The international recognition of permanent neutrality of the Republic of Moldova has become an imperative of the foreign policy discourse promoted by the current government in Chisinau. Under the foreign agenda of President Igor Dodon, permanent neutrality is advertised as a guarantee of Republic of Moldova’s national security and territorial integrity, and its recognition - as an international insurance policy that no one will challenge Moldova’s principle of neutrality.
Nowadays, the issue of international recognition of neutrality has been endorsed by the authorities when discussing the prospects for resolving the Transnistrian conflict. In this respect, the recognition of neutrality is instrumentalized in two ways: (1) as a starting point to initialize negotiations for basket III (the general settlement of the conflict) and (2) inter alia, as a prerequisite for the withdrawal of Russian military forces from the Transnistrian region. Both options invoke the recognition of neutrality in order to prepare the ground for granting a special status for the Transnistrian region, in accordance with the interests of the Russian Federation in the region.
The international recognition of neutrality is one of the key priorities set within so-called balanced foreign policy, adopted by the current government of the Republic of Moldova. However, it is currently unclear what actions will be taken by the political decision-makers in order to meet this objective. In the absence of a reasoned vision on this dimension, but also of a plausible explanation about the utility and necessary format for international recognition of neutrality, it is essential to understand what is, actually, at stake.
Between constitutional provisions ...
The principle of permanent neutrality is enshrined in Article 11 of the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, which mentions that "the Republic of Moldova proclaims its permanent neutrality" and that "the Republic of Moldova does not allow the deployment of military troops of other states on its territory".
On May 26, 2014, a group of Liberal MPs filed addressed to the Constitutional Court, with a request for the interpretation of Article 11 of the Constitution. In the Decision of the Constitutional Court, published on May 2, 2017, it is mentioned that (1) the military occupation of a part of the territory of the Republic of Moldova at the time of the declaration of neutrality does not affect the validity of the constitutional provision regarding neutrality, (2) in case of threats to its territorial integrity, the authorities of the Republic of Moldova are obliged to take all necessary measures to respond to the existing threats and (3) the deployment of foreign troops on the territory of Moldova is unconstitutional.
... strategic priorities ...
Through Government Decision no. 961/2018 regarding the approval of the Military Strategy and the corresponding Action Plan 2018-2022, the military occupation is assigned to the Transnistrian paramilitary troops and to the Russian Troops Task Force (GOTR), under the control of which are objects of military infrastructure, but also unaccounted military arsenal.
According to Parliament Decision no. 134 to approve the National Defense Strategy and the Action Plan for the implementation of the National Defense Strategy 2018 - 2022, the neutrality status implies the prohibition to deploy foreign military troops on the territory of the Republic of Moldova. The document also mentions that neutrality does not imply isolation and that the Republic of Moldova intends to participate actively in the development of existing cooperation and partnerships with international actors.
The Government's Action Plan 2019 - 2020 makes no reference to the institutional efforts aimed at the recognition of neutrality status However, in the chapter on multilateral cooperation, reference is made to "attracting international support in achieving the objective of withdrawal of Russian military forces without determined status from the territory of the country”, having two monitoring indicators: conducting consultations and organizing debates within the UN General Assembly, according to the UN Resolution on the withdrawal of foreign military forces from the territory of the Republic of Moldova, from June 22, 2018.
... and political discourse
Since the Party of Socialists joined the ruling coalition in June 2019, President Dodon started to benefit from several external channels to promote his rhetoric on recognizing permanent neutrality. From the meeting with NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, on September 5, 2019, and until the speech at the regular session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on January 29, 2020, Igor Dodon has repeatedly mentioned his „credo”on internationally recognized neutrality, mentioning also the need to implement the "Strategy for promoting the international recognition of the status of permanent neutrality of the Republic of Moldova" (Presedintie.md).
In fact, the so-called Strategy exists only at the discourse level. This is easily noticeable when following Igor Dodon's theses on the withdrawal of foreign military forces from the territory of the Republic of Moldova, a key element in the equation of recognizing permanent neutrality. In his speech at the UN General Assembly on September 26, 2019, President Dodon did not call for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the Transnistrian region and indirectly denied the illegal stay of GTOR, noting that "if the final political settlement of the of the Transnistrian conflict will be concluded, the need for a the peacekeeping mission on Moldova’s territory will also disappear ”. Moreover, Igor Dodon stressed the importance of international recognition of the military neutrality of the Republic of Moldova, at the same time as the completion of the process of evacuation and destruction of ammunition remaining on the territory of the Republic of Moldova.
Let's bring some light
Currently, the political discourse of the Chisinau administration does not follow the constitutional delimitations and strategic priorities mentioned above. Rather, it aims to emphasize the desire for a balanced foreign policy, in which the recognition of permanent neutrality would be the guarantee of Moldova’s carrying of from the Euro-Atlantic structures. In this regard, the aim of Igor Dodon's efforts is not to advance the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, but to provide pledges to the Russian Federation that their interests in relation to Moldova will not be jeopardized.
In order to have a clearer picture on the (in)efficiency of the so-called Strategy for promoting the international recognition of neutrality principle, it is sufficient to point out some key aspects:
1. The current state of the relations between the Republic of Moldova, EU countries and the US, does not favor in any way the launching of negotiations for the international recognition of neutrality. In fact, without overcoming the state of semi-isolation on the external level, the intention of the Chisinau authorities will be met with reluctance and lack of confidence in promoting this endeavour.
2. It is not clear what actions the Government of the Republic of Moldova take/will take to ask for neutrality recognition. Up to now, there are only talks about this venture, yet without even pointing out to the steps to be taken and the format to be used for recognizing neutrality.
3. Are the requests for international recognition of neutrality supported by the parliamentary majority? The lack of political will to include a set of actions for the international recognition of neutrality in the Government Action Plan 2019 - 2020 indicates that there is no consensus on this issue within the parliamentary majority of the Socialists and the Democrats. This fact undermines the efforts of Igor Dodon and the government authorities.
4. Nonetheless, what kind of neutrality do we want? Both constitutional provisions and strategic documents do not clearly define under what conditions the principle of permanent neutrality can be invoked, leaving a wide margin of interpretation for policy makers. The episodic mention of military neutrality reinforces fears that this principle can be used to stop certain integrationist processes (e.g. with the EU).
5. The recognition of permanent neutrality cannot serve as a prerequisite for the evacuation of ammunition and foreign troops from the territory of the Republic of Moldova. The presence of Russian troops and ammunition on the territory of the Republic of Moldova is unconstitutional and threatens the sovereignty of our country. Without further efforts for promoting the provisions of the UN Resolution on the withdrawal of foreign military forces from the territory of the Republic of Moldova, there can be no international guarantees regarding the neutrality of the Republic of Moldova. That’s because there are conclusive examples that the Russian Federation does not respect the commitments made vis-à-vis the Republic of Moldova (e.g. the Istanbul Summit, 1999), when they conflict with its strategic interests.
This op-ed was published in the framework of the project ”We and Europe: Assessing EU – Moldova relations through innovative media and analytical products”, implemented by the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE), in cooperation with IPN and Radio Chisinau and with the support of Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Views expressed in this op-ed do not necessarily correspond with the position of the donor.