Given the recent positive change in the Moldovan political tide, there has never been a better time for the United States, the European Union, and international organizations such as the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to significantly increase and strengthen engagement with Moldova, says The Hill – a political news website that competes with CNN and Politico in the U.S.
Author Daniel F. Runde, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says the realities that took shape in Moldova after the July 11 elections offer a strategic opportunity for the U.S. to advance its international development agenda and strengthen democracy’s foothold in such a critical region. The country’s small size and current political alignment create the best window of opportunity in 30 years to strengthen institutions and partnerships, while creating a template for good governance in the region.
As to the Transnistrian dispute, Daniel Runde says that after Moldova declared its independence, Moscow provided military support to the region. Fights over this territory continue to the present: roughly 1,500 Russian “peacekeepers” are currently stationed in Transdniestria. President Sandu advocated for the removal of these Russian troops at the United Nations General Assembly last month. Moldova’s frozen conflict with Russia and the centrality of this conflict in Moldovan domestic politics put democracy front and center on the ballot last July.
By electing Maia Sandu’s party and giving her a commanding majority of 63 percent of seats in the country’s parliament, Moldovans delivered a clear verdict about the direction they’d like their country to go in. It is now time for the West to respond.
In 2011, then-Vice President Biden became the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Moldova while in office. Given its strategic location, President Biden understands its importance.
On the forefront of U.S. support, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has already pledged $55 million in bilateral aid to Moldova, but this number differs only slightly from aid amounts in recent years. During the Trump administration, USAID made Moldova a priority thanks to former Assistant Administrator Brock Bierman. President Biden should not only continue that effort but ramp it up through greater engagement and meaningful financial bilateral support.
A doubling of assistance from all partners to Moldova and a commitment to vaccinate the whole country with Western vaccines quickly would make a substantial impact for a pro-Western, pro-democracy U.S. ally, that is also small and nimble enough to progress near-term reforms and inspire others in a strategically important region.
While Russia was historically been Moldova’s number one trading partner, EU countries now account for 67 percent of Moldova’s exports and 52 percent of its total trade, with Russia falling to a mere 10 percent. This sea change in trading patterns did not happen by accident. In 2010, the U.S. provided $262 million to Moldova through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to promote agricultural infrastructure and production. The Biden administration could also scale USAID’s existing economic growth and governance programs, as well as ramping up the existing Peace Corps presence. About half of Peace Corps work currently is English language training. Improving the English language skills of Moldova would help all Moldovans “plug into” the West in a variety of ways.
Perhaps most importantly, Moldova would be a strategic partner for the Biden administration in advancing its anti-corruption agenda, which it identified as a core national security priority back in June.