Tag Archives: NATO

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.


  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’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.