The war in Ukraine has brought to the fore the poor state of the Moldovan army, which remains underequipped after being neglected by the authorities in the last three decades. Yet the commonplace view in Chișinău right now is that the army should at least fend off an aggression coming from Transnistria. Russia and its mouthpieces, on the other hand, continue to absurdly claim that Moldova modernizing its army would be tantamount to breaching its neutrality.
“Neutrality means the capacity to defend yourself”
After the security paradigm shifted in the region, Chișinău along with its partners quickly understood the importance of immediately starting the process of endowing the army of the Republic of Moldova.
Even if the topic is anathema in Chișinău and no one really talks about it in the open, the wheels are now moving on both sides so that Moldova should benefit even from minimum support in terms of modernizing its army.
Some pundits in Chișinău have criticized the Moldovan government in strong terms, blaming it for doing too little, even at the eleventh hour, to strength the Republic of Moldova’s defensive capabilities.
“The Russian threat targeting the security and defense of the Republic of Moldova is imminent. On the first occasion that presents itself, Russia will attack. There is no “if” here. It’s a certain turn of events. However, the occasion might present itself tomorrow, in six months or a year. But the threat is imminent, as long as the current administration in Russia endures. Any excuse, delay or artificial impediment are nothing short of de facto sabotaging national security. And those who do it will be held accountable, if not by the citizens, then by history”, says security expert and researcher with the Eastern Europe and Eurasia Department of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik) in Berlin, Dumitru Mînzărari.
In turn, former Minister of Defense, Vitalie Marinuța, told Veridica that the neutrality of the Republic of Moldova is not about its lack of defensive capabilities.
“Quite the opposite. Neutrality is about the ability to defend yourself from a military point of view. In 1994, when the Republic of Moldova introduced the state of neutrality in its Constitution, it was supposed to undergo an accelerated and very strict development of its defense sector and actually enhance its defensive capabilities. Now, when we already have statements regarding this topic from both military officials as well as from politicians in the Russian Federation, we should do everything in our power to boost our defensive capabilities by any means possible: via our strategic partners, by increasing defense spending and other legal means available”, Marinuța said.
The former Moldovan minister explained that, if the Republic of Moldova is to become an EU candidate status, “we cannot neglect military integration, apart from economic, social and political criteria”.
“We cannot invoke neutrality in this respect. As a candidate country, you must contribute in any way you can to the EU, including in the field of defense”, Vitalie Marinuța went on to say.
Threats from Moscow and by proxy
The possibility that the Republic of Moldova should take up arms in a highly volatile security framework amidst Russia’s increased military activity in eastern and southern Ukraine has sparked bitter reactions from Moscow and its proxies.
The most recent example in this respect is the statement of the Foreign Minister of the separatist region of Transnistria, Vitaly Ignatiev, who told a local television station that the security context might deteriorate once NATO weapons start arriving in Chișinău.
“Chișinău’s Western partners are trying to provide Moldova with weapons and technology. So far, military cooperation has never been made public, and no one knows what kind of equipment will be delivered to Moldova. Without a doubt, it will be a weapon. A weapon that might be turned against Transnistria”.
Moreover, Ignatiev suggested that the 1992 Transnistrian war could repeat itself, as there already are belligerent statements coming from Chișinău, even if Moldovan officials have not explicitly referred to this possibility.
Prior to Ignatiev’s statement, separatist leader Vadim Krasnoselsky expressed concern with the weapons the West might deliver to the Republic of Moldova in order to help boost its defensive capabilities. “When muscles are flexed, war usually tends to follow. It’s an axiom”.
Krasnoselsky implied that Tiraspol is alarmed by the latest developments and will take appropriate action.
“The attempts to justify the delivery of lethal weapons will not help secure peace. I don’t see these actions as a direct act of aggression against Transnistria, but they could pave the way for it”, the Tiraspol leader said.
The statements of the two representatives of the breakaway region came in conjunction with statements issues by Moscow officials.
The spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, said that the possible delivery of weapons to the Republic of Moldova will not benefit the security context in this country.
“Strengthening one’s own security is the sovereign right and domestic policy of any country, but the delivery of NATO weapons to Moldova is very unlikely to help achieve this objective and at the same time comply with the permanent neutrality status of this country”, Zakharova said.
Russia’s quibblings are self-evident. If the Republic of Moldova is a neutral state, as stipulated by its Constitution, Russia has obstinately refused to evacuate its troops from Transnistria for over three decades. Russia has some 1,500 – 2,000 military deployed to Transnistria, who merely safeguard the existence of this separatist enclave, pretending to keep the peace.
Russia is trying to deny Moldova its right to strengthen its military capabilities, claiming this runs counter to its neutrality. Rather, neutrality has to do with the Republic of Moldova belonging to a political bloc. It was designed in 1994 as an element that could lead to the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country. However, this never happened, and the neutrality status backfired.
Russia has always used this argument against any attempt from Chișinău to consolidate its defenses, particularly to provide Russian and Transnistrian troops with a military advantage and superiority over Moldovan forces.
The advocates of such messages are usually pro-Russian political forces who act as a “fifth column”, regularly promoting Moscow’s narratives. Former pro-Russian president Igor Dodon, who is currently under house arrest, has recently said that the Republic of Moldova is allegedly occupied by “foreign troops” other than Russian.
“All these steps to provide weapons to Moldova and the anti-Russian hysteria are particularly designed to justify the presence of NATO troops on the territory of the Republic of Moldova. They are paving the way for the military and political annexation of Moldova to Romania by renouncing neutrality. Without consulting the citizens and despite constitutional provisions, the authorities are preparing a technical, political and military unification which they will subsequently try to formalize and legalize in Parliament and the Constitutional Court, both under PAS’s control, under the pretext of “protecting” the foreign troops deployed in Moldova”, Dodon wrote on his Facebook page.
Chișinău’s legitimate right to defend itself
The vehement reactions of Moscow and Tiraspol draw on a much broader discussion in Chișinău about the right of the Republic of Moldova to defend itself in the context of the war in Ukraine. Russia reacted to the statement made by Moldovan Parliament Speaker, Igor Grosu, who said that the neutrality of the Republic of Moldova is in no way connected to its legitimate right to purchase modern military equipment.
“Yes, we are a neutral state, but at the same time we will do everything in our power, especially after February 24, to consolidate our defense system, our public order, our intelligence agencies and so on”, Grosu said.
Grosu spoke on the sidelines of a conference held jointly with his Romanian counterpart, Marcel Ciolacu, which further enraged Moscow.
“Romania is a shield for the Republic of Moldova, and so it should be”, Ciolacu pointed out. As a matter of fact, over a million Moldovan citizens are also citizens of Romania, which means Bucharest cannot turn a blind eye to the deterioration of the security context in the Republic of Moldova in connection to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Shortly after Ciolacu’s visit, the Moldovan Minister of Defense, Anatoly Nosatyi, visited Bucharest, where he called on Romania to provide expertise to Moldova in its efforts to modernize the army.
“The expertise of our Romanian colleagues might be useful in the process of transforming the national army into a modern, mobile and well-equipped institution, capable of fulfilling its constitutional objectives. I am confident that bilateral relations and cooperation will go up, to the benefit of the Moldovan army and Romania, as well as of the two countries’ citizens”, Nosatyi said.
Romania’s Defense Minister, Vasile Dîncu, delivered a speech pretty much in the same vein. “At bilateral level, I have pointed out that our strategic partnership requires constant coordination in a wide array of sectors and also entails a strategic dialogue and approach to topics of mutual interest”, the Romanian official pointed out.
Therefore, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the Republic of Moldova is currently discussing with its Western partners and wants to keep a low profile in this respect. If the support arrives in due time, Chișinău will at least be able to fight off a possible and imminent attack from the separatist region of Transnistria. The Republic of Moldova doesn’t have much choice but to accept any and all military support, whether we’re talking about lethal or non-lethal weapons, and refrain from being dragged into a manipulative dispute over its military endowment being in breach of Moldova’s neutrality. This was acceptable in the last 30 years, but today the Republic of Moldova is in very dire straits when it comes to its defensive capabilities and deterring domestic threats.