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Версія для друку 14 квітня 2011 року

Moldova in the front line

Moldova in the front line
Is the tiny former Soviet republic now the emerging star of the EU’s Eastern Partnership policy?

Throughout March Moldova was the scene of unprecedented diplomatic activity. The most high-profile guest was US Vice President Joseph Biden - the first visit of such a high level US official to the country in 20 years of independence. The tiny nation also welcomed Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Marian Lupu, the acting president of Moldavia, also met Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, while Andrei Popov, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova, enjoyed meetings with David Lidington, UK Minister for Europe. Meanwhile, Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Iurie Leanca met with Romania’s President Traian Basescu. These visits illustrated the growing interest of the EU and US in Moldova. US VP Biden emphasized: “We believe that Moldova’s future lies with Europe. You are a European country. You should be, and you will be, fully integrated into European institutions,” while Catherine Ashton promised that EU would continue helping Moldova’s integration drive. Until recently, Moldovan leaders could only boast bilateral dialogue on this level with Russia. What has brought this tiny country to the top of the agenda of the Western powers?

Poor but strategically important 

Moldova remains one of the poorest countries in Europe despite modest recent economic progress. It enjoys a favourable climate and good farmland but has no major mineral deposits. As a result, the country depends heavily on agriculture, focusing largely on fruits, vegetables, wine, and tobacco while importing almost all of its energy supplies. It is also home to the breakaway Transnistria region, located mostly on a strip of land between the Dniester River and the eastern Moldovan border with Ukraine. Since the War of Transnistria in 1992, this region has been de facto governed as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR, also known as “Pridnestrovie”). This internationally unrecognized state claims territory to the east of the river Dniester plus the city of Bender and its surrounding localities on the west bank. The Republic of Moldova does not recognize the region’s independence, but Transnistria has been controlled by pro-Moscow separatists for the past 20 years and remains in their hands.

Twitter revolution offers EU hope 

At the dawn of the 21st century Moldova was the only country in Europe with a communist government, but in 2009 it was the scene of one of the first so-called ‘Twitter revolutions’. Even though the revolution has not brought political stability to the country, it led to the creation of a democratic pro-European coalition in parliament. This coalition consists of three parties which currently lack the clout to elect a president (elected by parliament under Moldovan legislation). As a result the country has been without a president for almost three years, delaying vital reforms. The country’s new parliamentary coalition has proclaimed EU integration as its main goal. Moldova is already a member of the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme and it is in the process of negotiating an Association Agreement with the EU. Furthermore, the governing coalition has declared NATO membership as the key tepping stone to gaining European Union membership. This will all sound particularly familiar to Ukrainian readers versed in the geopolitical struggles which the country underwent following its own pro-democracy revolution in 2004. However, in Moldova’s favour are its strategically attractive geographical location close to the EU’s borders and its relatively small size.  

The West left frustrated by Ukraine and Belarus

The EU and the US have been frustrated by the current state of affairs in Ukraine and Belarus - the two other countries which lie between Russia and the EU. They are now eager not to miss the opportunities presented in Moldova and to facilitate democratic reforms and cement the current pro-western orientation of the country. For the EU, Moldovan policy is primarily driven by a desire to resolve a ‘frozen conflict’ on its borders. Driven by the rapid rise of Russia’s influence in Ukraine in 2010, EU officials have been motivated to push for dispute resolution and the country’s reintegration. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has even identified the Transnistria conflict as the priority for Germany in Eastern Europe. Romania is an even stronger advocate of Moldova’s EU integration. Bucharest regards Moldova as a core component of Romania’s cultural and political sphere of influence and may even harbour ambitions to incorporate it. Both the EU and Romania see Moldova as an important piece of the regional jigsaw: EU membership would strengthen the EU position in the Black Sea region as well as providing control over the crucial Dniester transportation corridor. It would be easier for Brussels to integrate this small country than to continue dealing with an unstable territory on its borders.

Russian realities in post-Soviet sphere 

However, the Kremlin regards Moldova as part of Russia’s priority sphere of interest. Moscow has been very active in Moldova since 1991, particularly focusing on the Transnistria region. Moscow provides humanitarian aid for the breakaway region, paying pensions to Transnistria’s aging population and so forth. Over the past four years Russia has granted Transnistria USD 55.5 million in loans which the self-proclaimed republic is unlikely to repay. While Russia does not officially support independence for Transnistria, Moscow has drafted plans for its strategic development which run until 2025. The key to the issue remains the continued presence of Russian troops in Transnistria despite initial agreements to withdraw them by 1994. The EU and the US are currently negotiating with Russia to receive its informal blessing for Moldovan territorial reintegration and rapprochement with the EU. Ukraine may have a junior role to play in this process – but for many in Kyiv the most interesting aspect of the geopolitical confrontation in Moldova will be the willingness of the Kremlin to make concessions in the face of Western pressure and Moldova’s desire to move towards Europe.

Джерело: Business Ukraine, Nataliya Novakova

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