A miracle is about to happen in Moldova. The former Soviet republic, today a candidate country for European Union membership, is about to fully break from Moscow’s grasp and redefine its strategic identity in challenging times.
Despite the Kremlin’s not-so-veiled threats of expanding its aggression against Ukraine to the eastern European country of 2.6 million people, Chișinău has remained unmoved, surprising many.
Yet, after all, Moldovans have been acutely aware of Moscow’s malignant behaviour ever since the 1992 war in Transnistria brought on a new invention in terms of Russia’s control in the post-Soviet space.
A frozen conflict in a grey, militarily controlled breakaway area within the territory of a state forcing it to declare itself as neutral allowed Russia to maintain a foothold further westwards in Europe for more than three decades.
Despite that, except for Romania, Poland and the Baltic countries, the rest of the Europeans — if and when they paid attention to Moldova — saw the situation there as stable. Complicated, but stable.
And so, for decades, nothing seemed to impose Moldova on the European agenda, an issue that could be at least partially explained by the stereotypical attitude towards the former republics of the Soviet Union.
Then the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 changed everything.
Moldova’s neutrality: Moscow’s gilded cage
Russia’s war in Ukraine is, in many ways, also about the Republic of Moldova. In 2014, Moscow’s designs were not so evident because Russian military aggression in the Donbas and Crimea had the element of surprise. Kyiv’s forces were quickly defeated, and the active military phase ended promptly.
Just like in Chișinău, the political elites in Kyiv did not prepare for war at the time and had no plans to defend against Russia, forcing Ukraine to a stalemate, an echo of Moldova’s political and military neutrality.
The illegally annexed territories were quickly militarised, following the same blueprint. For decades, thousands of Russian soldiers in Transnistria — officially on a “peacekeeping” mission — were there to remind everyone what would happen if the country’s leaders were to change their minds or earlier agreements or fight back.
Last year’s all-out war of aggression, however, made Russia a pariah and emboldened the likes of Moldova enough to distance itself away from Moscow.
This led to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov menacing Chișinău in recent days and labelling it as the West’s new “anti-Russian project“.
The eternal head of Russian diplomacy was probably spurred on by the prospect that Moscow would permanently lose its ability to blackmail it on matters such as domestic and foreign policy, energy, and economic assistance.