1.Moldova: in the grey zone of Europe
BSSB.BE the-american-interest.com 13.03.2018
Danube Ex-USSR Moldova
*Moldova is caught between East and West—yet increasingly serving
Chisinau, Moldova rarely makes it on to the world stage or the front pages of newspapers, but on March 2, 2018, statesmen and experts from Europe and the United States descended on the city to buck the trend.
During a high-level inter-parliamentary security conference held on that day for Eastern Partnership countries, the speakers of parliaments from Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine—Irakli Kobakhidze, Andrian Candu, and Andriy Parubiy—issued a joint statementdenouncing Russian aggression in their territories.
What binds these three disparate countries—
- the small, Romanian-speaking Moldova;
- the war-torn Ukraine, officially the largest European country by landmass;
- and the mountainous Georgia of the Caucasus—is their geopolitical position.
All three have become the 21st century’s captive nations, caught between East and West and seemingly stuck in the grey zone of Europe. And all three are emerging as Europe’s shield?
Among these troubled nations, the small landlocked country of Moldova, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, has received the least attention. The Georgian Rose Revolution and the subsequent war with Russia in 2008 put the country high in the minds of American policymakers concerned about the future of the Caucasus and post-Soviet states.
Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, which precipitated a downward spiral in Moscow’s relations with the West, likewise garnered Ukraine much attention among Western media and security analysts.
Moldova’s problems are older and have been largely forgotten since 1992, when a ceasefire ended the Transnistrian War and created the separatist region of Transnistria, backed by Soviet (and subsequently Russian) troops. Since then a “frozen conflict” has settled in Transnistria, which has become a statelet frozen in time.
On my recent visit to Transnistria, Soviet-era symbols, Lenin statues, Russian flags, and posters calling people to vote in Russia’s March 18th presidential elections dominated the scene. Even the language of “Moldovan” (which is essentially Romanian) is written in Cyrillic as in the Soviet era. The territory has declared its independence from Moldova though it remains internationally unrecognized and de facto controlled by Moscow. One middle-aged mother explained to me that she is happy her son is working in Spain, and thus would less likely be drafted into the conflict if violence were to erupt again.
Perhaps the only silver lining of the war in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea has been the newfound unity between Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine in the face of common security challenges.
During the conference, a number of Moldovan officials noted that only after Ukraine experienced its own crisis of Moscow-stoked separatism did Kyiv start understanding Chisinau’s position with respect to Transnistria.
In 2015 Ukraine terminated an agreement with Moscow, which previously enabled the transit of Russian soldiers to Transnistria via Ukraine. Now plans are being implemented for Moldovan border patrols to monitor the flows of goods and people from Transnistria’s eastern border with Ukraine.
The newfound unity will enable Tbilisi, Chisinau, and Kyiv to start tackling their common security challenges together. All three countries have experience defending against the Russian military and its hybrid warfare campaigns. As the Ukrainian Speaker of Parliament Parubiy noted at the conference, the three states of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine should no longer be called Europe’s “grey zone” but rather “Europe’s shield,” for they are indeed on the frontlines in fighting against Russia’s aggression.
Another key security challenge for Moldova is centered on the energy sector. As Candu, the Moldovan speaker of Parliament, stated, “Energy security is the most costly [kind] to achieve and it is the most geopolitically influenced.”
Today Moldova is nearly wholly dependent on Russian gas imports via the pipeline system through Ukraine. Gazprom is the majority shareholder of the country’s national gas supply, transmission, and distribution company, Moldovagaz, which is unlikely to welcome the diversification of Moldova’s imports away from Russian gas.
Nonetheless, spurred by the European Union’s Third Energy Package regulation, Moldova plans to “unbundle” the ownership of its gas and electricity providers and distributors by 2020, which will have direct implications for Gazprom’s assets. The interconnective Iasi-Ungheni pipeline between Romania and Moldova’s border has been completed, and its expansion to Chisinau by late 2018 or 2019 would enable Moldova’s diversification efforts.
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