On the anniversary of 30 years since its declaration of independence Moldova seems to position its foreign policy towards clear European integration goals. The President Maia Sandu has clearly articulated this goal as part of the festivities held in Chisinau on the 27th of August. The President stressed that: ‘We now have the opportunity to all support a national project to clean up and strengthen the state so that we can move forward on the road to prosperity and European integration.’
Ukraine, Poland and Romania have been represented at the highest official level at the celebrations for the National Independence Day through the presence of the presidents, Volodymyr Zelensky, Andrzej Duda and Klaus Iohannis. The presence of the three presidents was not only meant to send clear signals of support for the European Integration agenda that the President Maia Sandu has highlighted, but also to stress the interests that the three countries are seeking towards developing both bilateral partnerships and regional initiatives.
Several aspects regarding the evolution of regional political trends are thus relevant in order to understand not only the positions already expressed at official level by Maia Sandu on the occasion of the National Independence Day, but also the interests that Romania, Ukraine and Poland have sought to promote as well as the specific foreign policy goals that each of the leaders of these countries has sought to express with the occasion of the anniversary.
Romania: Moldova’s main strategic partner
Klaus Iohannis, used the opportunity of Moldova’s National Independence Day to send a clear message of support for the strategic partnership towards Moldova and reiterate Romania’s support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova. There was no surprise in these declarations of support. With the integration of Romania into the European Union in 2007 different policies towards the Republic of Moldova have gradually led to a clear formulation of the bilateral political agenda and the shared interests that the two countries can develop through enhanced cooperation. There is a clear roadmap inherent in the strategic partnership that Romania has developed as well as within the National Security Strategy of Romania that points to economic relations as a means for consolidating the bilateral relations between the two countries. It is important to mention however that despite the official support that Romania has offered so far through economic aid and public support for its sovereignty and independence, the lack of clear and specific aims with regards to how the security aspects of Moldova’s challenged sovereignty should be addressed is missing. This is the biggest consequence of dealing with secessionist conflicts in the region through the promotion of European integration and standards before status approaches. Indeed as we have seen for the past 30 years democracy has been part of countless strategies to resolve conflicts both in the former Soviet space as well as in the Balkans as both the cases of Kosovo and Transnistria illustrate.
Poland and Moldova’s challenges in finding European allies
This is particularly important if looking at Andrzej Duda’s statements in Chisinau. Poland’s initiative to share its democratic experience has produced mixed reactions in Chișinău, with criticism of Poland’s poor record when it comes to minority rights. However, despite existing criticism against this current Polish administration one should look at the relations between Poland and the Republic of Moldova – whose foreign policy towards European integration is developing not only in the context of regional instability but also in the context of rising popularity for political parties contesting the cohesion of the European Project following Brexit – as Duda has made clear in his statement. Thus, when looking at this broader context, one should note that the new president and government in Chisinau can be tempted to accept any form of support, no matter how risky in terms of public image, when it comes to allies and strategic partners willing to bring the EU and Moldova closer together.
Ukraine and the common security challenges
Ukraine’s presence at the anniversary of 30 years of independence of the Republic of Moldova does not only show an eagerness to use every opportunity for regional partnerships but also its aims to highlight the common security challenges that it faces alongside Moldova. What is interesting again for the Republic of Moldova, is that its aim to foster these regional partnerships may provide both challenges and opportunities in terms of its relationship with Russia. Volodymyr Zelensky’s initiative – the Crimea Platform – is one of these types of diplomatic initiatives that can render both positive and negative results.
Zelensky used the opportunity of being present in Chișinău to highlight the common challenges to security for Moldova and Ukraine in the context of existing threats to economic stability in Transnistria as well as Russian threats in Crimea, thanking President Maia Sandu for her support of the Crimea platform. He also stressed Ukraine’s aim to achieve stability and closer relations with EU, praising Romania’s support from for EU integration.
Transnistria: challenges and opportunities for Moldova at 30
Looking at the consolidation of the Moldovan identity, and state as well as the foreign policy directions that Maia Sandu’s predecessors have articulated, one should see whether the current president can adapt to the current regional context. Whilst Moldova’s foreign policy seeks to consolidate its European aspirations it is important to look at what its neighbours and allies can bring in terms of opportunities as well as the risks that the newly elected president is facing.
Firstly when looking beyond the criticism expressed against Maia Sandu by analysts and the media in Chișinău with regards to the Moldovan President’s foreign policy – especially the lack of clarity with regards to a specific articulated policy towards the Transnistrian conflict – one should consider that President Maia Sandu has expressed her preference for a united state.
It is perhaps the specific history of negotiations that is useful when trying to understand why another official settlement plan is yet to be proposed by any of the parties involved in the 5+2 negotiations. In the context of the unresolved Transnistrian conflict, each administration has gradually adapted their approach to negotiations from plans such as Kozak under the first Voronin presidency in 2003 to the Yushchenko plan throughout his second presidency and to a series of efforts that rather than favouring a specific constitutional solution to this conflict have gradually led to improved steps either in confidence-building or economic cooperation.
What can then the existing negotiations formats and other diplomatic initiatives bring for the resolution of this conflict? Firstly it is important to note the recent position expressed by Dimitry Kozak that has stated that the issue of Transnistria represents an internal issue of the Republic of Moldova. In this context it is perhaps not surprising that the Republic of Moldova is using any opportunity in order to deal with this topic through its own.
Maia Sandu seems to continue the path of bringing neighbouring countries closer together in order to address this issue as an integral part of its European agenda, using the mediation format that has already been set up as well as bilateral initiatives for discussion. When looking at the Crimea Platform it is therefore important to note that this can provide a back-channel for diplomatic discussions to the official negotiation process. The 5 plus 2 negotiations – whilst not yielding a political settlement for Transnistria – have in the past years placed a series of day-to day issues on the conflict resolution agenda of mediators and the two parties. These include topics such as economic cooperation, transport issues and the fight against criminality. Alongside the political status of Transnistria, that remains the thorny issue of negotiations these aspects represent key themes that have to be continually addressed and that impact citizens on both sides of the Dniester.