Trembling in Moldova

Much ink has been spilled lately – or, if you like, billions of computer-screen pixels have been illuminated – in the wake of the Russian military incursion into Georgia over the new aggressiveness this signals in Russia’s outlook towards the outside world, particularly in situations enabling that country’s leaders to manufacture a pretext to invade based around “protecting” Russian nationals residing in some neighboring country. Which one of those neighbors is likely as the next candidate for Moscow’s attentions? You can bet that any remaining summer leave has been revoked as officials in both the ministries of foreign affairs and defense scramble to update their position statements and contingency plans in Kiev, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Baku, Yerevan – and in Chisinau.

Chisinau? You might recall that as the capital of the Republic of Moldova. It may not share any border with Russia, but in fact it is one country that has more to worry about in the face of the new Russian assertiveness than most, as André Tibold of the Nederlands Dagblad reminds us today (Moldova is also worried about provocations).

That is mainly because the situation there and the situation in Georgia are so similar. It’s almost eerie:

  • Former territory of the Soviet Union, now aspiring to membership in European institutions? Check. (Moldova has made it clear that it wants to join both NATO and the EU; according to Tibold, in Romania it even has an advocate to push for its membership within both of these.)
  • Break-away region within that state supported by Moscow? Check. (In Moldova it’s Transnistria, a strip of land along the Dniester River on Moldova’s eastern edge, that seems to go big-time for things like the hammer-and-sickle and statues of Lenin.)
  • Russian “peacekeeping” troops stationed within said break-away region? Check. (There are formally 1,200 of these “peacekeepers,” but in addition the 14th Russian Army is stationed in Transnistria as a solid expression of Russian support. Those troops were supposed to withdraw under terms of the Istanbul Accord that Russia signed with the OSCE in 1999, but . . .)
  • Russian troops staying on in an area from which they had previously signed an agreement to depart? Check. (That 14th Russian Army is still solidly in Transnistria to this day.)

Yes, you can be sure that events of earlier this month in Georgia and South Ossetia were followed very closely by officials both in Chisinau and in Tiraspol (Transnistria’s capital) – to the point that both Russia and Transnistria were also very keen to see what the official reaction to those events would be from the Moldovan government, as that could be interpreted as its statement on their own political impasse. At first the Moldovan authorities simply echoed the official EU position, calling for a cease-fire and withdrawal of Russian troops. That was not good enough for Transnistria, since it did not include a condemnation of Georgia’s initial attack on South Ossetia, so Transnistrian President Igor Smirnov broke off all official contacts with Moldova, until later the Moldovan government gave in and also condemned the Georgians.

But the Moldovans remain under considerable pressure. In the past Russia has blocked importation of any of that country’s agricultural goods – which hurts, because that is basically all that it sells to the outside world – to make its displeasure known over the Moldovans’ aspirations towards the EU and (particularly) toward NATO, only to relent and lift them. Last May, Moscow proposed a deal: it would intervene to finally solve the Moldova-Transnistria dispute, and at the same time withdraw 1,500 of its troops, if Moldova would basically give up its Western aspirations – i.e. forget about the EU and NATO, and also withdraw from the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, a regional organization meant as a counter-weight to Russia made up of GUAM: Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova.

As of yet, there’s been no decision from Moldovans about how to respond. But the newly-threatening Russian face after Georgia probably doesn’t make that any easier for them.

UPDATE: Ah, mainstream attention (of a sort) now for Moldova’s travails! Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog now has an entry mentioning how the Russian pressure is now increasing on that country, and on Azerbaijan. But he concludes that this is just something that we – the West – will have to live with, since we need Russia’s cooperation in more important matters, like Iran.

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