Tag Archives: Moldovan Army

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.


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


Moldova’s Cooperation With NATO — Strategic Choice or Political Tactic?

Between January 29 and February 2, a group of experts from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) visited Moldova to assist with the drafting and implementation of the country’s key strategic documents, including the national defense and military strategies as well as related action plans. This visit was part of NATO’s Defense Capacity Building Initiative for the Republic of Moldova (DCBI), which was launched in 2015 and is now nearing the end of its first phase. The Moldovan Ministry of Defense is hoping to soon begin the second phase of the DCBI, which would entail actual training for the various branches of the Armed Forces (Army.md, January 29). However, in order to be promoted to the second phase, the Moldovan government needs to show a political commitment to boost the country’s defense capacity, which is best reflected in a higher defense budget. Yet, even if the cash-strapped government were to find the resources to increase defense spending—a problematic proposition in an election year—all 29 North Atlantic Alliance members will still need to approve the second phase of Moldova’s DCBI. Needless to say, in the current regional geopolitical context and given Moldova’s domestic political uncertainties, some NATO countries may have their reservations.

Surprisingly, in light of Moldova’s defense vulnerabilities, including a frozen conflict in Transnistria, the county’s defense spending has never been a cause of major public debate. The defense budget went up during the time the Party of Communists (PCRM) was in power, reaching 0.61 percent of GDP in 2008—the highest point to date. The same year, the parliament approved the National Security Concept, which, while emphasizing military neutrality, listed separatism, inter-ethnic tensions, terrorism and energy dependence on one supplier among key security threats (Lexjustice.md, May 22, 2008). However, defense was not among the priorities of the pro-European coalition that came to power in 2009: spending on defense again began to decrease, reaching just 0.27 percent of GDP in 2011 (Expert Grup, April 2016). Even after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing war in Donbas, Moldova’s defense spending hovered at 0.42 percent in 2016 and 0.40 percent in 2017 (Gov.md, 2017). The national defense budget for 2018 was set at only 0.39 percent of GDP, way under the 2008 high-water mark, even in absolute terms (Viitorul.org, December 21, 2017). This is unlikely to signify to the Alliance a significant political commitment by Chisinau to launch the second phase of the DCBI. Therefore, the Moldovan government is presently trying to prove its commitment and pro-Western credentials by other means.

Visit to NATO by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova

After appointing a pro-Western defense minister, albeit under controversial circumstances (see EDM, November 16, 2017), the government then approved the long-overdue updated National Defense Strategy (NDS) and action plan for 2017–2021. Meanwhile, the National Security Strategy developed under President Nicolae Timofti remains on hold after President Igor Dodon withdrew the document from consideration (Realitatea.md, June 27, 2017). Among the priorities of the NDS are providing the Armed Forces with modern equipment and training, reviewing the force structures and their responsibilities, as well as harmonizing national defense legislation with European norms (Gov.md, November 1, 2017). Yet, acquiring modern military equipment will be a challenge as spending barely covers the up-keep costs of the country’s defense system. The government will have to rely on donations from international partners, hardly a sustainable way of building defense capabilities, particularly as Moldova finds itself in a diplomatic row with Russia, which has increased the intensity of its military drills in Transnistria (Mil.ru, December 19, 2017).

After the ruling Democratic Party expelled five Russian diplomats on espionage charges in May and declared Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin persona non grata in August, the Democratic Party–controlled majority has just banned news and political talk shows from countries that have not ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT)—mainly, Russia and a couple of European Union members. The legislative majority in Chisinau is now mulling over the idea of sending Russia a bill for occupying Moldovan territory for 25 years (Zdg.md, January 12; Noi.md, January 18). Moscow’s only official response so far has been a declaration of condemnation, approved by the lower house of the Russian parliament (RIA Novosti, January 24).

Ironically, some Russian lawmakers suggested that the Russian state-owned TV channel Perviy Kanal (Channel One) terminate its rebroadcasting contract with the leader of the Democratic Party, oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc (Pnp.ru, January 24). Speculation is rife that Plahotniuc’s highly profitable contract with this Russian state-owned propaganda machine was coming to an end and was unlikely to be renewed, so the Moldovan oligarch-turned-politician decided to extract some political dividends from an otherwise loosing situation. In fact, this entire anti-Russian propaganda crusade may be futile, since Russian propaganda tools registered in countries that have ratified the ECTT may continue to broadcast propaganda into Moldova. Needless to say, if Russia ratifies the said Convention, Moldova’s recent ban becomes void. Also, TV propaganda embedded in non-political content, satellite TV and Internet sites remains unaddressed (Zdg.md, January 12). This indicates that, instead of a genuine fight against Russian propaganda through courts and regulations, the Democratic Party’s efforts mask ulterior motives of exploiting anti-Russian rhetoric to boost Plahotniuc’s questionable pro-Western credentials (see EDM, January 30) both domestically and internationally during a crucial electoral year.

A recent poll commissioned by the NATO Center in Moldova showed that only 27 percent of respondents know about the organization (Nato.md, February 6). Thus, lack of information about NATO is as much, if not more, of a problem as misinformation on the subject. Combating undue Russian influence and propaganda is important, but without having a serious public discussion about Moldova’s commitment to boost defense capabilities and address the country’s neutrality status in line with increased cooperation with NATO, the subject will remain an electoral bargaining chip rather than a strategic national choice.








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