Earlier this year, Moldovan President Maia Sandu initiated a national pedagogical effort to convince a skeptical populace to take national security and defense seriously and accept higher budget expenditures for this sector (see Part One, October 13). The new National Security Strategy, unveiled on October 11, adopts an educational and hortatory tone when speaking of that need:
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine highlights the critical need to increase investment in the national security and defense sector. Accelerating capacity-building in the national security and defense sector is an urgent imperative for Moldova. … Security must be recognized as a necessary investment that benefits everyone. … For too long, this sector has been mismanaged, neglected, and underfunded. Moldova must develop and strengthen its immunity to hybrid threats. … To deter aggression, Moldova needs a modern, properly equipped, well-trained army, interoperable with external partners (Presedinte.md, October 11)
Moldova has lacked a combat-capable army from 1991 to the present. The new strategy acknowledges this fact implicitly by setting the task to develop the army from scratch with Western partners’ assistance. It relies on donations of equipment, expects to “increase the frequency of military exercises with the support of strategic partners,” and aims “to improve the army’s preparedness for military action to defend the country if necessary.”
The document enumerates Romania, the United States, and the United Kingdom as “strategic partners” to Moldova. On the next level are North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members France, Germany, Poland, Italy, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Turkey, listed (in that order) as “security and defense partners” to Moldova (France is known to have recently made an offer to that effect; Ziarul National, September 25). The document designates NATO collectively as a partner for Moldova with a view to “strengthening our Army’s capabilities to protect our country and our citizens.” Ukraine is designated as a “security and defense partner” to Moldova with the goal of “developing and deepening” this partnership.
Beyond the hard security realm, the national security strategy commits Moldova to aligning with EU positions within the framework of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). The European Union has pledged €207 million ($218 million) of non-lethal military assistance to Moldova from the start of Russia’s all-out war in Ukraine to date. The assistance is due to be delivered in the form of equipment rather than funds (Ue.mfa.gov.md, accessed October 15).
The new security strategy makes no reference to Moldova’s constitutionally enshrined “permanent neutrality.” Nor have Moldovan officials made any comments on the seeming contradiction between neutrality (adopted in 1994) and the new concept, which charts ever-closer partnerships with NATO members and Ukraine (even as the latter fights against Russia). The strategy’s authors do not ignore this putative contradiction. They address it obliquely by pointing to Sweden’s and Finland’s abandonment of their neutrality “so as to protect their national security in a collective defense system. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is the main driver of this development.”
Russia’s military presence in Transnistria deeply discredits Moldova’s declared policy of neutrality. Abandoning neutrality, however, would be not be feasible so long as Moldovan voters support it and oppose NATO membership by large margins. Russophile and “centrist” politicians exploit this situation to their advantage. For its part, Moldova’s current leadership understands that renouncing neutrality would hardly bring any benefits that could not be obtained through strategic partnerships with NATO members. Purely formal in the constitution, continuously violated on the ground by Russia, and not codified in any international document, Moldova’s “neutrality” allows its pro-Western leaders wide leeway to choose their defense and security partners (see EDM, August 11, 15, 17, 2022).
The new concept’s calculated silence on neutrality is matched by its abandonment of Russia’s approach to resolving the Transnistria conflict. The strategy sets the task of peacefully resolving this conflict “with the active participation of the European Union and other strategic partners.” This means (short of stating it explicitly) carrying out negotiations without Russia’s direct participation in shaping the political settlement, given that Moscow is no partner while all of Chisinau’s strategic partners can be found in the West. The concept further states that “the Russian troops, illegally stationed in our country, must withdraw from Moldova’s sovereign territory.” This implicitly rules out Russia’s demands—such as perpetuating Moldova’s neutrality and a political settlement to Moscow’s and Tiraspol’s satisfaction—as preconditions to the withdrawal of Russian troops and the disposal of ammunition stockpiles.
The document silently discards Russia’s decades-old concept for resolving the Transnistria conflict. That conception is based on the “5+2” negotiation format (where Russia has the upper hand and the European Union and United States are mere observers) to result in a “special status” for Transnistria that would negate Moldova’s sovereignty. That conception, in common with Moldova’s neutrality (Russia insists on linking the two), need not be officially denounced but simply ignored and transcended with Brussels’ support.
Moldova’s new leadership has eliminated the terms “5+2” and “special status” from its diplomatic and political vocabulary. Instead of negotiating in formats where Russia has the upper hand, Chisinau sets the task of approaching Transnistria directly, “working toward the gradual, peaceful reintegration of Transnistria.” The government will offer to “extend all the benefits of Moldova’s integration with the European Union to our citizens living on the left bank of the Nistru River.”
The strategy aims to fulfill all prerequisites for Moldova to join the European Union as a full member by 2030. “Our aim to join the European Union is not only about economic development and modernization but also about comprehensive security encompassing the energy, cyber, information, and military spheres.” Attaining this goal along with the entire agenda laid out by the National Security Strategy depends, however, on the current leadership’s re-election. Its ability to remain in control for the next two electoral cycles will greatly influence whether the central tenets of the new security concept come to fruition.