Few were those who on February 24, 2022, when Putin’s Russia militarily attacked Ukraine, predicted the continuation of this war for years. But the gloomiest forecasts are becoming a reality, as it becomes evident that Russia’s current war against Ukraine cannot be easily stopped by negotiations. It matches an old historical behavioral model of Russia, which is part of a broader pathology that makes a stable peace nonviable or at least makes those who gained appreciable experience concerning the expansionist policy of the Kremlin inside the former empire of Russia not to have illusions in this regard.
Imperial impulse felt by Moldova sooner than by Ukraine
To say it simply, the imperial tradition of the Russian state is much too powerful to allow making a consistent and long-lasting peace agreement with a Russia that didn’t quench its thirst for conquering. In reality, the century-old expansionist impulse that is imbedded in Moscow’s current strategic perspective can survive even the replacement of the senior administration at the Kremlin, invalidating the creed of some of the experts about the war in Ukraine as a result of the personal obsessions of Vladimir Putin. The experience of the nations that in history were subject to an interminable series of conventional and hybrid military conquests initiated by Russia during centuries shapes the understanding that the current Russian aggression against Ukraine is nothing but the newest manifestation of this traditional imperial policy.
On this occasion, we should remember Putin’s assertion that astounded the largest part of international public opinion in February 2022 – that Moscow’s outright invasion of Ukraine, with a President who is a Jewish ethic – was justified by Russia’s anti-fascist concerns. Some of the experts with a good memory remembered then that such kinds of accusations on the part of Moscow for the first time were made 30 years before the current invasion of Ukraine, when Russia’s 14th army intervened militarily in an internal conflict of the Republic of Moldova, which just became an independent state. Then, Russian general Aleksandr Lebed justified the illegal intervention of his troops in another country by an accusation similar to Putin’s lie of 2022, asserting that the government in Chisinau of the young Republic of Moldova in this conflict behaved even worse than the German SS behaved 50 years earlier, That outright military intervention of the Russian army in the Nistru conflict ultimately led to the territorial division of the Republic of Moldova, which hasn’t been yet overcome. Remains of the 14th army – the so-called Operational Group of Russian Forces – continue to be present as armed and uninvited guests on the territory of the officially recognized Republic of Moldova.
Russia banks on long-lasting war...
That episode of 1992, which occurred in a moment when Russia went through a historic stage of rapprochement with the West and liberalization of the internal political life, while Putin’s authoritarian regime wasn’t yet in view, illustrates a more general idea. This idea is that it does not matter whether Putin will be yet in power or not or if the political regime in Russia will be democratic, totalitarian, monarchic, oligarchic or of another kind: most probably, the expansionist impulse of Moscow will yet persist for a long period of time.
Today, Ukraine heroically resists the Russian military aggression owing to the major political and technical assistance of the free democratic world. But the war continues for an impermissibly long period of time, testing the economy of the developed countries and leading to the natural tiredness of the voters in these states, including the U.S. This phenomenon generates an increase in the number of Americans who doubt the necessity of strengthening the support for Ukraine. According to a recent poll conducted by CNN, 55% of the Americans oppose Congress providing additional funding to support Ukraine. Furthermore, 51% believe that the U.S. already did enough to help Ukraine and only 48% consider that more should be done in this regard. It should be noted that at the end of February 2022, a majority of 62% of the Americans said that the support for Ukraine should be increased.
The importance of the predispositions of the American voters increases exponentially in the perspective of the end of 2024, when the presidential election will take place in the U.S. In this election, the Republican Donald Trump is one of the main challengers to the Democratic President Biden, who is a devoted supporter of the cause of Ukraine. Trump repeatedly said that he can swiftly bring the war in Ukraine to an end. He even asserted that as the President, he can do this during 24 hours. At the end of June, in an interview with Reuters, he said that the Kyiv government might have to concede some territory to Russia in order to stop the war.
... and tiredness of American voters
The election in the U.S. complicates things in Ukraine, admitted Daniel Fried, a former U.S ambassador to Poland: “The Russians think that they have a light at the end of the tunnel. It encourages Putin to think that they can outlast the Americans because political support for Ukraine will be compromised if Trump wins”.
As a recent CNN analysis shows, Vladimir Putin is factoring the 2024 US presidential election into his Ukraine war planning in hopes that a loss by President Joe Biden next year will lead the US to curtail its support for Ukraine and improve Russia’s negotiating position. One US official said they have “no doubt” that Putin is “trying to hold out” until the 2024 election. Another source familiar with the intelligence said “it’s sort of the elephant in the room” for the US, Ukraine and Europe. A European diplomat told CNN that they believe trying to ride out the war in Ukraine until the US election “is exactly Putin’s plan.”
Special international conjuncture
Today, the Republic of Moldova benefits from special international conjuncture, with many risks and with opportunities that yesterday didn’t exist. It is a situation when Russia, being engaged in an exhausting war in Ukraine, lost many levers of influence over the Moldovan state, opening this way a unique window of opportunity for Chisinau to get rid of or, at least, to considerably weaken the suffocating embrace of the Russian imperialism. First of all, it goes to the possibility of intensifying Chisinau’s policies aimed at strengthening the Romanian identity character of the Republic of Moldova as a state, which, by its cultural, political and economic content and symbolism, should place the Moldovan state outside the so-called “Russian world”, which is claimed by the Russian imperialism as a space of preferential geopolitical influence and even as an object of military aggression.
The effort to step up the political settlement of the Transnistrian conflict by the initiation by Chisinau of a new international mediation mechanism that would not be controlled by Moscow is complementarity to this strategic objective. The Republic of Moldova – Ukraine – Romania trilateral, which is now able to significantly reduce Russia’s influence in Transnistria by economic and political leverage, contributing this way to the creation of conditions for identifying a comprehensive solution to the conflict, can serve as a basis for this new international mechanism.
At negotiating table or ... on the table?
For Chisinau, the passive waiting for an end to the war in Ukraine, which is not yet in view, is the worst strategy. The Republic of Moldova should come to Ukraine when peace will be made in Ukraine, which will definitely be negotiated in a much broader geopolitical context than the theater of war itself, with a geopolitical status quo that cannot be the object of post-war negotiations. Judging by the developments on the international political arena, the window of opportunity for the Republic of Moldova to strengthen this status quo could open at the end of 2024, together with the presidential election in the U.S. Is the official Chisinau aware of this realistic perspective or it prefers to hide its head in the sand while passively waiting for the geopolitical reorganization of the region without its participation? Regrettably, there is no certain answer to this question now.
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.