A number of solutions can exist in such a situation, but the main is related to the communication of the power with its own people. More information and more convincing evidence of the damage caused by undiplomatic diplomats or unfriendly friends are probably required in this case as well, if such exist, even if the diplomatic protocol does not always envision such a communication format…
The expulsion of diplomats is always an unordinary measure that points to the existence of serious problems in the past of the relations between countries and implies big risks for the future. This is an axiom applicable to the relations between states with comparable potential, which is truer in the case of such different states as the Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation and even much more truer when the initiative comes from a small country in relation to a big one, which is actually the biggest by territory on earth. However, the Moldovan authorities resorted to this step. Why did they do it? Do they realize the consequences? Are they sure they will be able to cope with possible side effects and the country and Moldovan society will not lose much?...
Why and how they did it?
The Moldovan authorities didn’t say much about the reasons for the expulsion of five Russian diplomats. “It is a standard procedure performed based on information provided by the intelligence services,” said Prime Minister Pavel Filip. This is all that is known about the reasons at official level. Is it more or not much? It is not much for the public opinion in Moldova, which is really concerned about the created situation. It is more than what Estonia, for example, explained when it recently expelled Russian diplomats. The United States, on the contrary, broadly reported the expulsion of the about 30 Russian diplomats not long ago. Anyway, to understand what happened and what was done publicly, Moldovan society can choose only between two variants: 1. The authorities said less because, for example, they do not have what to say as they acted based on other reasons than those related to state security and, in such a case, the measure posed a big threat to the people in Moldova; 2. The authorities acted consciously and said exactly how much they had to say so as not to leave the impression that they cause hysteria or reproduce the image of the puppy that barks at the elephant (or bear). What side does the balance incline to?
In the absence of sufficient information, we have to only analyze the local and international events and phenomena that can suggest a particular answer.
Formally, the current events seem to be connected with another two unordinary cases that happened in March. 1) The protest note addressed by the political administration of the Republic of Moldova to the political administration of the Russian Federation in connection with a number of gestures that Chisinau considers unfriendly on the part of Russia; 2) The arrest and accusation of treason (espionage) of ex-MP Iurie Bolboceanu. From other details provided by Premier Filip, we can deduce that the expulsion occurred amid the lack of reaction on the part of Russia in the variant expected by Chisinau, in the first case related inclusively to the ‘harassment’ of Moldovan officials on the entry into Russia. The fact that a high-ranking official of the Government of the Russian Federation wasn’t allowed to recently enter Moldova indirectly confirms this suspicion. In the second case, we can presume that the “business partners” of the former MP didn’t take into account the “intelligent” signal sent to them and these continued to work in the same direction or in different directions and the country that delegated these also didn’t stop them.
The assertions of ex-minister of defense Anatol Salaru also deserve attention. This said the expelled persons are officers of Russian intelligence services who fulfilled duties that are not compatible with the status of diplomat in a foreign country. The opinions of this politician, who cannot be suspected of Russian sympathies, can be treated in a different way, including as being biased, but he also said things that can be easily verified: 1) Was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Moldova officially requested to take attitude to the given diplomats; 2) Was it ordered to interrupt the relations with the former Russian military attaché. “It was first in 2015 that we asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take attitude to Russian diplomats’ actions in support of the Transnistrian separatism and of separatist actions in Gagauzia, espionage actions or measures to finance actions typical of the hybrid war. In 2015, we ordered to rupture the relations between the Ministry of Defense and the Russian military attaché. Also, in 2016 we warned the current military attaché (who was recently expelled, related also to the case of Bolboceanu – a.n.) not to direct the actions of the separatists in Transnistria and requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take measures against him,” said Salaru.
Local political context
The current government pretends it is decided to bring more order in the country compared with other governments, while the recent series of arrests of high-ranking officials on corruption-related charges are designed to demonstrate this will. Determining whether these arrests are fully reasonable and impartial is not the theme of the given analysis, but this political will is shown in a real way. A social (and political?) cleansing process, launched in an objective or subjective way at internal level, cannot bypass the foreign relations if it is designed to be wide-ranging. This could be one more reason for the expulsion.
The pronounced rivalries between President Igor Dodon and the political forces that support him, on the one hand, and the government in the person of Parliament, the Government and the Democratic Party, on the other hand, could be another reason for the expulsion and this surely affects the foreign relations. Those who say that by such actions the government aimed to also attack the pro-Russian President could be right, but those who say that Igor Dodon’s positions were consolidated with the government’s actions in the case of the expulsion could also be right. What cannot be doubted is the fact that there is a causality tie between the components of the existent or imaginary “binominal” duo PDM-PSRM (Democratic Party and Party of Socialists).
Most probably, the actions with which the expelled Russian diplomats are charged didn’t start in Moldova now, if they took place. Some politicians and expert say these have never stopped after Moldova detached itself from the former USSR. If we believe the multiple signals issued by the foreign press and politicians of other states, the Russian intelligence services at this historical stage stepped up their activity in different areas and in different corners of the world, including as a component part of the so-called “hybrid wars”, and nobody can image that the Republic of Moldova could be an exception in this regard. Someone and at a particular moment had to cover this segment of the state security sector. Possibly, other Moldovan authorities had also been tempted to show their character, but the internal and external, equally objective and subjective circumstances became ripe only now.
The Russian Federation has had for a period very unfavorable relations with the world, especially its neighbors, in particular Ukraine, which is also Moldova’s neighbor. The international community univocally took sides with Ukraine, imposing serious penalties on Russia, which found itself in an unprecedented state of isolation, despite all its efforts to rehabilitate itself. The Government of Moldova normally make use of this situation at foreign level to make its viewpoint more respected at least in one area – pullout of the Russian troops that stay in the Transnistrian region without the consent of the constitutional authorities of Moldova, serving as a shield and a guarantee for the separatist regime there.
If the government is almost impotent to influence the pullout process in a particular way, it can yet cut some of the tentacles that can go to Tiraspol from Chisinau, eventually from the Embassy of Russia or even from Moscow. Let’s return to the banning of the high-ranking official of the Russian Government from entering Moldova. This was to visit the Transnistrian region in the context of the intergovernmental cooperation in economic-financial auditing. Does “intergovernmental” mean the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the secessionist administration”? But the cooperation between the Governments of Russia and Moldova is practically inexistent.
Could the Government of Moldova act like this also in connection with the recent United States’ official request to Russia to withdraw its troops from the Republic of Moldova and also because it agreed to work in concert with Ukraine to secure the Transnistrian segment of the bilateral border. In the same connection, Moldova’s representative at the OSCE recently supported the EU statement on “Russia’s Ongoing Aggression against Ukraine and Illegal Occupation of Crimea”.
Red lines on the outside
Given the aforementioned, the Government of Moldova most probably acted in a calculated and justified way when it decided to expel Russian diplomats together with other actions of the kind, even if this leaves the impression that particular “red lines” in relation to the Russian Federation, which “does not believe in tears”, were crossed. Such a conclusion can be reached because the Moldovan-Russian relations at official level have been long of a poor quality and cannot be worse. Their value, especially in terms of money, continues to diminish, particularly owing to the Russian bans on the import of Moldovan goods allegedly imposed in reaction to Moldova’s European orientation. At the same time, the money value of the Moldova-EU relations has been in the ascendant despite the statements and actions of the promoters of the other, pro-Russian development course.
If the sanctions imposed on Moldova are made harsher, this will be a serious blow on the Moldovan population and producers. At the same time, this will turn into a new obligation and also opportunity to look for new ways to explore the European market and area of inter-human relations, with the gradual separation from the ex-Soviet area dominated by the Russian Federation. As always, the rod has two ends and all the foreign policy players usually take this into account. Russia cannot now take harsher economic or non-economic actions in relations to Moldova for at least two reasons:
1. The case of Ukraine and Crimea and of Syria made Russia sufficiently isolated from the international community;
2. This would weaken the positions of President Igor Dodon both inside and outside the Republic of Moldova. Russia’s interests in Moldova are directly related to the capacities of Dodon and the Party of Socialists to extend the influence in Moldovan society up to a level that would enable the pro-Eastern forces to take over in Moldova.
Red lines inside
Even if it may seem strange, the expulsion of Russian “spies” for the Moldovan government could mean crossing of the “red lines” inside Moldovan society because a part of the Moldovan population is under the influence of the own traditions and nostalgias that were already transmitted from generation to generation and were fueled copiously by the Russian audiovisual area and by promoters of the policy of the pro-Russian course and simply does not treat the Russian spies as spies, in the meaning of “bad guys”. The “short-circuit” in the minds of those citizens of the Republic of Moldova that occurred on the occasion of the expulsion of the spies of a foreign state could produce different and rather unexpected reactions: from tacit or open revolt to consolidation of the ranks of the political forces that wave flags anti-U.S., anti-EU and anti-West and this can weaken further the social base of the country’s European development course and, respectively, the government that declares itself pro-European. If someone wants more evidence in this regard, they should consult the results of opining polls, which show that many Moldovans prefer the model of Putin as a political leader, while Vladimir Putin, for his part, is the result and the supporter of the “securist” model of communication with the outer world.
A number of solutions can exist in such a situation, but the main is related to the communication of the power with its own people. More information and more convincing evidence of the damage caused by undiplomatic diplomats or unfriendly friends are probably required in this case as well, if such exist, even if the diplomatic protocol does not always envision such a communication format. The behavior of President Dodon, who is yet to convoke the Society Council to inform himself about this case, is an additional proof in this regard. But President Dodon managed to communicate a lot and, most probably, efficiently for his cause with the citizens of the own country and with many people outside it.
The red lines in society are also that “holy cow” that should be protected as well as those from outside, if not better.
Valeriu Vasilica, IPN