Davos and Moscow’s pretentions to keep Republic of Moldova in space of “Russian world”. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu

“When Putin’s Russia resorts to military aggression in order to restore control over territories that it arbitrarily includes in the space of the so-called “Russian world”, the Republic of Moldova, given that it is covered by the imperial claims of Moscow, needs a clear separation from the Russian space...”

At the summit held in Davos last week, the President of the Republic of Moldova Maia Sandu made her debut. The story of this international meeting started over 50 years ago, in 1971, when the first session of the World Economic Forum was officially opened in Davos, a small ski resort in the Swiss Alps. In time, this became one of the most select and prestigious international meetings of the world business and political elites. With the passing of time, the name Davos even became the generic shortening of the event that usually brings together business leaders and entrepreneurs, prominent thinkers and scientists, heads of NGOs working in different sectors, civic activists and politicians of the highest rank. The forum in Davos is often criticized for its pronounced elitism, being suspected of lobbying for the interests of 1% of privileged people of the world. Despite this and other criticism, Davos remains one of the most popular international meetings for the elites of any country.

Russia, the big isolated state

This year, the World Economic Forum in Davos was held on January 16-20 under the motto “Cooperation in a Fragmented World”. The Forum’s President Börge Brende, before the start of the meeting, noted that the summit will take place in the most difficult economic and geopolitical context of the last decades. Russia was absent from Davos 2023 as it was punished for the military aggression against Ukraine, with the Forum freezing the relations with Russia’s representatives back in the spring of 2022 and stopped interacting with persons subject to sanctions. Speaking at the World Economic Forum on January 17, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said the countries of the European Union impose serious sanctions on the Russian Federation, which throw the economy of this country towards recession.

Moldova, present and active

In the Forum, Maia Sandu had multiple meetings and discussions on the situation in the region with different political leaders of the highest rank, such as President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and others. Many of these are expected to come to Moldova in June to attend the second meeting of the European Political Community. In Davos, President Sandu spoke about security in Europe in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the way in which the Republic of Moldova is affected. Maia Sandu underlined that the energy crisis that is handled by the Republic of Moldova by reducing dependence on Russian gas and other major issues, such as propaganda and misinformation that were amplified by the war waged by Russia on the neighboring country, are among the consequences of this.

Also, Maia Sandu, in the name of the Republic of Moldova, asked the Western partners to provide air defense systems to the country for strengthening the military capabilities of the national army given that the war in the neighboring Ukraine continues, while Russia’s efforts to destabilize the Moldovan state do not become less intense. “We realize that Ukrainians is a priority and it should receive, but we also hope to receive,” the leader of the Republic of Moldova stated in an interview with Reuters, referring to air defense systems. Sandu added that her country will need at least the same amount as last year - €600 million in budget support in 2023 – to protect the citizens from the effects of inflation.

In the same connection, in an interview with Politico, Maia Sandu said that in Moldovan society there is a serious discussion about our capacity to defend ourselves, if we can do it alone or should form part of a broader alliance. She added that if the conclusion that the status of neutrality should be changed is reached at a certain moment, this should take place through a democratic process. However, Maia Sandu avoided naming NATO as a possible desideratum for defending the Republic of Moldova, perfectly realizing that the open formulation of such an objective would be an enormous pretext for irritating Moscow.

One more pretext for attacking Moldova

But President Maia Sandu’ cautious formulation of the intention to strengthen the Republic of Moldova’s defense capabilities didn’t save her from the bellicose reactions of Russian decision makers. Moscow immediately uttered direct threats to Chisinau, warning this about “a repeat of the Ukrainian scenario”. According to Russian senator Andrei Klimov, the President of the Republic of Moldova risks repeating the “suicidal policy” of the Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, while the chairman of the State Duma Commission for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Leonid Kalashnikov, in an interview with Vedomosti.RU, threatened Maia Sandu with the dismemberment of the Republic of Moldova if she tries to include the state into the NATO military bloc.

Referring to the statements and requests made by President Maia Sandu on the sidelines of the Forum in Davos, Mircea Geoană, NATO Deputy Secretary General, in an interview with Digi24.ro, said the Republic of Moldova tries to get out of the sphere of influence of the Russian Federation, while NATO, the EU and Bucharest will help it in this approach. The NATO official noted that the context is now unique and the influence Russia can exert on the countries of the former empire has considerably decreased. The NATO Deputy Secretary General also spoke about the recent requests to provide air defense systems made by the President of the Republic of Moldova during her speech at the Forum in Davos. “The requests for air defense systems in Chisinau were made at the moment in which the harsh reality shows that the Russian Federation does not have limits as regards its wish to restore the former empire one way or another. On the other hand, there are the military capability indexes of the Russian Federation for this to be able to ensure the Odessa-Transnistria junction. It is a military operation that today does not match Russia’s capacity. On the other hand, as the Russian Federation wants to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence, it’s clear that it also wants to keep the Republic of Moldova.” noted Mircea Geoană.

Solidarity with Ukraine reiterated

Regardless of Moscow’s hostile position, the presence, for the first time, of the President of the Republic of Moldova Maia Sandu at the Forum in Davos contributed to strengthening the Moldovan leader’s favorable image at international level. The war in Ukraine caused a series of pressing crises that the Republic of Moldova handles to the limit. But this war opened also windows of opportunities that could not be anticipated before its start. The unambiguous solidarity of the Moldovan government with the Russia-attacked Ukraine made the Republic of Moldova become a EU candidate state. This status a year ago seemed unachievable. The contribution made by Maia Sandu as a promoter of the foreign policy of the Republic of Moldova to this performance is undeniable.

In Davos, the Moldovan President didn’t miss the happy occasion offered by the World Economic Forum to reiterate the Moldovan citizens’ solidarity with the heroic fight of the people of Ukraine against the Russian aggressor. Also, in the panel discussion centering on leadership in Europe in a fragmented world, Maia Sandu underlined that the solidarity shown by the European Union in the context of the crisis aggravated by the war in Ukraine enabled Europe to resist, to build resilience and to show that the values of democracy and freedom can be defended. Ultimately, the debut of the President of the Republic of Moldova at the Forum in Davos can be described as a successful one, with the only remark that she made no reference to the problem of continuity of dismemberment of the Romanian nation as an unhealthy unhealed inheritance of World War II. In fact, Maia Sandu was the Romanian ethnic of the highest rank who attended the event in Davos this year, Romania being represented by Minister of Foreign Affairs Bogdan Aurescu.

Clear separation from the Russian space

When Putin’s Russia resorts to military aggression in order to restore control over territories that it arbitrarily includes in the space of the so-called “Russian world”, the Republic of Moldova, given that it is covered by the imperial claims of Moscow, needs a clear separation from the Russian space. For the Republic of Moldova, the activation of the political approach to return to “the space of its national creation” – the Romanian space - is the most natural way of separating itself from the “Russia world”. In the last instance, the regional security agenda of the area that includes the Republic of Moldova cannot be full without examining the solution of restoration of the national unity of the Romanian space. Definitely, the raising of this issue by Maia Sandu at the Forum in Davos would have had a special informational echo, pushing the Romanian problem into the focus of international public opinion and contributing this way a lot to the building of the Republic of Moldova’s resilience in the context of the war in Ukraine  

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