Moldovans have been living in constant stress and fear since 24 February because of the war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine. Every destroyed bridge, every captured town or village increases the fear. Ordinary Moldovans are watching the events in Ukraine with horror and projecting them onto themselves and their small country bordering Ukraine.
Neither a member of the European Union nor of NATO, Moldova worries about its future – especially because Russian troops are present in its Moscow-backed breakaway region of Transnistria – and seeks help, hoping that the international community will not forget its humanitarian contribution. Russia’s presence in Transnistria, home to some 500,000 people, is a constant source of concern for Moldova. Kiev believes Russia wants to use the territory to attack Ukraine.
And a Russian military official recently stated that control of southern Ukraine “is another route to Transnistria, where there is also evidence of oppression of the Russian-speaking population” – referring to a similar claim used by the Kremlin to justify its “operation” in eastern Ukraine.
Transnistria, which used to be a centre for illegal trade and smuggling, stores some 20,000 tonnes of Soviet-era weapons and ammunition.
Diplomats believe Moldova’s neutral status is a preventive security guarantee against any aggression, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked an internal debate over its position. In late April, a series of explosions ripped through the breakaway region. No casualties were reported, and while Russia and Ukraine blamed the attacks, Moldova pointed to pro-war “factions” in Transnistria. Moldovans cannot but be alarmed by the increasingly frequent visits of high-ranking officials from the USA, the EU even if they justify their visits differently. Thus, the main purpose of the visits is declared to be inspection of the situation in Moldova in order to determine its status as an EU candidate country.
World leaders have recently been trying to reassure Chisinau.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres told President Maia Sandu in the Moldovan capital on 8 May that “the UN will not abandon Moldova”. This came days after the EU pledged to “significantly increase” military aid to the country. In recent weeks, world leaders have tried to reassure Chisinau.
The war is getting closer to Moldova, with shells falling near Odessa and Nikolaev, just kilometres from the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.
People in Moldova think they are next. Every Moldovan thinks so. In the first days and weeks of this war, panic was in the air. People were withdrawing money from ATMs. Some went to neighbouring Romania just in case. Then the situation calmed down a bit. But the war has not stopped, now it is even closer to the Moldovan border.
At a meeting with Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Chisinau, European Council President Charles Michel said that the EU would expand defence assistance to Moldova. Michel also promised to strengthen partnership and integration with the EU. The two sides discussed the war in Ukraine and the country’s aspirations to join the European Union.
“Some decisions have already been taken on military support for Moldova. For example, we intend to increase our support in logistics, cyber defence. But today we discussed how we can give Moldova more military support and more military capabilities. But of course I do not intend to go into details of such a decision. It is also extremely important for us to avoid any escalation. We don’t think it’s wise to make provocative statements about the situation in Moldova or Transnistria. We want to prevent any incident,” Michel said.
Moldova is constitutionally neutral and in the current conflict has called on all states, including the Russian Federation, to respect this status. But Russia will not be deterred by Moldova’s neutrality; Moscow could at any moment recognize the independence of the separatist region on the left bank of the Nistru River. Military intervention to “protect its citizens” could then follow – as it did in the self-proclaimed “Luhansk and Donetsk republics” in eastern Ukraine on 24 February this year, or in Georgia in August 2008, after which Moscow recognised South Ossetia’s independence.
Neutral status has not prevented the pro-European government in Chisinau from condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine and supporting Kiev as much as possible.
There is now an urgent need to find a solution so that the Republic of Moldova is not dragged into the vortex of war.
Thus, Kent D. Logsdon, the US ambassador to Moldova believes that it is necessary to find a special status for Transnistria within Moldova’s internationally recognized borders.
The president of France, Emmanuel Macron should come to Chisinau tomorrow. Probably, he will also make some proposals which will help Moldova to keep its own safety.
The people of Moldova continue to hope and count on the strong partners – the states of the European Union and the USA.
ISHR Moldova Section
14 June 2022, Chisinau – Frankfurt-am-Main