Moldova’s Defense Minister: NATO is not the boogeyman Russian propaganda would like us to think

Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (R) with Minister of Defense of Moldova Anatolie Nosatii (L), during the ceremony of donating of the first batch of equipments delivered to the National Army through the European Instrument for Peace, at the Army Museum in Chisinau, Moldova, 31 May 2023.
© EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU   |   Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (R) with Minister of Defense of Moldova Anatolie Nosatii (L), during the ceremony of donating of the first batch of equipments delivered to the National Army through the European Instrument for Peace, at the Army Museum in Chisinau, Moldova, 31 May 2023.

Daruieste Viata

Chișinău is strengthening its army in the context of Russia’s hybrid war against the Republic of Moldova, the Moldovan Defense Minister said. In an interview to Veridica, Anatolie Nosatîi also referred to military cooperation with the EU, NATO and Romania.

Ensuring the security of national airspace, one of Moldova’s priorities

VERIDICA: Minister Anatolie Nosatîi, the Republic of Moldova has recently hosted an event of extreme international importance – the summit of the European Political Community (EPC), held on June 1. Although it was a political summit, prior to the event European leaders also announced assistance in terms of providing elements of an anti-ballistic system, as well as military assistance from Poland. What will this military aid consist of, apart from bulletproof vests and helmets? Can you tell us?

Anatolie Nostaîi: The summit indeed focused on politics, international relations, talks about the possibility of holding talks on various platforms and in various formats. There were several meetings held in bilateral, trilateral or various other formats addressing joint interests.

Security and defense aspects are highly important and usually rank high on the agenda of such events, although participants don’t discuss details in terms of specific action plans. Some countries provide various types of material assistance, which has been previously discussed. For instance, ahead of the summit in Moldova, the chief of EU diplomacy Josep Borrell, wanted to personally attend the delivery of military equipment under the European Peace Facility mechanism. It was a project carried out jointly with the EU and the result of our year-long efforts. This process [of delivering elements as part of an upcoming defense system] has been kicked off and is expected to continue.

The Republic of Moldova is a beneficiary of these agreements with the EU, and the goal here is to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities in the interest of maintaining peace and security at home. Moldova also seeks to become a fully-fledged contributor to international security.

Any assistance, any donation or contribution is very important to us, as it will allow us to improve our military standing and be better equipped to deal with current challenges in the field of security and defense.

Anti-air defense is a vulnerable element of Moldova’s security sector, one that has become increasingly transparent in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Whereas right now we can no longer hear the explosions [which could be heard in the Republic of Moldova at the start of the war], because the frontline has been pushed further inland, the possibility of penetrating Moldova’s airspace remains high. We have witnessed such violations of the Moldovan airspace in the past [when Russian missiles targeting Ukraine crossed Moldova’s airspace].

For this reason, today we are taking all the necessary steps in order to develop elements of the defense system, a highly complex and multi-layered system consisting of several such elements, from surveillance to restriction actions. At present, we can rely on our early warning systems, more specifically on radars. They allow us to better monitor airspace in order to be able to alert our citizens in case of possible threats.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need to make efforts to also improve our restriction capabilities. More specifically, we need systems to protect, not just monitor our airspace. It’s something we’re working on, although it is a complicated endeavor, considering that, for us, Ukraine is the number one priority. We are also receiving multi-faceted assistance from our partners. We have recently seen a statement regarding five Patriot systems which will be delivered to Ukraine.

I would like to say this is an investment from our Western partners, also with a view to protecting the Republic of Moldova. The more resilient and better prepared Ukraine is, the more protected we are in turn. But that doesn’t mean that we should not develop our own defense capabilities at the same time, despite our permanent neutrality status, and even if we don’t have any security guarantees in this field.

In 2023, EU committees greenlit the procurement of a radar system that will be integrated in our current system, and the system we want to develop in the coming period. We have currently reached the phase of making technical assessments and starting procurement procedures. We will eventually implement the radar system, a process which usually takes 36 months.

Additional financial resources have been injected in the Defense Ministry’s budget in order to fortify our defense capabilities. One of the priorities is air defense, which is why we have started proceedings so we can also contribute to improving the current situation.

At the EPC summit, the protection of Moldova’s airspace was ensured by Ukraine on the one hand, and Romania on the other.

VERIDICA: Have you held talks or are you planning to extend air defense missions carried out by Ukraine and Romania in the future as well, in order to create a permanent dome of defense over the Republic of Moldova?

Anatolie Nostaîi: Yes, it was a joint effort of both national forces and agencies as well as our partners, designed to help us conduct our specific security activity. It was a good exercise in terms of integrating our systems, including our planning and coordination capabilities. The effort entailed the participation of not just Ukraine and Romania, but also countries such as Great Britain. The operation also used capabilities of certain NATO structures. Such an important event couldn’t have taken place without ensuring security measures at appropriate standards.

As regards your question, we are considering talks, scenarios or possibilities of ensuring elements of security until the country develops its own capabilities or becomes a member of certain alliances. These are complex questions that require certain decisions. They are not just based on our willingness, we also need the approval of other countries involved in the talks, since certain countries, for instance NATO Member States, have demanded more details in this respect.

We are engaged in a process where we discuss and examine these elements, and we will make an announcement when we see fit. Right now, we are working hard to identify possibilities to strengthen our defense capabilities in all sectors, not just our anti-air defense.

VERIDICA: Minister Nostaîi, the EU civilian mission to Chișinău has officially started its activity. How does this mission help the Defense Ministry, so as to make the Republic of Moldova more resilient and capable of dealing with elements of the hybrid war Russia is targeting against the Republic of Moldova as well?

Anatolie Nostaîi: The EU civilian mission comes with a number of solutions and recommendations. EU experts have provided us with a series of lessons learned and expertise, training sessions and guidelines to help us become more resilient and prepared to cope with elements of hybrid war.

I’m particularly referring to disinformation, propaganda and fake news, but also to cyber-attacks. In a nutshell, there’s a plethora of elements that destabilize, create tensions and spread fear at society level.

Moscow’s hybrid war forces Chișinău to be wary of the developments in Transnistria

VERIDICA: Considering the Republic of Moldova has received Piranha armored transporters from Germany, and is expected to boost its anti-air defense capabilities with elements of the aforementioned anti-ballistic system, do you believe the balance of power has leveled out in terms of the endowment of Moldova’s national army and the military equipment of Transnistrian separatist forces and Russian troops illegally stationed on Moldova’s territory?

Anatolie Nostaîi: First of all, I would like to say that solving the Transnistrian conflict can only be achieved peacefully, based on dialogue and with the participation of international institutions. The Republic of Moldova has not planned any military scenario to solve this conflict.

The Republic of Moldova has forces and military equipment prepared to defend the integrity and sovereignty of the country. As regards the balance of power, indeed, the previous approach was that the Republic of Moldova should not arm itself [or modernize its army] lest this should be perceived as an act of provocation. We have seen these narratives, many of which were false for that matter, claiming that the Republic of Moldova should remain weak, unprepared and serving a ceremonial purpose rather than acting as a military force proper. And this representation is false.

Even our neutrality status compels us to be ready, because we are all alone here and must be able to defend ourselves. We have taken measures and will continue to make efforts to develop our actual defense capabilities across all sectors.

VERIDICA: From your estimates, would you say Transnistrian paramilitary forces and Russian troops illegally stationed in Transnistria pose an imminent threat?

Anatolie Nostaîi: There are no scenarios providing for imminent attacks. Yet destabilization tactics persist to this day, as well as various characters who promote them. However, these elements of the hybrid war you were mentioning, conducted and orchestrated by Moscow, raise our awareness with respect to the so-called acts of terrorism that previously happened in Transnistria, which provided the authorities with a reason to introduce states of alert [also designed to justify the creation of] checkpoints which do not comply with the 1992 Peace Treaty.

This undermines the activity of the so-called peacekeeping corps deployed on the ground, which is coordinated by Russia as well. [They are described as] warrantors of peace and security in the region. This is false, because Transnistrian forces can set up 40 checkpoints in the Security Zone. How are these forces efficient?

The Republic of Moldova has recently expanded cooperation with NATO

VERIDICA: What kind of relations does the Republic of Moldova seek to develop with NATO, and to what extent is the neutrality of the Republic of Moldova useful from a military perspective, considering Russia is now an aggressor state, despite the security guarantees it provided to Ukraine in the 1990s?

Anatolie Nostaîi: Even against the backdrop of propaganda – which in recent years has remained very active and is an element inherited from the Soviet era – according to which NATO is evil and so on and so forth, Moldova’s relations with NATO have been successful for nearly 30 years.

It all started with the Partnership for Peace initiative, where the army played a key role. Relations with NATO have arguably produced only benefits for the military system of the Republic of Moldova, from the possibility of studying English, experience sharing, classes and training activities addressing Moldovan military.

In the 90s, our servicemen had the opportunity of seeing the world and understanding what NATO, the Alliance’s member states and their armies stand for. We could see at the time that things are not at all what the Soviet Union had wanted us to believe.

I was among those who benefited from these trainings. I discovered that NATO is not the “boogeyman” Russian propaganda would like us to think. NATO has well-trained military that operate in the interest of states they represent, and who are bound by a shared vision of collective defense.

As regards relations with the Republic of Moldova, jointly with NATO experts, our Defense Staff leadership has identified those programs that best serve the interests of the Republic of Moldova. This has allowed us to implement those first standards of operability, then to train our bomb disposal engineers, who became proficient and today take part in external missions. We have also achieved compliance with NATO standards for our helicopter units, which have for years taken part in peacekeeping operations across the globe. We have trained our pilots who are involved in international humanitarian and air support missions.

Furthermore, I would like to address the program designed to eliminate Soviet-era pesticides from the Republic of Moldova. It was a successful program that allowed the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of tons of chemicals discarded during the Soviet era, which were polluting our farmlands and waters. A growing number of reports of illness were signaled in several settlements. The program was implemented using local funds and NATO expertise.

I would also like to refer to the alignment of our Military Academy to European standards of military education. Today, our academy observes the same accredited curricula used in other similar institutions in Europe and is part of an international consortium of military education. Our MA and PhD programs also ensure compliance with NATO standards.

In recent years, we have further expanded our cooperation with NATO and are now in a position of implementing the concept of Enhanced Defense Capability. This has enabled us to develop 18 programs which will help develop our national defense system. I would also like to mention in this respect that these programs address not just the army, but they are designed also to support structures with the Interior Defense Ministry or subordinated to the Information and Security Service (SIS). Overall, this will contribute to developing Moldova’s security and defense sector.

With respect to the defense sector, we are currently implementing a number of 12 initiatives, which have recently attained an advanced level of cooperation, allowing us to report our first results.

In political terms, we can see the effects of cooperation with NATO, but for us, it is more important that in concrete terms, NATO countries are more concerned about developments in the Republic of Moldova and the need to strengthen our defense capabilities.

Some countries use NATO as a platform to develop bilateral relations with Moldova, but most contribute with various sums of money and resources to the so-called Trust Fund, allowing the implementation of these programs designed to improve the situation.

For instance, let’s look at cyber defense. In order to cope with all the challenges in this field, you need to remain up-to-date with the latest evolutions, threats, emerging types of attacks, etc. If you are not always connected to those who are better prepared and have more technological possibilities than you, then you can’t expect to report good results in this field.

Even when we talk about information exchanges, or accessing new solutions / programs which are very expensive and we cannot afford – the fact that we benefit from these partnerships provides us with access to every new update and to information sharing, which makes us more resilient and better equipped to respond to such attacks.

I could continue giving more examples from several sectors where the experience and assistance of our NATO partners help us deal with existing challenges.

A country with a good military protection can also attract economic investments more easily. This would create more jobs and would enable our citizens to stay and work in Moldova. And this is a very important aspect at a time when [the Republic of Moldova has] so many objectives it needs to fulfill in order to become a full member of the European Union.

The neutrality status prevents Moldova from green-lighting the deployment of American troops on its territory

VERIDICA: I would like us also to discuss the information exchanges you have with your Western partners, considering that one of the keys to success for the Ukrainian army is this very cooperation in terms of intelligence with the West. Is the Republic of Moldova also involved in this information exchange and do you receive important information in terms of security and defense?

Anatolie Nostaîi: It is clear information is the most cherished resource today. The possibility of know and mounting a swift response to developments will often save lives. We have had various cooperation agreements with NATO with respect to the exchange of classified information. Additionally, we are also involved in a process of adjusting our legislation with respect to providing information access to a number of countries that had previously been denied access to classified information.

I would also like to mention our partners’ openness to develop these processes. We are using every piece of intelligence we acquire, but we will move to the next level in terms of information exchanges. Even the purchase of military technologies requires access to information.

VERIDICA: US president Joe Biden suggested in a speech delivered in Warsaw in February that the Republic of Moldova is now under the umbrella of Western security. Even if this was merely a political statement, it did come from the world’s most powerful politician. Could we say that, right now, the Republic of Moldova is facing a paradox, namely it is facing the biggest security risks caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while at the same time it enjoys the largest degree of protection from the West, albeit at declarative level?

Anatolie Nostaîi: These political statements you mentioned actually confirm your idea. Then we have the visits and international activities at various levels, including the summit of the European Political Community (EPC) hosted by Bulboaca, near Chișinău, on June 1.

The fact that we’ve had leaders coming from all over Europe, leaders of international organizations, visiting us just a few dozen kilometers from the Ukrainian border, proves that the Republic of Moldova does not stand alone and will not be abandoned to the interests the Russian Federation seeks to promote in this area.

VERIDICA: Have you thought of “upgrading” strategic dialogue with the USA to the level of a partnership, based on the closest available model, Romania’s own partnership with the USA? We have noticed that cooperation between Bucharest and Washington has brought not just investment in military bases, but also massive cash injections in the Romanian economy. To what extent is Chișinău able to do the same?

Anatolie Nostaîi: I would say we already have a strategic partnership with the United States, as you have mentioned, but the idea of American forces being stationed in Moldova is for the time being out of the question, due to constitutional provisions in force pertaining to the country’s neutrality.

We cooperate with the USA in all sectors, from the political, economic sectors to military cooperation, although no American forces are right now deployed to Moldova.

Moldova’s neutrality is a topic that many are uncomfortable with. Some use it, again, to promote narratives designed to destabilize the country, or to create certain tensions. If we lose our neutrality, then the Russians can attack us and we get involved in the war, which again is a false narrative.

This matter is regarded and interpreted by Moldovan citizens slightly differently compared to previous years, with the exception of those groups that want to destabilize the domestic context and generate new debates to the detriment of the state.

Military cooperation with Romania has seen a “fresh impetus”

VERIDICA: How would you characterize relations with Romania in military terms? We have heard talks about a pinnacle of political relations between Bucharest and Chișinău, but I wanted to ask if bilateral relations have peaked also in terms of military and security cooperation? Or do you consider there is room for improvement in this respect?

Anatolie Nostaîi: In the defense sector, our cooperation with our Romanian colleagues is very good. It is a historical cooperation. Romania was and remains our most reliable partner, which was there to help in times of peace but particularly in times of great uncertainty and hardship.

Right now, military cooperation with Romania has seen a fresh impetus after a period of stagnation that was the result of that hybrid war I was mentioning, and which was designed to divide us and prevent us from developing our defense system, as well as sever our ties with Romania.

We have restarted military cooperation on what I believe to be more beneficial vistas, which allow us today to implement more projects of joint interest in the field of military education and training, joint military exercises, in the field of history and culture, international peacekeeping operations or to develop our peacekeeping capabilities. As you know, we have military forces deployed to Kosovo, but we have also started deploying army units to the peacekeeping operation in Lebanon. A lot of these training activities are carried out jointly with other countries on Romania’s territory.

Romania has taken over several coordination responsibilities in terms of implementing standards in a number of fields we thought we still need to develop, namely logistics, our non-commissioned officer corps, our special forces and military education.

These are all critical fields where we can benefit from the experience and expertise the Romanian army acquired during its own transition from a structure with a Soviet legacy, so to speak, to a developed, modern army respected by its international peers. The Romanian military’s participation in theatres of operations abroad has proved it is a reliable army, placing it on an equal footing with the world’s top-performing armies.

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