova and its citizens on the road to European integration. 

His remarks were an important political signal that Moldova has, in fact, been placed under the security protection of Washington and its allies.

After receiving a written guarantee of protection from the US while in Warsaw, Sandu also acquired security assurances the very next day from Romania, a neighbouring state and strategic ally of Moldova.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis stated that Romania would continue to support Moldova, whatever happens, saying that “Moldova is not alone.” 

Last but not least, Kyiv pledged that it would provide a protective shield for Moldova in case of a military scenario provoked by Russia.

Western countries are keen on ensuring two things: that a puppet regime loyal to the Kremlin is not installed in Chișinău and, simultaneously, not to have a security breach in the rear of the Ukrainian front.

The West will not allow Russia to reach Romanian and NATO’s borders with its troops, as that would complicate the security equation in the Black Sea.

Domestically, the inauguration of the new government led by Prime Minister Dorin Recean — a politician focused on security issues and with experience in Romania and the US — confirmed that Moldova is preparing for a renewed push in addressing the security issues of the country. 

It is then to no surprise that two out of three of Recean’s priorities are ensuring security and public order.

Moldovan authorities should still be vary of Russia’s resorcefulness

Despite the clear message that Moldova is off limits, for Russia, the invisible chess game is far from over. 

Every protest of the Shor Party is plagued by its paramilitary elements, such as former Transnistrian war veterans and a pseudo-security and protection service called “People’s Shield.”

Their presence is meant to test the authorities’ vigilance and responsiveness and take stock of their limits. 

But law enforcement and security forces are playing along in a clear game of tactics. 

So far, they have opted not to intervene physically and repress protests, thus avoiding to provide opportunities for self-victimisation by the Ilan Shor Party that could further aggravate the society and reap political dividends.

The strategy, instead, is to try and close the valve of financing these protests both domestically and from Moscow, with only a few means left at Russia’s disposal.

Moldova is aware that Russia is increasingly sending diplomats to Chișinău for several-day missions. The border police cannot check their luggage and diplomatic correspondence for diplomatic reasons — a convenient way for cash to travel that will eventually have to be suppressed.

But more importantly, any flames of instability will be easier to extinguish, given the lack of support from most Moldovan citizens for Moscow’s plans.

However, Russia’s ability to be resourceful in destabilising actions is not to be underestimated, as it is one of the secret ingredients of the Kremlin`s modus operandi, especially in the former Soviet space.

_Madalin Necsutu is a Romanian political and investigative journalist based in Chișinău who specialises in Eastern Europe and the politics of the former Soviet states in the region. _

_At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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How long can Moldova stay neutral when fighting takes place next door?

Moldova closed its airspace for two hours this week. The reason, according to local media, was “security considerations” amid Russia’s invasion of Moldova’s neighbouring Ukraine and accusations voiced by President Maia Sandu that the Kremlin intended to seize power in the Republic.

Article 11 of the constitution of Moldova states: “The Republic proclaims its permanent neutrality, […] does not allow the deployment of military forces of other states on its territory.”

Following Russian military action in the south of Ukraine in 2022 near the Moldovan border and with the prospect of Russian missiles violating the Republic’s airspace, should we expect its foreign policy stance to change?

Will Moldova eventually follow in Ukraine’s footsteps and reconsider its neutral non-aligned status in favour of Euro-Atlantic integration and forming a strategic partnership with the European Union and the United States?

Moldova and NATO: A short history

Relations with NATO began in 1992 when Moldova joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. In 1997, this forum replaced the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which brings together allies and partner countries in the Euro-Atlantic region.

Bilateral cooperation began when Moldova joined the Partnership for Peace program in 1994. In 2006, the Republic agreed to its first two-year Individual Partnership Action Plan. 

At the alliance summit in Wales in September 2014, allied leaders offered increased support, advice and assistance to Moldova as part of the new Defence and Related Security Capacity Building Initiative. An individual package of measures was agreed upon in June 2015.

At the request of the Moldovan government, a NATO Civilian Liaison Office was established in Chisinau in December 2017 to promote practical cooperation and help support reforms in the country. 

But according to Marie Dumoulin, a former career diplomat and today director of the Wider Europe Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, Moldova would have a hard time joining the alliance because of its stance on neutrality. 

“Because of the neutral status enshrined in the constitution, the country cannot be a member of any military alliance,” she said. 

“Therefore, even if Moldova has maintained and continues to maintain relations with NATO, it is not a member of this alliance or of the Collective Security Treaty Organization formed around Russia. 

“At present, it has no desire to join any of these alliances. And the overwhelming majority of the population is not in favour of either NATO or CSTO membership.”

“At the same time, “the discussion about rapprochement with NATO and – more generally – about an intensification of security cooperation with Western countries really began in the context of the invasion of Ukraine, because it directly affects the security of Moldova. 

“And Chisinau is aware of the limits of its own defence capabilities, so there is a strengthening of cooperation, especially with the European Union, and a renewed discussion of a possible deepening of cooperation with NATO,” the French political scientist notes.

A possible “Ukrainian scenario”?

How likely is it that Moldova will reconsider its attitude toward neutrality after Russia invaded Ukraine?

“Ukraine has always been in a somewhat different position,” Dumoulin said. “Despite the neutrality clause in the constitution, there has always been a strong current of those who wanted to eventually join NATO.

“That is, this issue was much more discussed in Ukraine even before the annexation of Crimea, and the annexation turned public opinion in favour of membership in the alliance. The issue was not and is not discussed so much in Moldova, it is really not the main topic in the debate on public policy.”

But Chisinau may be pushed in this direction. In the event of an escalation of the war in Ukraine, Dumoulin added, “we cannot rule out Chisinau’s desire to reaffirm its position of neutrality in order to stay as far away from this war as possible. 

“At this stage, Russian attempts to advance to Mykolaiv, Odesa, and, ultimately, to the borders of Moldova, have been unsuccessful.

“So far there is no information about a new offensive. In this regard, the Moldovan authorities remain calm. On the other hand, there is a concern in Chisinau about other levers of destabilisation that Russia has.”

A number of analysts do not rule out that the “frozen conflict” in Transnistria — a Moscow-backed breakaway region of Moldova — could be a trigger for Moldova to give up its neutrality in the future.

Today, this conflict is under relative control. Not a single shot has been fired since August 1992, when the confrontation between Chisinau and the unrecognised “Transnistria Moldovan Republic” entered a peaceful phase. 

“But there is a Russian peacekeeping contingent in Transnistria,” Dumoulin notes. 

Russia pledged to leave the region in the late 1990s. But, it has not fulfilled its obligation so far. Many draw a parallel between the creation of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in 2014 and today’s full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Key areas of cooperation now

At the 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid, the allies agreed on an adapted support package to help Moldova implement its own long-term security and defence modernisation plans. Today, Moldova cooperates with NATO in a number of ways. 

For example, the Alliance is individually supporting Chisinau’s efforts to reform and modernise the army through the Defence and Related Security Capacity Building Initiative and through the Defence Education Enhancement Programme.

Will Russia push Moldova into the arms of NATO?

President Sandu’s recent statements about Moscow’s alleged plans to overthrow the pro-European government in Chisinau have added to previous accusations that Russia has deliberately provoked an energy crisis in Moldova.

“Russia’s possibilities to destabilise Moldova are not new,” notes Dumoulin, “they are related not only to the situation in Ukraine but also to Russia’s very strong influence in the Republic, especially in the political sphere. 

“There is also economic dependence, first of all, energy dependence. Moldova has made a lot of efforts to get out of this dependence, but so far it remains vulnerable.”

Moscow has been repeatedly accused of a deliberate campaign of disinformation. A number of analysts have linked Moscow with the Shor opposition party in Moldova, headed by businessman Ilan Shor.

According to Dumoulin, this political force “can be manipulated by Russia to provoke demonstrations and anti-government movements in Moldova. 

“The economic situation is extremely difficult because of rising energy prices, because of the consequences of the war, in particular, the influx of a large number of refugees. Thus, a fertile ground for protest movements is created.”

Prospects for Moldovan-NATO relations

“Moldova has not officially expressed a desire to join NATO,” Marie Dumoulin said. “There is no consensus among its population on this issue either, and I think this largely explains the caution of the Moldovan authorities. 

“They don’t want to start a discussion that could polarize public opinion in a situation that is already extremely difficult.”

Nevertheless, this situation could affect Moldova’s rapprochement with the European Union, which supports it in every possible way, especially with regard to Chisinau’s independence with respect to Moscow. 

Much, according to Dumoulin, depends on how Moldovan public opinion about Russia will develop because there is still a significant part of the population that is sympathetic to Russia. On the other hand, the evolution of public opinion toward the European Union and NATO could also be decisive.

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Moldova’s brave resistance to Moscow’s bullying is akin to a miracle

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

A miracle is about to happen in Moldova. The former Soviet republic, today a candidate country for European Union membership, is about to fully break from Moscow’s grasp and redefine its strategic identity in challenging times.

Despite the Kremlin’s not-so-veiled threats of expanding its aggression against Ukraine to the eastern European country of 2.6 million people, Chișinău has remained unmoved, surprising many. 

Yet, after all, Moldovans have been acutely aware of Moscow’s malignant behaviour ever since the 1992 war in Transnistria brought on a new invention in terms of Russia’s control in the post-Soviet space.

A frozen conflict in a grey, militarily controlled breakaway area within the territory of a state forcing it to declare itself as neutral allowed Russia to maintain a foothold further westwards in Europe for more than three decades. 

Despite that, except for Romania, Poland and the Baltic countries, the rest of the Europeans — if and when they paid attention to Moldova — saw the situation there as stable. Complicated, but stable.

And so, for decades, nothing seemed to impose Moldova on the European agenda, an issue that could be at least partially explained by the stereotypical attitude towards the former republics of the Soviet Union.

Then the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 changed everything.

Moldova’s neutrality: Moscow’s gilded cage

Russia’s war in Ukraine is, in many ways, also about the Republic of Moldova. In 2014, Moscow’s designs were not so evident because Russian military aggression in the Donbas and Crimea had the element of surprise. Kyiv’s forces were quickly defeated, and the active military phase ended promptly.

Just like in Chișinău, the political elites in Kyiv did not prepare for war at the time and had no plans to defend against Russia, forcing Ukraine to a stalemate, an echo of Moldova’s political and military neutrality. 

The illegally annexed territories were quickly militarised, following the same blueprint. For decades, thousands of Russian soldiers in Transnistria — officially on a “peacekeeping” mission — were there to remind everyone what would happen if the country’s leaders were to change their minds or earlier agreements or fight back.

Last year’s all-out war of aggression, however, made Russia a pariah and emboldened the likes of Moldova enough to distance itself away from Moscow.

This led to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov menacing Chișinău in recent days and labelling it as the West’s new “anti-Russian project“. 

The eternal head of Russian diplomacy was probably spurred on by the prospect that Moscow would permanently lose its ability to blackmail it on matters such as domestic and foreign policy, energy, and economic assistance.

For years, Moscow behaved like a demanding, brash teacher on the topics of neutrality for countries like Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, and Lavrov felt good in his dual role as a referee and power-broker for pro-Russian groups in these countries.

In Moldova, the issue of neutrality and disarmament became taboo. Otherwise, Moldovan politicians risked being labelled as enemies of Moldova’s statehood, pro-unionists looking for Romania to swallow up its eastern neighbour, or simply pro-NATO supporters.

Sense of safety from control and a carbon copy of Kremlin’s corruption

But how was the assumed position of neutrality justified, considering the presence of Russian troops on the sovereign territory of Moldova?

Although there is no clear answer, I am inclined to believe that for some 30 years, Moscow managed to achieve adequate control over a significant part of the domestic elites in Chișinău.

The pro-Moscow parties in Moldova received the Kremlin’s support in exchange for asserting a pro-Russian and anti-European identity. Economic dependence mattered just as much.

Moreover, full control of the defence, security and intelligence services offered a sense of safety to any pro-Russian party chief in the Republic of Moldova.

Corruption which has plagued the country since its independence, came as a mimicry, a carbon copy of the practices in the Russian Federation.

With all that stacked against the government in Chișinău, even the slightest change in course would inevitably result in trouble.

It was enough for a president like Maia Sandu to challenge Moscow’s Russophile and anti-Europeanist narrative with a speech about the country’s pro-EU desires, anticorruption initiatives and overall reform to rattle Moscow to the point it became nervous and threatening.

Moreover, discussions over Moldova’s continued neutrality policy became particularly worrisome for Moscow when the pro-European political parties squarely sided with Ukraine.

In turn, it used Moldova’s energy dependence on Russia to create internal conflict.

The street demonstrations of the pro-Russian parties in Chisinau were, in essence, destabilisation attempts.

Most Europeans were not aware of these “bitter fruits” of Moldovan neutrality and would remain in the dark if Russia had not invaded Ukraine. 

Even those who had known about these issues for years were not clear on the scale until the fluid strategic context created by the Russian aggression in Ukraine came to the fore.

Now, it is time to do more to help the country find its way out of its quagmires. The international support platform for Moldova, run by France, Germany, and Romania, is a perfect start.

European integration and strategic autonomy are the solutions to Russia’s pressure

The war in Ukraine will fundamentally change the paradigm of defence in Europe, and the Republic of Moldova has a choice.

Moreover, after a year of war in the neighbouring state, Chișinău’s balance sheet of honest politicians vs those influenced or outright controlled by Moscow is not to the liking of the Russian Federation.

Moreover, the courageous decisions taken by President Sandu and the pro-European government led by Natalia Gavrilița have shifted this balance even further.

That has led your average Moldovans to begin to see the gilded lattices of the cage of supposed neutrality designed to suit Moscow and supported by Lavrov and others at the Kremlin.

The examples of Sweden and Finland, authentic neutral states resilient to any significant evolution in the security environment despite Russia’s proximity, gave Moldova an essential lesson on how to respond to Moscow’s blackmail, especially when it’s done openly.

Moscow’s paternalistic neutrality trumpeted against Moldova cashes in on the fear of war, the fear of the costs of energy dependence, and internal instability.

Moldova is about to discover that, while neutrality can remain a constitutional principle in the face of these dramatic changes, salvation can only come in the form of European integration and genuine strategic autonomy.

Furthermore, the defence strategy of the Republic of Moldova and its armed forces have become the most critical priorities. Moldova needs modern defence capabilities, assistance programs and defence resources.

If this were to fail, neutrality without ensuring strategic autonomy would continue to be just another sophisticated way for the country to remain in the Russian imperial periphery.

The Moldovan miracle could be one of the European success stories.

Now is the time for Europe to believe in it. 

Claudiu Degeratu holds a PhD in International Relations and European Studies and is Associate Expert at GlobalFocus Center in Bucharest. In the past, he has worked as General Director for Defence Policy and Planning at the Romanian Ministry of Defence.

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