Neutrality With No Guarantees: The Evolution of Moldova’s Defense and Security Policies

(Source: UNIAN)

Executive Summary

Moldova has been discounting and underfunding its defense and security sectors for the past three decades, despite having over 10 percent of its territory under Russian control. Today, the foreign armed forces stationed on Moldovan territory against Chisinau’s will effectively surpass the strength of Moldova’s entire military. Objective reasons explain this state of affairs, including the country’s historical legacy as well as the poor strategic culture of its ruling elites. The historical legacy includes the deficient skills of statecraft among the Moldovan elites following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, their psychological reticence toward employing the military as a tool after the army’s defeat in Transnistria in 1992, the civilian leadership’s fear of military involvement in politics, as well as chronic economic scarcity. The weak strategic culture was driven by the lack of statecraft skills of the Moldovan leadership as well as a routine over-emphasis on police as a more propitious tool of domestic coercion and rent-extraction by autocratic or corrupt rulers.

Russia’s February 2022 re-invasion of Ukraine sharply accentuated these defense and security deficiencies of Moldova. Despite the emergence of a genuinely reform-driven government in Chisinau since 2021—perhaps for the first time since the country’s post-Soviet independence—and this government’s full control over all branches of power, the overall (in)ability of the authorities to safeguard the state has not changed. The incumbent authorities continue to show a strategic timidity toward Russia, a disregard for Moldova’s defense and security apparatus, and a lack of understanding of the various tools of statecraft at their disposal. In case of a Russian threat or ultimatum, similar to the one Ukraine was faced with, the most likely response of Moldova’s incumbent authorities would be to bandwagon with Russia and sacrifice the country’s sovereignty. To avoid this, a more robust and proactive involvement of Moldova’s Western partners is needed, to assist the Moldovan government in improving its approach to statecraft, the political class’s strategic culture, and the country’s defense and security sectors.    

 

Introduction

Defense and security policies have always been an elite endeavor in the Republic of Moldova. The general population does not consider these issues salient enough to confront the authorities over them in case of disagreement. Partially, this is due to widespread belief, shared by both the majority of voters and mainstream politicians, that defense and security issues, in their current state, have little impact on the country’s economic outcomes and welfare. And it is the economy that is of most concern to Moldova’s ruling elites—for kleptocrats, in order to maximize the base for their rent-seeking; for liberal politicians, to improve the economic prosperity of citizens in order to be reelected. In fact, historically, defense and security matters have been vastly ignored by all of Moldova’s ruling elites since the country received its independence in 1992. If this is to change, it will only be due to a significant national security crisis, or if the thinking of the Moldovan ruling elites evolve toward a more accurate understanding of the impact of defense and security on the economic welfare of the country.

The July 11, 2021, parliamentary elections that brought to power the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) can, therefore, be expected to have important bearing on determining the role of defense and security issues in the wider governmental policy over the next four years. Following the election results, which gave PAS a comfortable majority in the legislature, with 63 out of 101 seats, the ruling party took control of not only the parliament but also the government and the presidency. The latter is due to the fact that the former leader of PAS, Maia Sandu, won the nationwide presidential elections in November 2020. Even though she is not formally a member of PAS anymore—due to legal provisions demanding that the head of state not have any formal political affiliation—she retains significant influence over the party. The success of PAS in the last parliamentary elections was largely possible thanks to Sandu’s political authority among the population, which served as a driving force for PAS in the 2021 campaign. Moreover, even though Moldova is a parliamentary republic, in which the president holds mostly symbolic functions, the position is important in the context of the country’s defense and security policies, as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. Finally, because the president is elected by popular vote, instead of being nominated by the parliament, this office can wield significant political influence if the incumbent is willing to exercise it.

Given this significant governing power and political influence, PAS is effectively able to reshape and remodel many dimensions of Moldova’s domestic and foreign policies. Besides the new administration’s rhetoric and initial policy steps, the ruling party’s cabinet nominations can serve as a useful indicator of how defense and security issues rank in the list of its governance preferences and priorities. And as of February 2022, those above-mentioned signs suggest that, so far, PAS may be no different from previous administrations in terms of how it views the role of defense and security issues in overall governance. In fact, these two issues seem to be at the bottom of the PAS administration’s priorities. One notable data point has been the nomination of a minister of defense with no political clout and, therefore, no ability to push for or make substantial changes in the areas under his management. Another bit of evidence has been the decision to keep the head of the Intelligence and Security Service, who was appointed before PAS had full control of the parliament. If the PAS administration had the ambition and knowledge to use the national intelligence service effectively, it would likely not have opted to preserve the leadership nominated by a previous government that PAS has staunchly fought to oust. These, in addition to a number of other factors touched upon later in the text, indicate that the new government does not understand the role and importance of defense and security for the Republic of Moldova.

However, this challenge has not haunted solely this government. It is an issue related to Moldova’s wider strategic culture—the way political elites understand the role of the armed forces in national policies.[1] Arguably, three factors have most strongly influenced and led to the emergence of a disdainful view of national defense and security matters among Moldova’s political class. These are 1) the perceived failure of the military approach to effectively address Russia’s proxy war against the Republic of Moldova in Transnistria in 1992; 2) the 1996 governance crisis involving a conflict between the civilian authorities, in which the military leadership took sides; and finally, 3) the salience of the economics domain and, respectively, the complete demotion of the defense and security sectors to consumers rather than suppliers of resources. Altogether, these factors have impelled and accustomed Moldova’s political elites to pay only superficial attention to defense and security areas. The respective state agencies in this space have, for decades, been mostly symbolic elements of governance.

The following study provides further details on the three above-mentioned factors that have distorted the strategic culture of Moldova’s political elites. This is followed by an effort to produce an accurate threat assessment for the country, shedding light on the security threats that Moldova has confronted and how they have evolved. Accordingly, it will examine the ways that different Moldovan governments attempted to deal with these threats, including the policies that were adopted and the funding that authorities provided in support of these policies. Finally, the analysis will build upon the presented material to offer scenarios along which Moldova’s defense and security policies are most likely to develop as well as their consequences.

 

A Historical Roadmap

The Period of Strategic Timidity: 1991–2009

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the effective leadership of the newly independent Republic of Moldova was taken over by the national members of the Soviet Communist nomenklatura. However, unlike their peers in Moscow, who were involved in managing strategic issues—including by interacting with the state’s defense and security agencies—the local elites in Moldova had never before faced issues demanding the use of armed force in either overt or covert ways.

So it is little wonder that Moldova’s political leadership was caught by surprise by a wave of incidents during 1990–1992, in which armed individuals, by threat or force took over local governmental buildings, police stations and intelligence agency offices in the administrative districts on the left bank of the river Nistru (Camenca, Ribnita, Dubasari, Grigoriopol and Slobozia—the area today referred to as the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova). In many respects, the sequence of events leading up to and during the Transnistrian conflict mechanics closely mirror the process that prepared and triggered the Russian proxy war in Ukraine’s Donbas more than 20 years later.[2] Most references about the process of “squeezing out” the Moldovan authorities from the region point to a series of incidents  in November–December 1990, including one when the Dubasari district administration was surrounded by armed individuals and its staff forced to leave the building.[3] However, there is an important gap in the understanding of the micro-dynamics of this historical process, given most publicly available sources are of Russian origin and deliberately aim to create a picture favorable to the official Russian version of the conflict. Nevertheless, even the Russian sources recognize the creation of paramilitary structures by the “leadership of the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic”—a Russian government proxy—starting as early as 1990.[4] And Russian sources also note these units were supplied with weapons and personnel by the 14th (Soviet) Army, which operated under Moscow’s command during this entire time.[5]

The Moldovan authorities treated the situation as a criminal issue and used police units to deal with a militarily equipped and trained opponent. To their credit, the authorities subsequently came to understand the importance of the military dimension. In September 1990, they created the State Department for Military Issues, and—after declaring independence on August 27, 1991—started to build the National Army in September 1991. However, the personal accounts of combat participants reveal that the operation on the Moldovan side was chaotic, poorly organized and equipped, often without central operational guidance, leaving various units to fight based on their own initiative. An incident near the Tighina (Bender) fortress, for example, characterized such poor planning, resulting in multiple casualties on the Moldovan side. As Moldova’s combatants were transported to the line of contact in buses, without weapons, which were moved separately, they were ambushed by the pro-Russian paramilitaries and were unable to fight back.[6] In another instance, the Moldovan leadership authorized a clandestine operation to capture Igor Smirnov—the leader of the self-proclaimed regime in Tiraspol—in Ukraine, following Kyiv’s refusal to cooperate and extradite him. The operation was conducted successfully: Smirnov was taken to Chisinau and a criminal investigation was launched against him. And yet the Moldovan leadership released him shortly thereafter, allegedly under pressure from Moscow.[7]

Following the war in Transnistria, Moldovan authorities have generally been timid when it came to defending national security interests against the Russian Federation. The first three administrations in Chisinau were run by former senior functionaries of Soviet Moldova’s Communist nomenklatura.[8] Either due to an inferiority complex toward Moscow, or for other reasons—including a lack of qualified advisors—Moldovan defense and security policies during that time were marked by significant and costly errors. Those early officials in Chisinau were either ignorant of or only softly addressed crucial issues like the Tiraspol regime’s installation of “customs” or “border guard” checkpoints at the administrative border with Moldovan government–controlled territory, in violations of the existing agreements.[9] The strongest visible responses were often banal statements reflecting “deep regrets.” Any more resolute responses, themselves a rare occurrence, were almost always rolled back, similar to what happened in the Smirnov detention case.[10] From a security perspective, one can therefore characterize the period of 1991–2009 as one of strategic timidity.

 

Civil-Military Tensions

Civilian control over the Armed Forces has historically been strong in the Republic of Moldova, mainly an inheritance from the Soviet Union, which had a tradition of tight control over the defense and security sectors by the political leadership. However, in 1996, a conflict emerged between then-incumbent president Mircea Snegur and his competitor in the forthcoming presidential elections, parliamanetary speaker Petru Lucinschi. The conflict involved, by proxy, the minister of defense, General Pavel Creanga, whom Snegur wanted to dismiss and replace with the deputy defense minister, General Tudor Dabija.[11] Creanga refused to accept the presidential decree, asserting that the procedure was incomplete. He was supported by the prime minister, Andrei Sangheli, and the parliament, led by Luchinschi. However, General Dabija reportedly attempted to implement the presidential decree, by mobilizing support at the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the National Army, leading to an internal conflict within the defense structures. Witnesses described the events as a major unfolding crisis, with numerous people (highly unusually) seen carrying rifles on the premises of the defense ministry.[12]

As a result of the parliament’s formal inquiry with the Constitutional Court, Snegur’s decree was found to be unconstitutional, by violating the principle of separation of powers. However, the consequent actions of Petru Lucinschi, who won the 1996 presidential elections, suggest that he grew concerned about the power of the military. He replaced Creanga with his confidant, Valeriu Pasat, who was recalled from his duty as ambassador to the Russian Federation. The new president also removed General Dabija from his post as deputy defense minister shortly thereafter. As Figure 1 shows, the defense budget dropped during his tenure from 0.903 percent of GDP in 1997 (one of the highest in Moldova’s history) to 0.387 percent in 2000.

 

Figure 1: Moldova’s Military Budget (% of GDP)

(Source: World Bank)

 

The Oligarchization of the Defense and Security Sectors

Following the first three presidents, who constitutionally enjoyed effective executive power in the Republic of Moldova, their successors were largely reduced to symbolic roles. During 2009–2015, Moldova entered a period of rule by a series of parliamentary coalitions,[13] with prime ministers who wielded varying degrees of power. This time period saw the rise to power of the notorious oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc as well as the fall of prime minister Vladimir Filat, another Moldovan tycoon. The defense budget underwent its most significant drop during this time—from 0.609 percent of GDP in 2008 to 0.263 percent in 2010. Since then, Moldova’s defense budget grew insignificantly (see Figure 1), reaching 0.375 percent of GDP in 2020.[14]

The period between 2009 and 2015 can be described as one of increasing “oligarchization,” in which defense and security sectors were treated according to their perceived economic value. That situation worsened during 2015–2019, when Vlad Plahotniuc de facto ruled Moldova, treating it like his personal fiefdom. The authorities during this time largely considered the defense and security sectors of insignificant importance, due to their limited ability to produce rents or be monetized. The only exception were the Ministry of Interior and, to a lesser extent, the Intelligence and Security Service, which largely acquired the functions of internal police, helping Plahotniuc to coerce his opposition, civil society, business competitors and vociferous citizens.

A vivid example of that kind of attitude toward the defense and security sector occurred in 2017, when Moldova expelled five Russian diplomats, including the Russian military attaché and his deputy, for alleged espionage.[15] The measure came in response to evidence collected by Moldova’s intelligence agency that the Russian deputy military attaché, a military intelligence officer, recruited former parliamentarian Iurie Bolboceanu into revealing state secrets in exchange for money.[16] This was probably the boldest action against Russia that Moldovan authorities ever undertook. And while there is nothing unusual about expelling diplomats over espionage charges, it is surprising that Moldova had never done this before with regard to Russia, even though it repeatedly had the necessary evidence. In fact, authorization for this bold action was most likely not informed primarily by national security concerns but rather seemed to be designed to send a warning signal from Vlad Plahotniuc to the Russian authorities, which had initiated a series of criminal investigations, including on money laundering charges, against him.[17]

Another case in point was the Moldovan parliament’s passage of the “Anti-Propaganda Law in December 2017, while the legislature was under the de facto control of Plahotniuc. The text of the law aimed to reduce the influence of Russian media in Moldova’s informational space.[18] Yet the actual motivations for the law’s passage—to create the threat of costs for Russia in Moldova, presumably in retribution for Moscow’s legal attacks on Plahotniuc—is supported by the fact that the legislation was never effectively implemented.

In a final illustrative example of how defense and security issues were exploited by the Plahotniuc regime for personal benefit, in 2018 his office put pressure on the Moldovan Ministry of Defense to withdraw the latter’s objection to accrediting a new Russian military attaché of questionable background for this diplomatic post.[19] Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demanded, in a meeting with his Moldovan counterpart at the 2018 Munich Security Conference, that Chisinau accept the accreditation of the new military attaché as a precondition for the restoration of bilateral relations.[20] At the same time, Moscow projected this pressure through Western diplomats, conditioning the unblocking of routine procedures in the Joint Control Commission (JCC)[21] on the return of the Russian military attaché and his deputies. That Russian-instigated Western pressure proved instrumental in resolving the impasse; but it was ultimately accepted by the Moldovan side because it notably contained incentives favorable to the Plahotniuc regime, which was then interested in building personal relations in the European Union and the United States.

 

The Period of Strategic Vulnerability

In 2019, Plahotniuc was removed from power by a peculiar Russian-European-US-brokered situational coalition of Socialist and pro-European forces. Subsequently, effective control over the country was gradually transferred to Igor Dodon, Moldova’s president during 2016–2020 and the leader of the Socialist Party, which formed the largest fraction in the parliament until July 2021. Dodon acquired unlimited political control in Moldova after November 2019, following the dismissal of Prime Minister Maia Sandu over their disagreement about the substance of judicial reforms.[22] Given Dodon’s subordinate relations with Moscow,[23] the defense and security sectors of Moldova after November 2019 became vulnerable to Russian influence. For instance, immediately after Plahotniuc fled Moldova and Dodon started to take over his rent-seeking network, including the corrupt judicial system, the Moldovan Court of Appeals released Iurie Bolboceanu. It did so 2 years after he started to serve his 14-year espionage sentence, based on “procedural fallacy” of the prosecutors.[24] Bolboceanu was finally acquitted after prosecutors withdrew the accusation of “state treason” against him.[25] Dodon was vocal about the espionage case from the very beginning, publicly questioning the government’s decision from his presidential perch and claiming there was not enough evidence to prove the case. Besides his official statements, he called a Supreme Security Council meeting to discuss the case and then demanded that the Moldovan intelligence service provide information on known violations by all foreign diplomats, hinting that Western diplomats may also deserve to be expelled.[26] All defense ministers appointed by Dodon, including the one in the Maia Sandu cabinet—Pavel Voicu—had quickly made connections with their Russian counterpart,  actively participated in Russia-led political-military events in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) framework, and advanced “political-military cooperation” with Russia.[27] This had rarely happened before, if at all, given that Moldova’s participation in CIS structures and events formally excludes participation in the political-military dimension. Therefore, Dodon’s short but total control over Moldova’s government institutions could be seen as a period of strategic vulnerability for Moldova’s defense and security sectors.

 

Signals of Strategic Ignorance

With PAS’s overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections in July 2021, the situation around Moldova’s defense and security sectors changed compared to Dodon’s period of rule. At a minimum, the new government halted the incipient trend of inhibiting effective cooperation with the West in military and security areas on the one hand, while strengthening such ties with Russia on the other hand. Nevertheless, the PAS government’s first signals in the defense and security sphere did not considerably differ from Moldovan policies and approaches before 2019 (including those implemented during the Plahotniuc regime)—albeit for different reasons. This situation is due to the artificial separation of Moldova’s anti-corruption and rule of law reforms—the key drivers of Sandu’s and PAS’s governing program[28]—from the national security dimension. This governing strategy ignores the increasing trend of corruption being weaponized by states[29] in their attempts to influence other countries, making it an important national security issue. Russia has been particularly keen and active in weaponizing corruption, using it as “a tool of statecraft to interfere with, co-opt, weaken, and destabilize democratic institutions and processes”[30] in the post-Soviet area. For instance, as soon as the PAS government started to effectively dismantle the corrupt legal system built by Plahotniuc, which Dodon consequently acquired control over, Russia used a number of actors and sources to attack these efforts. This included falsely invoking the Gagauz ethnic background of the demoted general prosecutor, Alexandru Stoianoglo, in the obvious attempt to draw condemnation and pressure from the West.[31]

Another example of strategic ignorance involves dealing with Russia based on what the new authorities in Chisinau refer to as “pragmatic dialogue.”[32] This approach presupposes that trade issues, the status of Moldovan workers in Russia, the removal of ammunition and armaments from the Transnistrian region, as well as the withdrawal of the Russian troops can be discussed with Moscow based on a positive-sum logic. However, the Russian vision of pragmatic relations with Moldova are built on a zero-sum logic: for Russia, pragmatism in this context is when “Moldovan authorities can decide for themselves, without any steering from outside.”[33] In other words, Russia understands that without the support of its Western partners, Moldova would be unable to balance Russian pressure and influence, and would instead end up bandwagoning with Russia,[34] becoming a de facto satellite state. Because Russia does not view Moldova purely through an economic lens, Moscow does not perceive its relations with Chisinau through a positive-sum logical framework. It is this rationale that has been totally ignored by the new Moldovan government—a fact that has vividly emerged during its negotiations with Russia on natural gas imports, on the sidelines of the larger energy crisis in Europe. Moldova’s deputy prime minister responsible for infrastructure and regional development, Andrei Spanu, after a few rounds of negotiations with various high-level Russian officials and the Gazprom leadership, admitted that Russia’s demanded price for a new natural gas contract was unfair for Moldova’s citizens, containing “both financial and non-financial conditions.”[35]

The “non-financial conditions” are linked to Russian stipulations that Chisinau delay its implementation of the EU Third Energy Package,[36] legislation that, once put into effect, would diminish Russian influence on Moldova’s energy system and consequently on Moldova’s politics. These conditions are also likely referring to Russia linking the issue of natural gas exports with Moldova’s concessions on other bilateral issues, including the Transnistrian conflict negotiations. This is consistent with the apparent preference of Russian officials to negotiate on Transnistria with Moldova’s Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Vlad Kulminski.[37] Moldova was the first to fall into the “linkage trap,” when it initially decided to send Kulminski to Moscow to negotiate on both the gas contract and issues related to the Transnistrian conflict.[38] This was a major diplomatic error that could have been avoided; Chisinau should have been resolute about keeping the two matters separated in bilateral discussions, avoiding Kulminski’s involvement in the gas talks. These examples reflect just some of the indicative signals that the PAS-led government is still unaware of the important effects of security and defense issues on many domestic and foreign policy objectives of Moldova.

Besides the prioritization of economics and rule of law dimensions of governance, PAS also seems to have a poor opinion of the ability of Moldova’s Armed Forces to fulfil their duty of national defense and deterrence of armed aggression. The current authorities have basically no expertise in defense and security, which makes them extremely risk-averse on these issues. Moreover, the PAS authorities put a lot of emphasis on personal trust in recruiting people, and they significantly resist accepting expertise from outside the party’s inner circle. These feelings were likely aggravated by the veiled threats of conflict escalation in Transnistria, issued by Russian officials both publicly[39] and in closed talks, which have aimed to deter the PAS government from promoting what Russian officials call “anti-Russian” policies.[40] President Sandu has made efforts to avoid irritating Russia—for instance, during her January 2021 visit to Brussels, she specifically chose not to visit NATO. Moreover, Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita attended the virtual gathering of the CIS chiefs of state on October 15, 2021—a conspicuous departure from the practice of the last decade, when Moldova tried to avoid such events. The only exception was the period between 2019 and 2021, when the pro-Russian president Igor Dodon had control over the government.

 

Moldova’s Threat Assessment

Moldova faces a range of defense and security threats that are mostly the results of its unique geographic location and historical legacy, partially attributed to the post-Soviet choices made by its political elites. Following the armed escalations of all “frozen” or latent conflicts in the post-Soviet area where Russian troops were present—namely (besides Moldova) Georgia, Ukraine and the Karabakh region[41]—a military escalation of the Transnistrian conflict is quite plausible. This risk has tremendously increased after Russia launched its full-scale re-invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, indicating that Moscow’s threshold for direct military escalation against its neighbors is significantly lower than it was presumed to be. The proper questions to ask are under what conditions such an escalation in Transnistria could happen, and what costs would need to be imposed on Russia in order to deter it?

As part of its conventional war against Ukraine, Russia has been trying to acquire control of the Ukrainian coastal region around Odesa via a joint amphibious and land attack, which would physically connect Russian forces in occupied Crimea with Moldova’s Transnistrian region. Such an outcome, if successful, would be a likely trigger to subsequently threaten Moldova with a military invasion. The alternative for Moldova would be accepting the demands of an ultimatum, similar to the one Ukraine received from Russia, involving federalization and an effective mechanism giving the Kremlin total political control over Chisinau.

Besides the risk of a conventional attack, an assessment of Russian actions in the region over the past decade and a half indicate that both conventional (Georgia 2008 scenario) and proxy-type (Ukraine 2014) aggressive actions are possible. What ultimately occurs depends on the particular goals Russia may wish to advance and the related costs it may deem acceptable. For instance, if it wants to send a particularly powerful message to the West and claim strong resolve, it could orchestrate a conventional type of invasion even without conquering the Odesa region. Moldova’s Transnistrian region offers a favorable platform for launching such a conventional invasion, as the population would not actively resist. For one thing, Russia has applied a complete passportization policy in Transnistria, having distributed Russian passports to local inhabitants since the 1990s. It also has military forces stationed in this separatist Moldovan region—including troops deployed under the title of “peacekeepers” as well as a military contingent designated to secure the ammunition depot at Cobasna. Furthermore, it practically commands all the armed units of the secessionist region. Therefore, it is able to explore a range of options for invoking a casus belli, including by conducting false flag operations. However, as the Ukraine case revealed, Russia can also start a military aggression without real justification. In case additional troops or reinforcements are needed, Russia could use the airports in Tighina, Chisinau and Marculesti, first dropping a small assault force that would take over the airport infrastructure and then accept incoming Russian military cargo aircraft with these troops. Russia’s similar attempt to take over Kyiv at the start of its conventional aggression against Ukraine in February 2022 would indicate the high plausibility of this scenario. While operationally challenging, Russia could also try to first deploy helicopters at low altitude using nap-of-the-earth (NOE) flying techniques to avoid detection, and then send in troops from its bases in Crimea into the Transnistrian region; from there, they could be moved further inside the Republic of Moldova, as needed.

Given that Moldova has basically no military airspace radar capabilities, such a scenario is highly plausible. However, the costs for such an operation—both material and reputational, and in case Moldova resist militarily —would be significant for the Kremlin, notwithstanding Russia’s already seriously damaged international position as a consequence of the 2022 war against Ukraine. The cost of an invasion against Moldova would undermine Russia’s argument that Ukraine is a unique case and once more strongly underscore Russia’s revanchist ambitions. However, since cost calculations for aggression are based on ex ante perceptions of the expected gains and losses that a military operation would bring, open aggression against Moldova would depend on Russia perceiving either very high costs from inaction, or very low costs as a result of its military action. Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the only likely casus belli for Russia to invade Moldova would have been an attempt by Moldovan Armed Forces attempting to recover (purportedly or truly) control over Transnistria. This presumption is no longer valid. Based on the observed actions of Russia, it is highly likely that the Kremlin would instead confront Moldova with an ultimatum, either publicly or via diplomatic channels. Based on the timid response of the Moldovan government to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,[42] Chisinau’s most likely response—which Russian analysts would readily perceive—would be to give in to Russian demands and give up military resistance. Therefore, contrary to how the PAS government seems to perceive the current situation, its policy of openly indicating it is afraid to confront Russia is actually increasing the risk of receiving such a military ultimatum from Moscow.

It is useful to understand the evolution of Russian incentives for war before and after it launched its full-scale conventional war against Ukraine. Prior to the February 2022 Russian re-invasion of Ukraine, the risk of war for Moldova was much lower, as Moscow’s costs calculations were perceived to be different. For instance, the most likely—though still low risk—scenario for Moldova would have been for Russia to apply the 2014 Donbas model to Transnistria, operationalizing the principles of a proxy war and escalating militarily. Russia actually resorted to this very model in 1990, when it initiated the Transnistrian conflict. Before February 2022, the rationale of trading its “peacekeeping” operation for violent conflict was questionable. On the contrary, Russia had hailed its operation in Transnistria as a successful endeavor and used it as a model for its interventions in post-Soviet area. An escalation of the Transnistrian conflict back into a violent phase would hurt the interests of the local political elites in this separatist quasi-statelet, which, over the last few decades, acquired broad economic interests extending into the right bank of the Nistru River and even the EU. Currently, it is much easier for the Russian government to ignore these interests, given that it revealed a complete shift in the paradigm that directed its foreign and security policy toward the post-Soviet area. Russia is clearly ready to use its military to conquer by force the former republics, an attitude only likely to change if it suffers a significant defeat in Ukraine.

As part of the Russian potential ultimatum, the likeliest change in the status quo in the Transnistrian conflict would be for Russian forces to expel the Moldovan authorities from the small pockets of territory it controls on the left bank of the Nistru, as well as from the town of Bender. This would bring some tactical and operational advantages to the Russian military were it to decide to strengthen its position and want to put additional pressure on the Moldovan government, particularly since the stakes in negotiations suddenly increased following February.

Yet Russia has other options with which to put pressure on the Moldovan government, short of a conventional invasion. A likely Russian action affecting Moldova’s defense and security would be for Moscow to use the Gagauzia region of Moldova to launch a proxy-style (Donbas scenario) operation. Gagauzia is strongly pro-Russian and has a degree of autonomy that, technically, would permit elements of the local elite to covertly prepare (with Russian help) a group of trained personnel to operate as a local “militia.” As seen in its earlier operations, the Russian military is known to utilize local groups of “rebels” that serve as a smokescreen for Russian military detachments and that do the heavy lifting to acquire physical and administrative control over the target territory. According to Moldovan governmental sources, Russian military intelligence has been recruiting fighters for Donbas both in Gagauzia but also among Moldovan citizens working in Russia.[43] That fact makes this threat scenario that much more realistic and feasible to implement. Given the size of the Gagauz region, as well as the poor preparation of the Moldovan defense and security agencies, it would be highly possible for them to miss such an operation at its incipient stages, while it is still most vulnerable to governmental counteractions. Furthermore, the strategic ignorance indicator discussed earlier, along with the strategic timidity of the Moldovan government, would likely prevent Chisinau from taking effective and prompt actions, even if it were informed in time. The fact that the Russian side well understands the strategic culture traits of the Moldovan authorities makes this risk even more possible.

Along with using Gagauzia as a focal point for any future proxy aggression, such an operation would probably trigger a range of activities meant to distract governmental attention, resources, and efforts toward a set of artificial crises. To reduce the probability that Moldova’s government would decide to militarily resist, Russia may employ a range of threatening actions. These might include protests in other areas of the country, acts of sabotage against critical public infrastructure or units of the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior, as well as actions to inhibit the security and defense forces from deploying or freely operating on Moldovan territory, such as blocking roads and key intersections. Some of these measures were successfully employed in Crimea and Donbas and, previously, in Transnistria in the early 1990s. Given the experience in Ukraine and other conflicts, Russia could also use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to set fire to Moldovan ammunition depots or other critical targets.[44] Under these conditions, it is critically important for the security services to recognize the threat, deploy response units quickly, and effectively identify and address the challenges, by lethal force if necessary. This is the main vulnerability of the Moldovan side. As mentioned earlier, the strategic culture of Moldova’s ruling elites would likely result in hesitation, refusing to allow the use of lethal force until the last moment and being overtaken by the opponent’s surprise action. After the opponent creates new facts on the ground, the recovery of administrative control over the lost territory would end up being quite costly and likely require large-scale military operations to reverse the losses.

Nevertheless, this scenario would also probably not be the first choice of the Russian Federation in an attempt to consolidate its influence over the Moldovan authorities. Given that Moldova is insulated from Russia by Ukraine, the logistical support for a military operation against Moldova—even a proxy one—could be quite challenging for Moscow, unless it manages to wrest control over Odesa and the surrounding Ukrainian territories in the ongoing war there. Moreover, while Russia could achieve its military objectives in Moldova, it may find it difficult to maintain the gains over an extended period of time. Furthermore, even a proxy type of operation using Gagauzia, where Russia could present it as a local “ethnic rebellion” to avoid damage to its international reputation, would nevertheless generate additional economic and political costs for Russia. And the Kremlin’s attempts to sow confusion and spread misinformation about its designs for Ukraine ahead of as well as during the war have further undermined Russian credibility on the international stage. This makes it more difficult for Russia to invoke justifications for its aggression that the West would turn a blind eye to. A least costly scenario would be the utilization of the strongest advantages Russia acquired in Moldova, compared to other post-Soviet countries. This includes control over a rather large and still quite influential political party that has seats in the parliament, namely the Socialist Party under the leadership of Igor Dodon.

This strategy is also likely to be put into action, under certain conditions. On the one hand, Russia already applies economic and political pressure on Moldova, aiming to degrade the well-being of voters while trying to blame the PAS government. This is quite visible under the ongoing (2021–2022) energy crisis that has affected Europe generally but hit Moldova quite hard in particular, due to the latter country’s scarce economic resources and lack of energy alternatives.[45]  At the same time, Russia is preparing to bring the Socialist Party back into power by exploiting the crisis to erode the popular support of PAS. In parallel, Moscow can be expected to channel some of its resources through the Socialists to address critical popular needs and use the large media network that it controls or is able to access in Moldova[46] to transfer these actions into political influence. A potential indicator pointing to the probability of this course of action is Dodon’s declaration in the fall of 2021 that he will give up his member of parliament mandate and instead lead the “Moldovan-Russian Business Association,” recently created by the Russian business association “Delovaja Rossija” (Business Russia).[47] The organization is presented as a public entity; but given its significant financial clout, it is surely operating as a cover for the Russian government.[48]

Dodon could use this new platform to avoid prosecution by the Moldovan legal authorities, as he could operate safely from Russia. Yet he also could still participate in the process of ruling the Socialist Party, similarly to how Ilan Sor—a fugitive oligarch—leads his party that entered the parliament in the July 2021 elections.[49] Most importantly, in this position, Dodon would be able to channel Russian funding into Moldova in ways that would be difficult to detect by the Moldovan authorities or to link to the Socialist Party. This model of Russia’s financial assistance of the Socialist Party—which would serve as an economic and political proxy—would be an effective approach to weaponize corruption and consolidate Russia’s economic interests and influence in Moldova. It would allow the Russian Federation to directly participate, similarly to a Moldovan political actor, in influencing Moldova’s domestic and foreign policies to the extent the Socialist Party will be able to affect them. This effectively represents a strategy of interstate aggression—though of a more subtle nature—because it effectively undermines the sovereignty of Moldova, while permitting Russia to potentially achieve goals that traditionally would have had to be advanced via military operations. As such, it is an approach Moscow will attempt to explore first, before military coercion. And that option is made all the more feasible thanks to the current PAS government’s position toward Russia, revealing weakness and a lack of resolve: It includes publicly refusing to join the EU sanctions against Russia following the latter’s attack on Ukraine; having all high-level officials place exaggerated emphasis on the neutrality status of Moldova in their public statements; and making obvious efforts not to irritate Russia, which has even been noticed by the Russian media.

 

Moldovan Responses to Defense and Security Challenges: The Sacred Cow of Neutrality

The way the various Moldovan governments perceived and assessed the impact of defense and security threats confronted by the country since gaining independence in 1991 have naturally affected their response policies. During the period described by “strategic timidity,” there was a variation in the degree if not the substance of implemented policies. Under the presidential tenure of Mircea Snegur (1990–1997), the Moldovan ruling elites learned an extremely tough lesson, following their defeat at the hands of the Russian 14th Army, which openly sided with the Tiraspol paramilitaries, following an extended period of covert support. This first major military defeat of Moldova’s nascent Armed Forces, together with the passive reaction Moldova received in response to its multiple pledges to various international bodies, including the United Nations, impelled the country’s leadership to bandwagon with Russia. It yielded to Russian pressure and included in its 1994 Constitution the provision of permanent neutrality. The intention was to address the voiced Russian concern about a potential re-unification of Moldova with Romania, and trade neutrality in exchange for the withdrawal of Russian troops.

The error was that Moldovan authorities included the neutrality provision in the Constitution, which is highly difficult to change, and therefore lost a potential bargaining chip with Russia by making this change. As a result, the Russian Federation does not have the incentive to withdraw its military forces from Transnistria. It has been challenging for one single political party to achieve a constitutional majority in the parliament. Moreover, there was always a political force in the legislature that has been receptive to Russian demands. In time, the Moldovan population became more favorable to the idea of neutrality, in part thanks to the Moldovan authorities’ continual confirmation of that policy over the years. Therefore, popular support for neutrality has become an obstacle in its own right, making it difficult for any government to quickly reverse the policy. Altogether, this has given Russia confidence that the policy of neutrality will persist, and Moscow has never felt the need to make concessions with regard to the withdrawal of forces and armaments from the Transnistrian region.

Neutrality today remains the sacred cow of Moldova’s security policy, and it is included in all national security and defense doctrinal documents. The 2008 National Security Concept, for example, begins with an introductory section containing the phrase “the permanent neutrality represents the basic principle, the foundation of the national security concept.”[50] Not a single government or ruling coalition in Moldova has dared to take effective steps toward either slowly adjusting or changing that policy. This is despite the fact that a large majority of the Moldovan population supports Moldova’s course toward European integration. Although these figures have fluctuated up and down over the years, in June 2021 over 65 percent of respondents of a nation-wide public opinion poll declared that they would vote for Moldova’s integration into the European Union, while only 25.7 percent stated they were against such a move.[51] Presumably, with a skillfully developed and implemented strategic communication campaign, the popularity of the EU among the population could likely be extended to NATO—particularly since most NATO members are also EU members or countries that Moldovan citizens are positively predisposed toward. The hesitancy or resistance of Moldovan authorities to embark upon this path is explained by their timidity toward the Russian Federation and concerns about Russian responses. While the latter are not clearly understood by most Moldovan politicians, when it comes to bilateral relations with Russia their risk-averse nature has always prevailed.

Besides the questionable logic of neutrality, Moldovan authorities have never developed or articulated any strategic vision about how to address the major defense and security threats that the country confronts. This has been reflected in Moldova routinely accepting other parties’ agendas when it comes to Transnistrian negotiations—namely those of Russia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) or the EU—instead of attempting to drive the agenda itself. Over the years, Moldovan authorities have been criticized by Western diplomats for being unable to come up with a national vision about how to resolve the Transnistrian conflict. This has been a fair accusation for some time, but it is not completely justifiable any longer. President Sandu and other dignitaries have pointed out that Moldova’s policy toward the conflict is grounded in the goal of withdrawing the Russian military and ammunitions from the region, changing the militarized “peacekeeping” mission into a civilian one, and creating economic incentives to attract the support of Moldovan citizens living in Transnistria.

This view, while clear, lacks an implementation strategy. Successive Moldovan governments have never gone beyond political statements or incipient efforts to build international support for the idea. Given that the conflict is listed in many of Moldova’s official documents as one of the greatest national security threats, the lack of progress in building an effective implementation strategy may seem puzzling. However, this is entirely consistent with the traits of Moldova’s strategic culture described above, and it is an expected behavior in this regard.

By viewing the military tool of the state as ineffective, and under economic pressure, Moldovan officials have largely ignored the National Army. With one of the smallest defense budgets in Europe, Moldovan military forces have degraded in training, equipment and quantitative indicators. For instance, some recent available data indicates that Moldova recruited 1,250 conscript soldiers during the recruiting season of April–June 2021. It intended to recruit another 1,050 conscript soldiers during the recruiting season of October 2021–January 2022.[52] These numbers have been consistent over the last few years[53] but overall, it is possible to see a generally decreasing trend.[54]

The length of Moldovan conscript service is one year, which makes it difficult to provide high-quality military training for the recruits, especially given the scarce resources available for training activities. While the Moldovan military is not enthusiastic about providing figures to the public, data from 2015 shows that over 62 percent of the annual defense budget was spent on salaries, while another 35 percent went toward maintaining military infrastructure.[55] That left little for operational costs and training. Provided that the defense budget has not evolved, it is quite likely that the cost structure remains the same today. The scarce data made available by the Moldovan defense institution suggests that some of the operational and equipment costs are covered by military assistance that Moldova receives from its Western partners, especially from the United States. In September 2021, for example, Moldova obtained unspecified equipment from the US in the amount of $5 million, toward which Moldova reportedly contributed $1 million of its own funding.[56] The equipment came as part of the implementation of the Defense Capacity Building Initiative (DCBI) program run by NATO, which Moldova has benefited from as of 2015. According to NATO public data, Moldova’s DCBI assistance covers areas such as strategic planning, non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps development, Special Operations Forces development, intelligence-sharing and communications, the physical security of ammunition and stockpile management, among other things.[57] It also appears that Moldova manages to compensate somewhat for its insufficient training costs by sending its troops to NATO and Partnership for Peace (PfP) exercises. For instance, in 2019, some 663 Moldovan military personnel participated in 20 NATO military exercises.[58] However, while this training helps, it is by no means sufficient. Given the available data on funding and activities, it is clear that the Moldovan military conducts inadequate drills to maintain even a minimal level of combat readiness.

The Moldovan side has also made poor use of the available military assistance that its Western partners could provide. It tended to accept anything it was offered, without making objective calculations of its strategic needs, or attempting to address them by actively engaging its partners. The Russian war against Ukraine indicated that a large part of the assistance Moldova received from NATO—via programs such as “Building Integrity” or “Women, Peace and Security”—are good only for peace time and are poor substitutes for much-needed combat training or modern equipment. While it is true that shifting away from the assistance programs of limited use for national defense was challenging, it is also a fact that the Moldovan authorities invested little thinking into deriving true top priorities or into efforts to convince Western partners to help address these.

In contrast to the serious funding and functioning challenges faced by the Moldovan military, the Ministry of Interior (MAI) and the Intelligence and Security Service have fared much better. In particular, the MAI has received almost 3.3 times more funding than the Ministry of Defense for 2021. That has been a consistent trend over the years. It is mainly due to the fact that previous oligarchic governments viewed the MAI as a tool for their protection but also coercion against domestic opponents and competitors. It is both indicative and surprising for a country that has foreign troops on its territory against its will and is unable to exert its sovereignty over 12 percent of its territory.

 

Conclusion

A historical overview suggests that following the violent phase of the Transnistrian conflict, in particular after 1997, the Moldovan authorities de facto stopped seeing the Russian military presence on Moldova’s territory as a major security threat. Instead, gradually, successive governments focused on issues of internal security. They elevated the funding and status of the Ministry of Interior, while progressively decreasing resources for the Moldovan military.

A combination of explanations can clarify this trend, which evolved over the years. Initially, facing a military defeat from the 14th Russian Army in Transnistria, the Moldovan authorities viewed the national defense forces as ineffective for addressing the conflict. And as oligarchic interests began to prevail in Moldova after 2009, the value of the defense ministry—a resource consumer, rather than a resource provider—further dropped. Furthermore, Moldova’s weak economic development also contributed to the lower position of defense and security issues on the preference rankings of both the population and the governing authorities.

It is perhaps surprising in retrospect how relatively quickly Moldova’s population became used to the Russian military presence. But as such, the electorate has not operated as a pressure mechanism on the ruling elites: voters do not penalize governments for inaction or create any incentives to adjust the country’s defense and security policies. Instead, the domain of defense and security issues is widely perceived in Moldova as an elitist and in some ways inconsequential agenda.

The Russian large-scale re-invasion of Ukraine indicates that Moscow’s threshold for war is lower than it was believed to be. This demands a review and reassessment of the level of security risks that Moldova’s policy was based upon until recently. It was only due to heavy combat and economic costs as a result of its war that Russia eventually withdrew many of its initial demands toward Ukraine and has started to shown hesitancy in advancing militarily beyond Donbas. This turnaround was mainly possible due to the modern training that Ukrainian combat forces received, the military equipment assistance it obtained from Western partners, as well as the strong resolve of the Ukrainian population to resist, which had solidified and consolidated since 2014.

Moldovan authorities lack the strategic culture to understand this nor draw lessons for its own defense and security organizations. Should Moscow threaten Chisinau, the most likely outcome would be for the Moldovan government to bandwagon with rather than seek to balance against Russia, even if military resistance would be feasible and permit Moldova to retain its sovereignty. Moldova needs its Western partners, in particular the US, to assist review and rebuild Moldovan strategic culture, as well as to encourage Chisinau to invest more in qualitative and quantitative terms into its own defense. This is critical, since Moldova lacks strategic depth; if it does not organize and enact a strong resistance to a Russian invasion—which should actually be feasible given the limited combat forces Russia could readily bring to bear in Moldova assuming Odesa does not fall—Chisinau will have nothing left than capitulate. Moldova’s total capitulation would have significant effects not only for itself, but for NATO as well. Given its proximity to NATO borders, and shared language and culture with EU and NATO member Romania, Moldova would likely become a highly effective operational hub for Russia’s further strategic actions against the Euro-Atlantic alliance’s southeastern front.

 

Notes

[1] For a detailed explanation of this analytic concept, see Alastair Iain Johnston, “Thinking about Strategic Culture.” International Security 19 (4), 1995: pp. 32–64.

[2] For these similarities, see: “Kak Rossija otkryvala Donbas: Top-5 priznanii,” Radio Svoboda, January 26, 2021, https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/31069837.html.

[3] Elena Zamura, “Adevaruri despre razboiul din Transnistria (1990–1992,.” Interview with Ion Costas, former Minister of Interior and Minister of Defense of the Republic of Moldova. Curentul International, March 5, 2010, http://curentul.net/2010/03/05/adevaruri-despre-razboiul-din-transnistria-1990-1992. See also: Marius Vahl and Michael Emerson, “Moldova and the Transnistrian Conflict,” Journal of Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe, vol. 1, p. 6, 2004, https://d-nb.info/1190973456/34.

[4] See: “Vozniknovenije I razvitije vooruzhennogo konflikta v Pridenstrovskom regione Respubliki Moldova,” Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, https://structure.mil.ru/mission/peacekeeping_operations/[email protected], accessed on September 10, 2021.

[5] See Mihail Bergman, “Vozhd’ v chuzhoj stae,” Lenin.ru, 2004, http://web.archive.org/web/20110727001814/http://www.lindex.lenin.ru/Lindex4/Text/9220.htm. The source needs to be read with caution as it represents the memoirs of the former military commandant of Tiraspol, the administrative center of the Transnistrian region. Nonetheless, it does contain several important confirmations of the Russian military’s role in the conflict.

[6] Ziarul de Garda, “Ion Costas: ‘Zile de eclipsa. Cronica unui razboi nedeclarat,’ ” ZDG, April 21, 2011, https://www.zdg.md/reporter-special/oameni/ion-costas-zile-de-eclipsa-cronica-unui-razboi-nedeclarat.

[7] Ala Coica, “Operatiunea de capturare a lui Igor Smirnov: ‘Destinul Moldovei este sa se uneasca cu Romania,’ ” Timpul, March 3, 2014, https://www.timpul.md/articol/operaiunea-de-capturarea-a-lui-igor-smirnov-destinul-moldovei-este-sa-se-uneasca-cu-romania-55874.html.

[8] These were Mircea Snegur (president during 1991–1997), Petru Lucinschi (president during 1997–2001), and Vladimir Voronin (president during 2001–2009). They effectively had control over the executive power in Moldova, unlike their successors.

[9] Ion Stavila and Gheorghe Balan, “Conflictul transnistrean: esecul reglementarii unui conflict care poate fi solutionat,” Revista Militara 2 (4), 2010: p. 9, https://ibn.idsi.md/sites/default/files/imag_file/Conflictul%20transnistrean.pdf.

[10] The only exception was the refusal of Moldova’s then-president Vladimir Voronin to sign the notorious Kozak Memorandum in 2003.

[11] Valentina Basiul, “1996: Politicienii preocupati maim ult de prezidentiale decat de problem,” Radio Europa Libera Moldova, August 6, 2016, https://moldova.europalibera.org/a/27901942.html.

[12] Author’s discussions with former military officers who witnessed this crisis.

[13] The coalitions, with the misleading name Alliance for European Integration, were among the most corrupt governmental regimes in the history of Moldova.

[14] “Military Expenditure (% of GDP) – Moldova,” World Bank, 1993–2020, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS?locations=MD.

[15] “Intr-o singura luna, cinci diplomati rusi au fost declarati ‘persona non grata’ in Republica Moldova,” Publica.md, August 2, 2017, https://www.publika.md/intr-o-singura-luna-cinci-diplomati-rusi-au-fost-declarati-persona-non-grata-in-republica-moldova_2976491.html.

[16] Iurii Botnarenco, “Ex-deputatul Iurie Bolbocanu, anterior condamnat pentru spionaj in favoarea Rusiei, a fost achitat de Curtea de Apel,” Adevarul.ro, June 19, 2019, https://adevarul.ro/moldova/politica/ex-deputatul-iurie-bolboceanu-condamnat-spionaj-favoarea-rusiei-fost-achitat-curtea-apel-1_5d0a9075892c0bb0c68edf50/index.html.

[17] “Zaversheno rassledovanie dela o vyvode Plahotnjukom iz RF 500 mlrd. rub,” Interfax, August 31, 2020, https://www.interfax.ru/world/723942.

[18] Diana Preasca, “Legea anti-propaganda a fost votata in Parlament,” Moldova.org, December 7, 2017, https://www.moldova.org/legea-anti-propaganda-fost-votata-parlament.

[19] Author’s observations during his time working at the Moldovan Ministry of Defense during January–June 2018.

[20] Vasile Kojocari, “Lavrov nazval uslovija dlja poteplenija moldavsko-rossijskih otnoshenii,” Deschide.md, February 23, 2018, https://deschide.md/ru/russian_news/politic_ru/26835.

[21] Author’s observations during his time working at the Moldovan Ministry of Defense during January–June 2018. The JCC is an element of the Russia-imposed conflict resolution mechanism, formed of representatives of the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation, the Russia-backed Tiraspol regime, and Ukraine. The body is responsible for the monitoring of ceasefire violations and security incidents in the Security Zone. For more details see https://gov.md/ro/content/actele-de-baza-ale-cuc.

[22] Dumitru Minzarari. 2019. “The Socialist Party Tries to Derail Justice Reform in Moldova, Topples the Government”. Eurasia Daily Monitor 16 (158), 12 November. https://jamestown.org/program/the-socialist-party-tries-to-derail-justice-reform-in-moldova-topples-the-government.

[23] For details see Dumitru Minzarari. 2019. “The New Wave of Russia’s surreptitious Offensive in Eastern Europe.” Eurasia Daily Monitor 16 (132), 26 September. https://jamestown.org/program/the-new-wave-of-russias-surreptitious-offensive-in-eastern-europe.

[24] Stela Mihailovici. 2019. “Avocatul lui Iurie Bolboceanu ofera detalii. Ce decizie a luat de fapt Curtea de Apel si de ce ii nemultumeste. #Ceurmeaza”. TV8.md, 20 June. https://tv8.md/2019/06/20/avocatul-lui-iurie-bolboceanu-ofera-detalii-ce-decizie-a-luat-de-fapt-curtea-de-apel-si-de-ce-ii-nemultumeste.

[25] Stela Untila, “Fostul deputat Iurie Bolboceanu a fost achitat de Judecatoria Chisinau, in dosarul privind ‘tradare de patrie,’ ” NewsMaker.md, October 16, 2020, https://newsmaker.md/ro/fostul-deputat-iurie-bolboceanu-a-fost-achitat-de-judecatoria-chisinau-in-dosarul-privind-tradare-de-patrie.

[26] Maxim Andreev, “ ‘Skazki pro belogo bychka’: Dodona ne ubedili argumenty spetssluzhb o vydvorenii rossijskih diplomatov,” NewsMaker.md, June 7, 2017, https://newsmaker.md/rus/novosti/skazki-pro-belogo-bychka-dodona-ne-ubedili-argumenty-spetssluzhb-o-vydvorenii-ross-31791.

[27] For instance, see “Victor Gaiciuc, interest de strategia ‘impotriva implicarii SUA in treburile interne’ ale altor tari,” Deschide.md, December 19, 2019, https://deschide.md/ro/stiri/politic/58520/Victor-Gaiciuc-interesat-de-strategia-%E2%80%9E%C3%AEmpotriva-implic%C4%83rii-SUA-%C3%AEn-treburile-interne%E2%80%9D-ale-altor-%C8%9B%C4%83ri.htm.

[28] Vitalie Calugareanu, “UE Sprijina Presedentia in lupta contra clanurilor corupte coordinate din Parlament,” DWRomania, March 1, 2021, https://p.dw.com/p/3q3cu.

[29] Philip Zelikov, Eric Edelman, Kristofer Harrison, and Celeste Ward Gventer, “The Rise of Strategic Corruption: How States Weaponize Graft,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2020.).

[30] Matthew H. Murray, Alexander Vindman, Dominic Cruz Bustillos, “Perspectives: Assessing the Threat of Weaponized Corruption,” EurasiaNet, July 12, 2021, https://eurasianet.org/perspectives-assessing-the-threat-of-weaponized-corruption.

[31] For an example see “Moldovan Socialists Preparing Rally Against Prosecutor General’s Detention,” Interfax, October 6, 2021, https://interfax.com/newsroom/top-stories/72831.

[32] Julia-Sabina Joja, “Voice of Freedom: Interview with Moldovan President Maia Sandu,” American Purpose, July 28, 2021, https://www.americanpurpose.com/articles/voice-of-freedom.

[33] “Lavrov: SShA preamo zapreshajut Sandu govorit’ o stremlenii razvivat’ otnosheniya s Rossiyei,” TASS, October, 13, 2021, https://tass.ru/politika/12648073.

[34] On balancing and bandwagoning strategies, see Stephen M. Walt, “Alliance Formation and the Balance of World Power,” International Security, 9 (4), 1985: pp. 3–43.

[35] “Andrei Spinu: Oferta propusa de Gazprom nu este in avatanjul R.Moldova. Pretul cerut include conditii financiare si nefinanciare,” Deschide.md, October 23, 2021, https://deschide.md/ro/stiri/economic/94117.

[36] Tatjana Djatel and Vladimir Solovjev, “Bez gazu nedelja,” October 24, 2021, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/5049852.

[37] Vladimir Solovjev and Tatjana Djatel, “Moldavia stolknulas’ s trubnosteami,” October 19, 2021, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/5040294.

[38] “Vizita viceprim-ministrului Kulminski la Moscova: Ce a discutat cu Andrei Rudenko, Dmitrii Kozak si Grigorii Karasin,” Jurnal.md, October 8, 2021, https://www.jurnal.md/ro/news/1e5b8895177bc8f3/vizita-viceprim-ministrului-kulminski-la-moscova-ce-a-discutat-cu-andrei-rudenko-dmitrii-kozak-si-grigorii-karasin.html.

[39] “Maia Sandu vorbeste, in presa rusa, despre o discutie cu Putin in care sa-I ceara retragerea trupelor rusesti din Transnistria,” PROTV Chisinau, July 20, 2021, https://protv.md/international/maia-sandu-vorbeste-in-presa-rusa-despre-o-discutie-cu-putin-in-care-sa-i-ceara-retragerea-trupelor-rusesti-din-transnistria—2573975.html.

[40] The label “anti-Russian” is applied by the Russian officials to any policy that aims to move Moldova closer to the West, or weaken the existing leverages that Russia has built in Moldova, including in the energy sector, economy, social domain, media and communications, etc.

[41] For an assessment on the Russian role in the 2020 Azerbaijan-Armenian war in Nagorno-Karabakh, see Dumitru Minzarari, “Russia’s Stake in the Nagorno-Karabakh War: Accident or Design?” Point of View, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, November 12, 2020, https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/publication/russias-stake-in-the-nagorno-karabakh-war-accident-or-design.

[42] “Hitrovyverennaya pozitsiy,” Kommersant, March 25, 2022, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/5272303?fbclid=IwAR3MbaleAezMZYbFuirQujcS-gZn5isnZ9o8s4Ifezjw-76y4rnyehV-jnk.

[43] “Moldovenii au ajuns mercenary pentru rusi in Siria si Donbas. Guvernul de la Chisinau a declansat o ancheta oficiala,” PROTV.ro, July 16, 2017, https://stirileprotv.ro/stiri/international/moldovenii-au-ajuns-mercenari-pentru-rusi-in-siria-si-donbas-guvernul-de-la-chisinau-a-declansat-o-ancheta-oficiala.html.

[44] Russia has been operating UAVs from its base in the Transnistrian region to monitor the activities and installations of the Moldovan military in the proximity of the Security Zone.

[45] “Moldova Declares State of Emergency Over Gas Crisis,” Al Jazeera, October 22, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/22/moldova-declares-state-of-emergency-over-gas-crisis.

[46] As a representative description of the media space in Moldova see “Monitorizarea mass-mediei in campania electorala pentru alegerile parlamentare anticipate din 11 iulie 2021,” MediaAzi, Raport nr. 5 (July 2–10, 2021), http://media-azi.md/ro/publicatii/monitorizarea-mass-mediei-%C3%AEn-campania-electoral%C4%83-pentru-alegerile-parlamentare-anticipa-3. That monitoring of ten major mass media (TV) outlets during elections suggested that there is a significant potential to use them in orchestrating an anti-PAS communication campaign.

[47] “Noua misiune a lui Igor Dodon: lasa mandatul de deputat pentrua fi sef la o asociatie de afaceri,” Moldstreet, October 18, 2021, https://www.mold-street.com/?go=news&n=12859.

[48] See the organization’s official web-site: https://www.deloros.ru/about-us1.html.

[49] Sor Party obtained 6 out of 101 seats in the parliament.

[50] Conceptia Securiatatii Nationale a Republicii Moldova, May 22, 2008, https://www.legis.md/cautare/getResults?doc_id=24400&lang=ro.

[51] “Barometrul Opiniei Publice,” Moldovan Institute for Public Policies, June 2021, https://ipp.md/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Raport-BOP-2021_.pdf.

[52] See: “Government of Moldova decree nr. 153-IX, 8 September 2021,” Monitorul Oficial al Republicii Moldova, Nr. 219–225, art. 251, 2021, https://gov.md/sites/default/files/document/attachments/subiect_13_-_329_ma_2021.pdf.

[53] Maxim Stratan, “In perioada aprilie-iulie, aproximativ 1210 reruit vor fi incorporate pentru indeplinirea serviciului militar in termen,” NewsMaker.md, May 14, 2020, https://newsmaker.md/ro/in-perioada-aprilie-iulie-aproximativ-1-210-recruti-vor-fi-incorporati-pentru-indeplinirea-serviciului-militar-in-termen.

[54] Data shows a drop from over 3,000 recruits per recruiting season in 2002 to some 1,200 per recruiting season in 2020. See Veaceslav Berbeca and Sergiu Lipcean, “Armata Nationala: Intre interese de grup si dezvoltare strategica,” Moldovan Institute for Public Policies, p. 23, 2020, https://ipp.md/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Armata-Nationala-intre-interese-de-grup-si-dezvotare-strategica1.pdf.

[55] Anatolie Esanu and Victor Mosneag, “Armata Nationala: Cifre sumbre si secrete de stat,” Ziarul de Garda, April 19, 2017, https://www.zdg.md/reporter-special/reportaje/armata-nationala-cifre-sumbre-si-secrete-de-stat.

[56] “Echipamente militare oferite de SUA pentru Armata Nationala a Republicii Moldova,” Radio Europa Libera Moldova, September 27, 2021, https://moldova.europalibera.org/a/echipamente-militare-oferite-de-sua-pentru-armata-na%C8%9Bional%C4%83-a-republicii-moldova/31480112.html.

[57] “Defence and Related Security Capacity Building Initiative,” NATO, June 9, 2021, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_132756.htm.

[58] “Partneriat si cooperare. Cum este sustinuta Moldova de NATO in solutionarea problemelor de securitate, ecologie si apararea drepturilor,” NewsMaker.md, December 16, 2020, https://newsmaker.md/ro/parteneriat-si-cooperare-cum-este-sustinuta-moldova-de-nato-in-solutionarea-problemelor-de-securitate-ecologie-si-apararea-drepturilor.