Despite the colossal number of attempts by Russia to destabilize Moldova, since the beginning of 2023, the leadership of the country, led by Maia Sandu, has been giving a clear message to Putin that the situation in the country is completely under the control of Chisinau. With the start of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we can see the activation of pro-Russian radical organisations in Moldova as well.
The situation may also escalate after official statements from Chisinau regarding the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sandu was responding to a question about whether Putin would be arrested under an International Criminal Court warrant if he came to Moldova.
“Yes. Moldova has signed a criminal court agreement and Moldova will respect the court’s decision,” Sandu replied briefly.
Moldova’s foreign policy problems and challenges are very similar to those of Ukraine before the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022. Until February 2022, Russia did not recognise the presence of its military in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions (only annexed Crimea), while a similar situation is occurring in Moldova. Russia has its armed enclave, the so-called Transnistria, which is controlled by Moscow.
Another equally important factor in the context of Moldova’s national security and sovereignty is the autonomous region of Gagauzia.
Gagauzia – citadel of pro-Russian populism
Gagauzia is a small region in the south of Moldova with a population of just over a hundred thousand people.
However, no one knows the real number of inhabitants of this poor, depressed agricultural region, where there is a huge migration and few young people. Officially, the region’s authorities say 155,000 people, but they don’t even believe it themselves, and some question even the figure of a hundred thousand real, but not fake, residents. Because now, even with maximum mobilisation, only 57,000 voters came to the polls.
Gagauzia was created as a special region – an autonomy within the framework of unitary Moldova; this status was the result of a painful compromise in the early 90s (yes, an analogy with the annexed Crimea immediately arises, but it is not accurate).
On paper, the idea and purpose of this autonomy is to protect the Gagauz language and the Gagauz people, whose representatives indeed form the vast majority of Gagauzia’s inhabitants.
But in reality, this region has become a stronghold of the Russian Federation and the Russian language in Moldova.
You will hardly see any inscriptions in either the official language, Romanian or Gagauz. In the authorities, at local parliamentary meetings, etc., everyone speaks exclusively Russian.
And Russophilia here has almost become a religion: people believe in Russia, and this belief does not require proof. The EU and Turkey are investing millions in Gagauzia and are the only alternative major foreign sponsors of the region, but the population believes in Russian assistance, even when it is almost invisible, as it is now.
Photo: Guttorm Flatabø
As a result, Gagauzia has become a region that is politically and socially detached from Chisinau. It sounds crazy, but it is a fact: even the separatist Transnistria is more connected to the political processes in the country than the Gagauz autonomy. The best illustration is the results of the 2020 presidential election in Moldova. At the polling stations for Transnistrian residents, despite pressure and propaganda, 14.2% of voters voted for the pro-European Maia Sandu, while in Gagauzia, only 4.5% did so.
And even now, a year after the outbreak of a full-scale war inspired by Russia, those forces that are not openly committed to friendship with Russia have no chance of participating in political life.
For Russia, which is rapidly losing influence in Moldova, maintaining control over Gagauzia is important.
Moldova prepares for Russian military provocations
A contingent of the Moldovan army will take part in the Saber Guardian 2023 multinational exercise to be held in Romania from 29 May to 9 June.
Soldiers of the Stefan cel Mare Motorised Rifle Brigade will train alongside 10,000 troops from 12 countries: Albania, Bulgaria, Italy, France, Greece, North Macedonia, Romania, Montenegro, the United States, Poland, Portugal and the Netherlands.
The exercise will take place at military training grounds in six counties in Romania and is aimed at increasing interoperability at the multinational level.
The Moldovan Defence Ministry notes that the participation of the Moldovan Army contingent in Saber Guardian 2023 will take place in accordance with the 2023 foreign activity plan.
The Moldovan military will depart for Romania on 29 May as part of a convoy of military equipment.