The recent visit paid by the Moldovan minister of foreign affairs Nicu Popescu to Moscow generated contradictory reactions in Chisinau. They even sought the minister’s resignation for particular statements he made for the Russian press. It’s a pity that the head of the Moldovan diplomatic service does not have standard answers to eventual provocative questions of the press that can be easily anticipated. But in this case, it goes rather to experience and the capacity to learn on the way, on condition that the committed communication mistakes do not kill your career before experience is gained.
State of suspense with uncertain development prospects
However, it would be unwise to hide the real connotations of the visit to Moscow behind defective formulations of the minister for the press. In this connection, we should analyze the whole political conjuncture in which the visit was made. It should be noted that the current Moldovan-Russian intestate relationship is now marred by the state of suspense, with uncertain development prospects. Together with the coming of the new Government to power in the summer of 2021, the Republic of Moldova has tried to design a new efficient format for the bilateral cooperation with the Russian Federation, given the European state development foreign policy course. Moscow, after a period of political-diplomatic obedience of Chisinau during the tenure of Dodon, tries to identify the new formula of interaction with the Republic of Moldova. We should recall that after the ratification of the Association Agreement with the EU by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova on July 2, 2014, the Moldovan-Russian relations were deteriorated by the immediate intensification by Moscow of the whole store of political-economic and information instruments that referred to the most sensitive issues exist suing in the relations with Chisinau. The Transnistrian factor was activated as a follow-up to the economic bans, with seven memorandums of interdepartmental cooperation between Russia and the unrecognized secessionist administration being signed. This way, Moscow showed its disapproval of the geopolitical reorientation of the Republic of Moldova to the Western course.
Political conditions for signing gas supply contract?
Popescu’s visit to Moscow was made on the warm trail of the negotiations on the agreement with Gazprom, as a result of which the price of the gas supplied to Chisinau grew considerably, causing a price crisis in the republic. The Moldovan officials weren’t clear enough about the existence of political conditionality when signing the gas supply contract. Only Prime Minister Gavrilița told the press about particular political conditions during the talks, avoiding details yet. From credible sources, we know that when the contract for the supply of gas was being negotiated in Moscow, the Russian side offered the Moldovan delegation that consisted of the two deputy prime ministers to examine an advantageous price for the gas supplied to the Republic of Moldova in exchange for the rapid political resolution of the Transnistrian conflict (during three months) based on a number of provisions of the known “Kozak Memorandum”. Also, Chisinau was offered to recognize the status of guarantor of the Transnistrian settlement process of the Russian troops stationing in Transnistria, and to allow the airport in Tiraspol to become operational in accordance with the international legislation. One more point envisioned Russia’s participation in the Moldova – EU dialogue on the implementation of the Association Agreement. Against such a background, after the delegation of Moldovan negotiators returned from Moscow, deputy prime minister Kulminski suddenly vacated his seat.
The higher price of the gas supplied to Moldova shows that Chisinau didn’t accept the political conditions imposed by the Russian side. However, Moscow, using the traditional economic blackmailing strategy in relation to the Republic of Moldova, didn’t go till the end as previously and ultimately signed the contract for the supply of gas, even if with a higher price. Shortly afterward, during his working visit to Moscow, minister Popescu reiterated Chisinau’s position concerning the necessity of withdrawing the Russian troops from the republic’s territory, from Transnistria in fact. Lavrov complied tacitly with this position of Chisinau even if several months ago, a similar statement made by Maia Sandu generated a furious reaction on the part of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Russian side also expressed its readiness to examine the possibility of using and withdrawing the armament and munitions stored in Cobasna. It seems that this is an unexpected development as regards Russia’s position on the Transnistrian issue.
Where Moscow’s “strangeness” comes from
One more attentive analysis of the geopolitical situation in the region starts to provide explanations for the “strangeness” related to the change of Russia’s position on the Transnistrian issue. It is evident that Ukraine is the stake and main objective of Russia’s policies on our area, the case of the Republic of Moldova being closely connected with our direct Eastern neighbor in Moscow’s geopolitics. Recently, the Russian diplomatic service resorted to an unprecedented step, making public the confidential diplomatic correspondence with its partners of the “Normandy format” for the settlement of the conflict in Donbas. The Russians were angered by a number of statements made by high-ranking European leaders who described Moscow as a party of the separatist conflict in Eastern Ukraine. So as not to indirectly fuel such negative perceptions of its international image, Moscow has to reduce its bellicose rhetoric towards the Republic of Moldova, which also has a frozen separatist conflict on its territory.
With possible war in the house?
We are also witnessing a rapid deterioration of the political-military situation around Ukraine. There are incontestable proofs of massive concentrations of Russian military equipment and troops at the border with Ukraine. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense recently warned about the concentration of over 90,000 Russian soldiers and of military equipment in the region. A similar warning by NATO pointed to the “unordinary concentration” of Russian troops at the border with Ukraine. A number of experts, given the precedent of the invasion of Crimea by Russia, anticipate a new hybrid intervention by Moscow in Ukraine, in which the paramilitary forces or special forces, benefitting from classical military support, attack the neighboring country with regular troops, heavy weapons, etc. As General Kiril Budanov, head of the Ukrainian military intelligence, said for the publication Military Times, “such an attack probably implies air strikes, artillery and armored tank attacks followed by air strikes in the East, amphibious warfare in Odessa and Mariupol”. In such a case, we are witnessing the reanimation of the geostrategic project “Novorossya” (“New Russia”) for the territorial dismemberment of Ukraine, this time with direct consequences for the Republic of Moldova, given the evident territorial inclusion of the separatist Transnistria in this project. Such an unfavorable development would bring the war directly on the territory of the Republic of Moldova.
Practical facets of theoretical “strategic partnership”
Against such a background, the gas crisis reemerged unexpectedly in Chisinau even if the government assured that it was overcome by the signing of the contract with Gazprom. It should be noted that Gazprom notified the Republic of Moldova of the possibility of stopping the supply of gas in 48 hours if Moldovagaz does not urgently pay the current debt for October, in accordance with a clause of the current contract that wasn’t made known to the general public. Formally, Moscow has all the legal reasons to leave the Republic of Moldova without gas when the clauses of the contract are not fulfilled exactly. But such an approach to the commercial relations with the Republic of Moldova does not match the spirit of strategic partnership between the two states that is stipulated in the current Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation that was considerably eulogized by the sides during the recent visit paid by minister Popescu to Moscow. Furthermore, paragraph 5 of the given treaty provides that each of the High Contracting Parties will refrain from any action that can cause damage to the other High Contracting Party, to its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. The sides condemn separatism in all its forms of manifestation and undertake not to support the separatist movements. We can thus wonder why Tiraspol is not requested to pay for the consumed gas on time. This is a rhetorical question as from the moment the interstate Treaty was signed, Moscow has violated it permanently by openly supporting separatism in the Republic of Moldova at political, economic and other levels.
Today the interstate relationship between the Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation is at one of the lowest points of interaction between the two states, with a palpable potential of degeneration into an acute conflict. All the efforts made by the current government in Chisinau to avoid tensions in the relations with Moscow meet with a superficial expertise in the Russian file. The attempts to calm things down by half measures become increasingly counterproductive. The rapid deterioration of the geopolitical and military situation at the national borders generates major risks to the security of the Republic of Moldova and the absence of adequate measures for counteracting them becomes increasingly worrisome. It is urgently necessary to supplement the political management with persons qualified for positions of responsibility for the work of the Supreme Security Council, for the Transnistrian conflict, for the diplomatic mission in Moscow. It is stringently necessary to work out and implement a plan of energetic measures for informing and mobilizing the foreign partners for the purpose of counteracting the geopolitical and military dangers threatening the Republic of Moldova at present. Or we risk entering unprepared the wars threatening us…
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