What does modernization of Moldova’s National Army mean? Op-Ed by Laurențiu Pleșca

“The Republic of Moldova remains the country with the smallest military budget in Europe, with only 0.65% of the Gross Domestic Product allocated to the country’s defense. And this despite the war in Ukraine, the presence of Russian soldiers in the Transnistrian region, external hybrid security threats, but also the adoption of a new National Security Strategy at the end of 2023, which lists the threats, risks and weaknesses to national security, through which the Russian Federation represents the main threat to the Republic of Moldova...”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many former Soviet republics, including the Republic of Moldova, relied on existing stocks of military equipment. This equipment, although reliable at the time it was designed, no longer meets the requirements of a modern army. Anti-aircraft systems, armored vehicles, infantry weapons and other essential components of the military arsenal have become technologically outdated. As  Minister of Defense, Anatolie Nosatyi noted: “About 90% of the National Army’s weapons and equipment, including anti-aircraft systems, date from the Soviet times, do not meet the requirements of a contemporary operation and must be replaced with newer equipment.”

The government of the Republic of Moldova has taken a significant step towards modernizing the armed forces by allocating 1.96 billion lei for the defense sector in the 2024 state budget. This is an increase of 262 million lei compared to 2023. However, in the context of the urgent need for modernization and adaptation to international standards, the amount remains insufficient to cover all the needs of the defense sector.

The modernization of the National Army of the Republic of Moldova, especially in the current context of the war on the border, requires a gradual investment by the state, made year after year, in close cooperation with the member states of the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance, from which our country receives support and donations in the field of national defense. The priority in this process is first of all the updating of the Moldovan military equipment and infrastructure, by replacing or modernizing equipment of Soviet origin and by purchasing or receiving new equipment, including a more advanced defense system. At the moment, such a system is being operationalized - a radar that is to be purchased with the support of the European Union, through the European Peace Facility program, while another radar was donated by France.

The European Union has stepped up its support for the Republic of Moldova, recently providing €9 million to strengthen the country’s air defense system. This action underlines the EU’s commitment to support Moldova in the face of the challenges caused by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and Russia’s destabilizing activities in our region.

With this new aid, the support provided by the European Peace Facility (EPF) to the Republic of Moldova reaches a total of €137 million so far. It is noteworthy that the decision to strengthen the air defense system comes in the context of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, which has generated instability throughout the region. Moldova, located on the border with Ukraine, directly feels the effects of this conflict, requiring urgent measures to protect its national security and territorial integrity.

That is why the Security and Defense Partnerships between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union was signed in May this year so that our country can adjust its defense capability to European countries’ standards.

Examples of other states in the region

As for Romania’s experience in the field of defense and the adopted modernization models, the Republic of Moldova could be inspired by this example and follow a three-stage modernization plan of the military sector:

1.Transition from the conscription army to the professional army: This transition could provide the Republic of Moldova with a more effective and better prepared military force, by recruiting and training professionals dedicated to the National Army of the Republic of Moldova, especially since our country now has only 6,000 active military and technical personnel.

2. Intensification of cooperation with EU and NATO partners: The Republic of Moldova can maximize its contacts and cooperation with EU and NATO partners in order to benefit from their expertise and assistance in modernizing and strengthening defense capabilities. This is already happening, through the signing of the security partnership with the European Union, which ensures a much greater contact in the field of defense with the EU member states, but also the signing of a defense cooperation agreement with France in March this year, which will facilitate the opening of a defense mission in Chisinau that will train Moldovan soldiers, in addition to many other types of aid in the field of defense.

3. Acquisition of modern weapons and receipt of military donations: In addition to its own efforts to acquire modern weapons, the Republic of Moldova continues to receive support, through donations of military equipment from its partners, as it happened with the recent donation of armored vehicles from European partners. In 2023, the Republic of Moldova received 19 “Piranha” armored vehicles from Germany and is to receive another 19 such armored vehicles, as well as other defense systems.

In parallel with these steps, the Republic of Moldova could progressively increase its percentage of the gross domestic product allocated to defense, following a plan phased over several years. A feasible plan could be to progressively increase the defense budget to about 2% of the GDP in the coming years, given the current allocation of 0.65% of the GDP, which is inconsistent with the security challenges that Chisinau is experiencing.

The example of Lithuania, which had a similar process of modernization and increase of the defense budget, shows that it is possible to strengthen the defense capabilities despite the limited size and resources. Therefore, the Republic of Moldova follows the examples existing in the region and adapts its plan to modernize the National Army by allocating resources according to its specific needs and priorities. There is no such thing as an “arms race” as some disinformation campaigns claim.

Obstacles to national security

We must realize that our economic prosperity cannot come without security. And “sufficient armament” means guaranteeing our ability to defend our country from an external invasion. To achieve this goal, a decades-long systematic effort will be needed under the current conditions. The Republic of Moldova is trying to reduce its military gap and compensate for the more than 30 years in which the East-oriented governments, close to the Russian Federation, have strictly maintained a “cardboard” army of the Republic of Moldova. Moreover, the former governments vehemently refused funds for the modernization of the army, a notorious example being the mandate of President Igor Dodon, who hindered multiple programs on military assistance from international partners, such as the United States, especially due to his refusal to allow the Republic of Moldova to participate in various military exercises, an example being 2017.

It is true that the previous policy of the Republic of Moldova, characterized by a more pronounced orientation towards the East and a greater rapprochement with the Russian Federation, had a significant impact on the country’s military capabilities. This orientation has sometimes led to the underfunding and underdevelopment of the military sector, especially in terms of modernization and training of the army.

The political decisions, such as maintaining an underfunded army or blocking participation in NATO exercises, have had serious consequences for the Republic of Moldova’s ability to ensure its security and territorial integrity. This was perceived as a sign of weakness and could influence the way other regional actors perceived the Republic of Moldova.

How much does defense modernization cost?

The costs for defense modernization can vary significantly depending on the geopolitical situation in the region and the complexity of the defense needs of the Republic of Moldova. As neighboring states increase their defense budgets to deal with threats and deter potential aggression, Moldova faces an urgent need to improve its military and defense capabilities.

The Transnistrian file represents a continuous challenge for national security, and the experience of the 1992 Nistru war has shown us how important the systematic preparation for self-defense is.

The current defense budget of the Republic of Moldova, equivalent to 0.65% of the GDP, is considered insufficient in the face of the unstable security climate in the region. In order to achieve a complete and efficient transition to a modern and capable military force, the authorities will opt for a substantial increase in this budget.

The costs for the development of the Ministry of Defense could rise to hundreds of millions of euros, with up to €500 million being estimated as necessary in the first phase of modernization. The current budget, of about €100 million, will most likely be revised and will benefit from resources reallocated from the total state budget so as to deal with current and future challenges.

The modernization process is a complex one and it could take until after 2030 to reach an optimal level of efficiency and capability in national defense. The Republic of Moldova can pursue a strategic approach and make consistent investments to ensure the country’s security and stability in a regional context marked by tensions and unpredictable changes, right on the border.


The Republic of Moldova remains the country with the smallest military budget in Europe, with only 0.65% of the Gross Domestic Product allocated to the country’s defense. And this despite the war in Ukraine, the presence of Russian soldiers in the Transnistrian region, external hybrid security threats, but also the adoption of a new National Security Strategy at the end of 2023, which lists the threats, risks and weaknesses to national security, through which the Russian Federation represents the main threat to the Republic of Moldova.

The Republic of Moldova is in a complex and long-term process of modernizing its defense sector - an essential effort to ensure its national security in the current geopolitical context. Certainly, the “Army 2030” project, adopted in 2020, which aims to eliminate obsolete Soviet weaponry and transform the National Army into a modern one, according to international standards, by 2030 is the project on which the country’s security currently depends.

Although the neutrality status of the Republic of Moldova is enshrined in its Constitution, so far it has not been officially recognized by any other subject of international law, either a sovereign state or an international organization to which we belong. Neutrality does not imply lack of national defense. Therefore, the Republic of Moldova needs to modernize its defense system in order to cope with the security challenges, especially those generated by the Russian Federation.

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