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,1 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.
- MilitaryBudget.org, “Moldovan Military Budget,” http://militarybudget.org/moldova/.
- 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.
- 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/.
- 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.
- 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.