At the current stage, the Moldovan-Russian relationship is practically frozen and declined to the lowest level in the whole history of diplomatic relations. It was even reached the situation when the Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova, Dorin Recean, publicly declared that he does not intend to discuss with the Russian Federation. According to Recean, Moldova will have what to discuss with Moscow only when this withdraws its troops from Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. In the same connection, the new Premier said that he wasn’t congratulated by the Russian authorities on the occasion of his appointment and he didn’t even expect something like this. The fact that the Russian side shirked the standard diplomatic procedure to congratulate the new Prime Minister on his appointment clearly shows that Moscow does not see the possibility of restoring the relations with Moldova under the current government ruling in Chisinau
“We have never had a relationship based on mutual respect...”
As President Maia Sandu stated in a recent interview, the relations between the Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation, despite the Moldova government’s efforts, have never been based on respect. “When I came to power, I said that we want a pragmatic relationship based on mutual respect with the Russian Federation. I made these statements before the outbreak of the war, before the Russian Federation attacked Ukraine, but we must admit that we never had a relationship based on mutual respect no matter how many efforts have been made here, in Moldova,” Maia Sandu stated in the same interview.
The war that is being waged by Russia on Ukraine radically changed the policy pursued by the government of the Republic of Moldova on the Russian dimension. Before the launch of the Russian invasion of the neighboring state, the pro-European government in Chisinau wasn’t on friendly terms with Moscow either and was rather cautious with regard to this rather than looking for correlated points. However, before the war, the line of conduct of the Moldovan authorities and Chisinau’s rhetoric in the Moldovan-Russian relationship were fully different from the current ones. All the governments in Chisinau were guided by the necessity of having a relationship of cooperation with Russia, but the aggressive war started by Moscow against Ukraine ruined the Moldovan-Russian relationship that had been built meticulously during decades.
In election campaign, without geopolitical messages
When Maia Sandu only conducted the electoral campaign in the competition for the office of President before the presidential elections of 2020, her electoral program centered on a non-geopolitical agenda that was to help her obtain a maximum of votes from different parts of the Moldovan political field, which is traditionally divided according to the pro-Russian and pro-Western criteria. Her main promises were not about a polarized foreign policy, but about the fight against corruption and poverty according to the expectations of all the people. At that stage, the geopolitical problems were avoided to the maximum extent possible by Sandu and, even if she promised to bring Moldova closer to the European Union, she simultaneously vowed to restore the good relations with the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, Romania. This approach ultimately helped her to win the elections against the politician with an accentuated pro-Russian agenda, Igor Dodon.
The success in the presidential elections was developed in 2021, at the parliamentary elections, by the pro-presidential party PAS. Founded by Sandu, the Party of Action and Solidarity reproduced the electoral strategy of its founder by avoiding the geopolitical problems and centering mainly on the fight against corruption. It was a winning strategy that guaranteed the PAS a majority of seats in Parliament and also the opportunity to form a one-party government.
Chisinau, taken by surprise
The start of the war in Ukraine took Chisinau by surprise and this needed some time to figure out how to behave towards the aggressive Russia. At that stage, in many political chancelleries of the world and in circles of foreign experts, the opinion that Ukraine will not resist long the Russian invasion prevailed. The scenario according to which Russia could get by military ways to separatist Transnistria that neighbors Odessa region seemed rather probable and was turning gruesome for the pro-European Chisinau. In fact, the implementation of this scenario would have turned the Republic of Moldova, in the best case, into a banana republic dependent on Russia according to the patterns of the Kozak memorandum, without the variant of full annexation to the Russian empire under restoration being excluded.
But to the surprise of many, Ukraine resisted miraculously and thwarted the Kremlin’s plans to restore the empire by subjugating the Ukrainian people. Not even the hope that the West will be dependent on Russian gas came true and Russia has to bear the burden of the economic and political sanctions imposed by the EU and the U.S. against it. In reality, Putin didn’t expect that by attacking Ukraine, Russia will fully ruin its relationship with the West. A similar effect was produced by the war on Russia’s relations with a series of other states from different geographical and civilization zones, the Republic of Moldova being among them.
Change of position
Chisinau’s position on Moscow witnessed a dramatic change during a short period of time after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As the Russian problems on the front and the economic ones became increasingly evident, Chisinau more clearly has exhibited its policy to condemn the Russian aggression and its solidarity with the people of Ukraine. At the beginning of the war, Moldova underlined that in accordance with its Constitution, it is a neutral state and it will not subscribe to the European sanctions, but it swiftly started to review its policy. Moldova already subscribed to over 20 of the 38 sanctions regimes in force in the EU and continues considering the possibility of joining the rest of them.
At politico-diplomatic level, Moldova drastically reduced contacts with Russia, the Moldovan authorities harshly criticizing the Kremlin for the ongoing war against Ukraine. The Government of Moldova initiated procedures for withdrawing from the CIS, which is politically dominated by Moscow, and is taking unprecedented measures to clear the Moldovan information and political space of Russian influence. The Russian invasion of the neighboring country made Moldova become a state with the most insignificant relations with Russia among the non-EU post-Soviet states, surely except for Ukraine UE. Over the past year, the Moldovan-Russian interstate relationship declined to the point at which the official Chisinau promised to arrest the Russian leader Vladimir Putin if this enters the Republic of Moldova. By such a gesture, Chisinau showed its readiness to fulfill its obligations towards the International Criminal Court that issued an arrest warrant against the Russian president.
“Diplomatic” offenses and threats
Moscow’s reaction to Chisinau’s harshened position on the bilateral relations against the background of the war was full of insulting invective against President Maia Sandu and the pro-European government in general. Among the mildest causations against the current administration in Chisinau, which are usually formulated in public by the spokeswoman for the Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova, are the assertions about President Maia Sandu’s disloyalty to the Republic of Moldova because she possesses a Romanian passport and about other Moldovan officials who are described as pseudo-politicians who are malevolently manipulated by the West against Russia.
Alongside the offensive public statements, Moscow also takes concrete actions to destabilize the internal political situation in the Republic of Moldova by activating the large pro-Russian fifth column in Moldova society. The atmosphere of the Moldovan-Russian interstate relationship was seriously affected by the publication, at the beginning of this year, of the Russian intelligence services’ plan to destabilize the Republic of Moldova, this information being provided to Chisinau by President Zelensky. As a result, the diplomatic relationship between Chisinau and Moscow over the past year has amounted to invitations issued to the Moldovan and Russian ambassadors to come to the corresponding ministries of foreign affairs to be handed over mutual protest and warning notes that reveal the profoundness of the crisis of the bilateral relations.
Start of negotiations or pro-Russian revenge
Evidently, the worsening of the Moldovan-Russian relations is disapproved of by a consistent part of Moldovan society, which is traditionally oriented to Russia. But at the level of the internal political situation, the crisis of the Moldovan-Russian relationships is offset by the progress made by the Republic of Moldova in the European integration process. In the summer of 2022, Moldova, together with Ukraine, was granted the official EU candidate status. The objective of the Moldovan authorities is to now switch over to the next stage this year – the opening of accession negotiations with the EU. Brussels will take a relevant decision this autumn, after the European Commission presents a report on the implementation of the EU’s recommendations by the candidate countries.
In the case of the Republic of Moldova, the opening of negotiations is contingent on the results achieved in reforming the justice sector, in fighting corruption, in doing the economic reform, in improving public administration, etc. If the European Council at the end of this year recognizes the results of the reform in the enumerated areas as satisfactory, the EU leaders can agree to open accession negotiations. Such an accomplishment of the government will represent a solid electoral basis for the pro-European forces at the next presidential and parliamentary elections. Otherwise, the crisis of the Moldovan-Russian interstate relations in the future elections will be used to the maximum by the anti-European forces to discredit the process of joining the EU and to anchor the Republic of Moldova to the area of geopolitical interests of Putin’s Russia.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.