Category Archives: Defense

Avenues of Russian Military Intervention in Moldova

Throughout its history Moldova has been a geo­political playground for larger actors in the region, and its newly acquired independence does not appear to have changed this. As many imperial powers do, Russia consistently undermines the sovereignty of independent countries it perceives to be in its sphere of influence. In Moldova’s case, Exhibit A is Moscow’s support for the separatist regime in Transnistria before, during, and after the full-scale war that erupted on March 2, 1992, the day the Republic of Moldova was accepted into the United Nations as a member. That tragic event haunts Moldova to this day, as Russia has entrenched itself in the region despite commitments at the 1999 Istanbul Summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to withdraw its military presence from Moldova’s Transnistrian region.

Due to Moldova’s meager defense budget,which rests on the pretense of military neutrality, the country cannot possibly withstand Russia’s hybrid warfare tactics, let alone a full-scale Russian military intervention. Considering the country’s declared constitutional neutrality, Moldova’s options for bolstering its defense are severely limited. Thus, Moldova’s bilateral military cooperation agreement with Romania, signed in 2012, covers only personnel training and military infrastructure cooperation.2 Nevertheless, Moldova benefits from assistance under the aegis of the EU’s Common Defense and Security Policy: It was the first country where the EU deployed a security sector reform adviser to guide the implementation of a national security strategy, help develop national capacities, and facilitate Moldova’s participation in international missions and operations. Further security and defense cooperation with the EU is vital to advancing the country’s goal of political integration with the EU.

Of course, given the EU’s own shortcomings in defense against a powerful actor such as Russia, the only effective structure in this regard would be NATO. Moldova’s relationship with NATO is currently based on an Individual Partnership Action Plan for 2017–19.3 It stipulates Moldova’s interest in developing further cooperation with NATO to reform and modernize its armed forces and address emerging security challenges.

However, NATO can do little if Moldova is not willing to help itself. For example, the position of defense minister remained vacant from December 2016 until October 2017 due to a deadlock between the government and the president. In the meantime, Moldova’s National Defense Concept, adopted in 2008, is outdated, and so is the National Security Strategy of 2011. The new security strategy draft4 from former President Nicolae Timofti will likely be significantly revised by President Igor Dodon, who is known for his pro-Russian outlook, open admiration for Vladimir Putin, and critical views of NATO, Romania, and the West in general. He is adamantly opposed to opening a NATO liaison office in Moldova and has promised to cancel the bilateral military cooperation agreement with Romania if his fellow Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldovia (PSRM) gains a majority in parliament in the elections scheduled for the end of 2018.5

 

Note: This excerpt is part of a monograph edited by Dr. Leon Aron, Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washinton DC. The authors of the book entitled: “To Have and to Hold: Putin’s Quest for Control in the Former Soviet empire” assess the likelihood and shape of potential Russian intervention in neighboring countries, Putin’s pursuit of what he views as his historic mission to restore Russia’s regional hegemony, how he is securing his regime’s legitimacy with patriotic mobilization, and what he is doing to continue his project of destabilizing trans-Atlantic unity.

References:  

  1. MilitaryBudget.org, “Moldovan Military Budget,” http://militarybudget.org/moldova/.
  2. Acord Între Guvernul Republicii Moldova şi Guvernul României Privind Cooperarea în Domeniul Militar [Agreement between the government of the Republic of Moldova and the government of Romania on cooperation in the military field], April 20, 2012, http://lex.justice.md/UserFiles/File/2015/mo78-83md/romania_207.doc.
  3. Cristi Vlas, “Moldova Government Approves Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO for 2017–2019,” Moldova.org, http://www.moldova.org/en/moldova-government-approves-individual-partnership-action-plan-nato-2017-2019/.
  4. Preşedinţia Republicii Moldova, “Proiectul Strategiei Securităţii Naţionale a Republicii Moldova” [Draft national security strategy for the Republic of Moldova], 2016, http://www.presedinte.md/app/webroot/proiecte/SSN16.pdf.
  5. NTV (Moldova), “Spetsvypusk s prezidentom Respubliki Moldova Igorem Dodonom” [Special issue with the president of the Republic of Moldova Igor Dodon], June 13, 2017, http://ntv.md/news/11696.

 

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Moldova Hopes to Boost Military Ties With Romania Amid Tensions With Russia

On February 4, Romanian Defense Minister Mihai Fifor arrived on an official two-day visit to Moldova. In a joint press conference, Moldovan Defense Minister Eugen Sturza thanked his counterpart and the Romanian government for its support in modernizing and developing the defense legal-strategic framework, educating 800 National Army service members in military institutions in Romania, as well as training Moldovan service members through participation in bilateral and multinational exercises alongside their Romanian colleagues.

Yet, the bigger news of the press conference was that the two ministers agreed to resume talks about a joint military battalion for deployment in emergency situations, similar to the Romanian-Hungarian-Ukrainian-Slovak Multinational Engineer Battalion Tisa. Strangely, this item was not included in the follow-up press release of the Moldovan defense ministry (Army.md;  Deschide.md February 5). One reason was possibly that the idea of a joint Romanian-Moldovan battalion was first introduced in May 2015 by then Defense Minister Viorel Cibotaru (Army.md, July 21, 2015). It was subsequently promoted by his successor Anatol Salaru (Euroactiv.ro, August 20, 2015). Initially envisaged as a multinational peacekeeping battalion, it has failed to materialize to this day for several reasons.

Viorel Cobotaru’s tenure as minister lasted only six months. Meanwhile, Anatol Salaru held the position for a year and a half during highly turbulent political times that also spilled over into the national army with Salaru vying for influence with the Chief of the General Staff (see EDM, March 28, 2016). During 2015-2016, the country was rocked by mass protests triggered by a billion-dollar corruption scandal (the equivalent of 12 percent of GDP was embezzled from three banks). This scale of corruption brought down the pro-European governing coalition, only to be replaced by one of the constituent parties of that very coalition in a de facto one party government controlled by oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. He took over the leadership of the Democratic Party on December 24, 2016 (Realitatea.md, December 24, 2016), a day after a pro-Russian president Igor Dodon was sworn into office. Three days later, upon losing the support of his Liberal Party, the ostensibly pro-NATO Defense Minister Anatol Salaru was dismissed by the newly elected pro-Russian president (see EDM, October 24, 2017).

The subsequent institutional deadlock between the government and the president left the defense portfolio vacant for ten months, until another pro-NATO defense minister was appointed following a controversial Constitutional Court ruling (see EDM, November 16, 2017). Needless to say, the general political instability, coupled with institutional deadlock and anti-Romanian rhetoric coming from the pro-Russian President Dodon, limited the space for Moldova’s defense cooperation with Romania, despite hopes that a bilateral agreement on military cooperation signed in 2012 would foster such ties (Army.md, April 20, 2012).

Nonetheless, as Moldova’s diplomatic relations with Russia are becoming ever more strained (Mfa.gov.md, January 31; see EDM, February 7; Hotnews.ro, February 8), Moldova’s de facto decision maker, Vladimir Plahotniuc, is seeking Western backing. Given his questionable legitimacy and anti-democratic record (see EDM July 25, 2017, Part 1 and Part 2), the response from the West has been less than enthusiastic. Still, thanks to his personal and political relations with Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party, Plahotniuc can count on Bucharest. Romanian authorities and intelligence services, in turn, may believe that they can control Plahotniuc via several criminal files opened against the Moldovan oligarch-turned-politician (Adevarul.ro, February 13, 2014; Adevarul.ro, November 13, 2017).

Meanwhile, Plahotniuc has pleaded not guilty and accuses the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) of plotting against him by using the Romanian court system (Realitatea.md, November 20, 2017). This hardly contributes fertile ground for deeper military cooperation between Romania and neutral Moldova, especially during an emotionally charged centennial anniversary of Moldova’s unification with Romania in 1918.

This is why the largely technical issue of a joint Romanian-Moldovan emergency response battalion has stirred harsh reactions from the pro-Russian opposition, with President Dodon vowing to block the initiative (Adevarul.roUnimedia.info; February 7), as he has successfully blocked several Moldovan contingents from taking part in military exercises abroad earlier this year. The government then decided to ignore the president’s ban, while drafting a legislative workaround the president’s powers (Ziare.ro, September 6, 2017; Agora.md, September 13, 2017). Thus, a contingent of 60 service members and 12 vehicles from Moldova was dispatched to join the Platinum Eagle multinational exercises on February 12-16 in Romania’s Babadag military range without, this time, causing a domestic political standoff (Army.md, February 8; RFERL.org, February 10).

At end of the day, the government’s effort to boost military ties with Romania remains a largely symbolic gesture, aimed at creating the perception that Romania is backing Vlad Plahotniuc, and by extension, the West does too. Meanwhile, as the ruling Democratic Party, driven by electoral calculations, continues its controlled escalation of tensions with Russia, it keeps on subsidizing the separatist regime in Transnistria via energy imports from the region and remains coy about the possibility of Moldova exiting the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Newly appointed Minister of European Integration Iurie Leanca said it could happen once Moldova submits an EU membership application, which is not in the cards for the time being (EuropaLibera.org, January 25; February 9). Thus, despite all the tough talk coming from Chisinau, the Moldovan government shows no political commitment to boost its own defense capabilities and, unlike Georgia and Ukraine, remains part of the CIS—a relic of Russian dominance in the post-soviet space.

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Note: This article was written for the Washington based Jamestown Foundation and the original can be accessed here.