On October 11, President Maia Sandu unveiled Moldova’s new National Security Strategy, an inter-agency product of the country’s Supreme Security Council and other relevant government institutions. The document assesses Russia’s agenda in the region as posing direct threats to Moldova’s aspirations to join the European Union and even to Moldova’s independent statehood.
The new strategy is the first official public document in the 32 years of Moldova’s independence that characterizes Russia as implacably adversarial, acknowledges the threats to Moldova as existential, and outlines a strategy to deal with those threats. Moldova’s previous national security strategy, drawn up by a nominally pro-European but checkered government in 2011, had listed Russia among Moldova’s “strategic partners,” albeit behind the European Union, the United States, and Romania (Ziarul National, October 13, 2023).
Two salient features of this document seem to have been overlooked by observers thus far. First, it stops worshipping at the altar of Moldova’s “neutrality.” Second, it alludes to an eventual political resolution of the Transnistria conflict without Russia’s direct participation (see below).
The present document entails far-reaching domestic political consequences in Moldova. The assessment of Russia in this document, for all its realism and accuracy, reflects the views of core Western-oriented groups in Moldovan society. Sizeable segments of Moldova’s electorate simply do not accept this view of Russia while others are uncomfortable with it and need to be socialized after many years of exposure to Russian propaganda (see EDM, March 23, Part One, Part Two). Moldova faces three consecutive election years: countrywide local elections in November 2023, presidential elections in 2024, and parliamentary elections in 2025. Publishing the National Security Strategy at this time entails, therefore, certain political risks for the Moldovan leaders.
It also reflects the leadership’s change in domestic electoral tactics. Sandu and the Party of Action and Solidarity had triumphed in the 2020 and 2021 elections with broad-based, inclusive, non-geopolitical, de-polarizing campaigns that won over some Russia-friendly and many fence-sitting voters. The leadership now seems ready to consider electoral tactics based on stark geopolitical choice, domestic polarization, and maximum mobilization of core supporters.
The new strategy characterizes the current security environment as the most dangerous since Moldova became an independent state (Presedinte.md, accessed October 13). Russia is the source of multiple threats, while Moldova’s own vulnerabilities exacerbate the dangers. Russia “is aiming to destroy Ukrainian statehood and the nation, subsequently to expand its [Russia’s] territorial possessions” in other directions, such as Moldova. It is “the Russian government’s ambition to create a military land corridor [through Ukraine] toward Moldova, a move that would set the stage for an immediate violent change of the constitutional order and the liquidation of our statehood.” Furthermore, “Russia and its proxies in Moldova represent the most dangerous and persistent source of threat which, if not countered, can have severe effects on the statehood, democracy, and prosperity of our country.”
The document identifies Russia’s ultimate, or maximum, goal in Moldova as “taking political and economic control of the country.”
To that end, Russia confronts Moldova with a wide spectrum of threats to its security. These include: “military aggression against Ukraine; hybrid operations against Moldova in the political, economic, energy, informational, and other spheres, aiming to undermine the constitutional order, derail Moldova’s European course and/or dismember the state; Russia’s illegal presence in Transnistria and its control over the separatist structures there.” Moscow resorts to “energy blackmail, substantially reducing gas supplies to pressure the government and society.” The Vladimir Putin regime seeks to instigate “actions to disrupt public order, meddles in elections, and [enlists] local proxies among corrupt politicians, fugitive oligarchs, and figures from the criminal world.”
Due to these actions, the document designates Russia as the gravest threat to Moldavan security. Moscow’s cumulative approach makes it “obvious that Russia will not abandon its hostile actions against Moldova any time soon. We must, therefore, learn to live with a high-intensity hybrid war that Russia will wage over a long period of time” against Moldova and in the region.
The current government in Chisinau regards Moldova’s security and even its survival as inseparable from that of Ukraine. The security strategy states: “A hypothetical disappearance of independent Ukraine would seriously jeopardize the existence and survival of Moldova as an independent and democratic state.” Conversely, “an independent Ukraine, being a full-fledged member of the European family, is a key component of Moldova’s national security.”
The strategy identifies Moldova’s own, deep vulnerabilities, all predating the current crisis and exacerbated by ongoing Russian actions.
- Military vulnerabilities: “army insufficiently equipped” and “lack of government control over part of the country”;
- Economic vulnerabilities: “Moldovan agriculture significantly relies on the Russian market,” “lack of direct interconnection to European energy markets,” “insufficient domestic capacity for electricity and heat production,” and “limited transport connectivity to the direct neighbors Romania and Ukraine”;
- Political vulnerabilities: “poor integration of national minorities” and “lack of a state policy toward national minorities”;
- Societal vulnerabilities: “deep levels of poverty,” “accelerating decrease in the population,” “limited administrative capacity of public institutions,” “incompletely reformed justice system,” “endemic corruption,” “long-term exposure of society to mis- and disinformation,” and “weak Institutional capacities to combat such information operations.”
The impact of climate change is particularly disruptive to Moldova’s predominantly agricultural economy. The country is affected by prolonged droughts, heat waves, and shortages in clean water supply. Countering global warming in the European Union’s climate policy framework ranks among the top priorities of Moldova’s National Security Strategy.
To confront Russia’s threats and remedy its own vulnerabilities Chisinau intends to create an army from scratch and continue developing national resilience programs. To those ends it counts on military assistance and training from certain NATO member countries as well as non-lethal assistance from the European Union, largely through donations to Moldova. The leadership is engaged in a national pedagogical effort to convince citizens of the need to invest in national security and defense.