Vladimir Socor, who is known for his interpretations of Russia’s interests in the former Soviet area, provided IPN with a link to his analysis for Jamestown.org, centering on Dmitry Kozak’s recent visit to Moldova.
The analyst notes that only five days after Moldova’s new government took office, the deputy head of Russia’s presidential administration, Dmitry Kozak, descended unexpectedly on Chisinau for talks with President Maia Sandu and government members. According to the Russian side, Sandu invited Kozak; but the Moldovan side did not mention this. It may well have been an informal self-invite by Kozak followed by Sandu’s formal but unpublished invitation.
Socor notes Sandu’s and her team’s commitment to European integration is ironclad, but they had to recognize three realities. First, appeals of the type “away-from-Russia” cannot win elections in Moldova. Nor can they ensure reelection four years from now, considering the minimal levels of anti-Russia sentiment and still-widespread respect for Russia among Moldovan voters. Second, a functional economic relationship with Russia is what most Moldovan voters expect; and it could hold significant economic benefits to a pauper Moldova, without prejudice to its deepening ties with the European Union. And third, the Russia-orchestrated Transnistria conflict cannot be resolved in Moldova’s interest until Moldova rebuilds its state; and pending the state’s reconstruction by the new authorities, Moldova will need tranquil relations with Russia.
According to the analyst, among the EU’s six Eastern Partnership countries, Moldova holds the lowest geopolitical value to Russia. The Kremlin’s interests in Moldova are confined to: holding on untroubled to Transnistria while stonewalling a political resolution of the conflict indefinitely; retaining a degree of political access to Chisinau via some limited economic incentives, at no cost to Russia itself; discouraging Moldova’s solidarity with Ukraine and Georgia in the context of the Russia-orchestrated protracted conflicts; deceptively showing a softer face in Moldova, unlike Russia’s brutal face in Ukraine and Georgia; constraining a Moldovan rapprochement with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by exploiting Moldova’s constitutional neutrality; blocking a hypothetical unification of Moldova with Romania; and using, hypothetically, Moldova as a testing ground for harmonizing relations between Russia and the West in Europe’s East, on terms that would recoup and enhance Russia’s influence throughout the region.
On Transnistria, Kozak’s posturing on a political solution mirrors his (and Putin’s) posturing on Ukraine’s Donbas. “A political settlement on Transnistria is Moldova‘s internal affair. Russia is prepared to help you [Moldova and Transnistria] to come to an agreement, just as we have been doing. We are not going to impose our own terms of settlement. This is not our problem, this is your internal problem,” Kozak told the press in Chisinau.
That said, he agreed with Sandu’s request to start negotiations about recycling the unusable and untransportable Russian ammunition from the vast Colbasna stockpile in Transnistria/ For her part, Sandu would continue diplomatic negotiations in the “established” (i.e., 5+2) format.
The author believes that improving relations with Russia could serve Moldova’s interests but it is not a top or even high priority for Moldova’s new, Western-oriented leadership. Its minimal objective is a conflict-free relationship with Russia. Within such a relationship, Moldova would focus on non-strategic, mundane but pressing issues of a practical nature with Russia in the economic sphere. Moldova will continue to seek the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria (in keeping with Moldova’s neutrality) persistently but non-confrontationally.