Consequences of the Full-Scale Russian Invasion of Ukraine for the Republic of Moldova
Natalia Stercul, Foreign Policy Association of the Republic of Moldova
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised significant alarm in the Republic of Moldova in terms of security aggravation and the wider regional political and strategic ramifications. This paper presents an overview of the most dangerous period in Moldova’s history since independence. It considers the actions of Moldova’s government, potential threats to national security, and the main consequences of the war, which will have far-reaching effects in a variety of different areas. Despite the condemnation of this war, Moldova decided to follow the constitutional neutrality principle and has been reluctant to join any international sanctions against Russia. Moldova was vulnerable on both its economic and security front, more than any country except Ukraine.
Moldova’s response to the consequences of the war in Ukraine does not have any significant impact on the concerns about increasing risks for national security. The Transnistrian region, which is completely under Russian control, remains one of the most serious problems. The current situation in the Transnistria has only worsened. This region there is in the focus of repetitive grave tensions and provocative incidents.
One of the major factors that influence the vulnerability of the country to the consequences of the war is the massive displacement of the Ukrainian people. The large wave of refugees put pressure on basic services in Moldova, which required the external help for surviving the pressure of humanitarian crisis. In the Republic of Moldova, rising food and energy prices are exacerbating poverty and issues related to steep losses in the agricultural sector, food insecurity, energy vulnerability, and heightening inflation pressures are coming to the fore. Given the current threat environment, there is a need for carefully calibrated policies to ensure, in practice, functional effectiveness with special crisis response measures.
War in Ukraine is the tragic realization of Russia’s imperial ambitions against a backdrop of increasing authoritarianism. Losing its capacity to influence Ukraine, the story is similar in the Republic of Moldova (IDEA 2022). The invasion has caused unprecedented challenges and consequences for both countries. In the immediate short term, it caused a partial geopolitical turn of Moldova toward the EU and away from Russia. This pivot for the Moldovan pro-European political establishment is a means to an end (joining the EU). And yet, the situation in Moldova was far worse than acknowledged in the media and growing scholarship.
State of Emergency and Constitutional Neutrality in Conditions of Regional Insecurity
During the early hours of the invasion, Moldova’s President Maia Sandu condemned the act of war by Russia against Ukraine, calling it a blatant breach of international law (@sandumaiamd, February 24, 2022). Under a state of emergency, a special regime was established for entering and exiting Moldova’s airspace, as well as the control of people’s movement and goods was introduced (Civil Aviation Authority Republic of Moldova 2022; News.cn Europe 2022). This also implied a special working regime for the economic agents and public institutions to restrict mass gatherings. However, Moldova decided to uphold its constitutional neutrality principle in lieu of the Ukraine situation (Cenus¸a 2022). The concept of neutrality has always been a highly politicized and divisive issue. It has been a key argument from the political elites for maintaining regional security. According to the president, introducing sanctions against Russia would not be possible due to her country’s multiple economic and security “vulnerabilities” (Ukrinform 2022).
The decision was anticipated as the Moldovan economy is very dependent on Russia, especially its key sectors. However, the invasion of Ukraine immediately sent shockwaves across Moldova, caused by the massive displacement of people and influx of refugees. Over 460 thousand refugees from Ukraine entered Moldova and nearly 100 thousand of them decided to settle until they are able to return safely (Stepanenko et al. 2022). Without external help, it is almost impossible for Moldova to survive the pressure of the humanitarian crisis. There are currently sixteen UN agencies and several international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in Moldova, and the EU is working to provide emergency assistance to people in need, in particular by supporting Moldova in strengthening their response. The appropriate response and approach of Moldovan authorities to managing the refugee flows is an ongoing process that is more complex and requires long-term mechanisms, assistance, plans, resources, and effective refugee crisis management.
Growing Tensions in Transnistria
Tensions in Transnistria rang the loudest alarm bells out of a deep-rooted fear that the Russian military operation could extend to Moldova (Euronews 2022). One of the main military aims of Russia is the creation of a Russia-controlled land corridor through Ukraine (Hedenskog 2022). This would, effectively, block Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea, having far-reaching economic effects. Further was the map displayed by Belarus’ dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko, which indicated a potential amphibious attack near Odesa. In this case, the Russians could advance toward Transnistria (Anderson 2022).
The Moldovan authorities argued that no changes had occurred due to the military escalation in Ukraine, but the situation in Transnistria worsened (Brewster 2022). One goal of Russia’s renewed war in Ukraine was to create a corridor to the Transnistrian region with the aim to put an end of infringement of the Russianspeaking population (Hedenskog 2022). It is doubtful that Moscow can push West along the Ukrainian coast to the Transnistrian region, but the announcement highlighted Moldova’s precarious position (CurrentTime 2022). Such a scenario would expand the war zone. The Transnistrian issue will largely depend on the outcome of the war in Ukraine. A side effect of Ukraine’s victory could be the curtailment of the pro-Russian separatist regime in Tiraspol.
The invasion finally caused Moldova to rethink its approach toward modernizing the military. Moldova does not have the means to defend itself in the face of a military threat. Despite the fact that Moldova has allocated 0.3 percent of its 2022 GDP (gross domestic product), that is, 773 million lei or approximately 39 million euro, to bolster its defense spending, the country lacks defensive capabilities (Banila 2022). The investment was essential for the security and defense infrastructure of the state, but it did not resolve the issue of possible military threats and Moldova’s military capacity.
Economic and Energy Crises in the Changing Geopolitical Dynamic
Rising food and energy prices are exacerbating the nation’s poverty, food insecurity, and heightening inflation pressures that were already building. Moreover, the supply of natural gas is in jeopardy and one of the most sensitive political issues. Moldova was severely hit by the rise in natural gas prices. The recent sharp increase in gas prices became perhaps one of the most acute economic problems for Moldova’s population. Gazprom is continuing to put supply pressure on Moldova, and solutions are few and far between. The difficult economic situation and the increase in gas and energy prices exacerbate poverty and lead to an increase in protest moods of the population. The magnitude of the impact of the Russian war in Ukraine for the Republic of Moldova depends on how long will the war last, on the efficiency of the Ukrainian resistance, and on the consistency of Western military supplies, as well as on the effectiveness of international sanctions to weaken Russia with the aim to prevent its aggression.
Moldova’s case has its peculiarities being Ukraine’s immediate neighbor with a large Russian population and economic reliance on Russia, which stretches the nation thin. Moldova’s ability to handle the spillover effects requires a delicately coordinated response at the national, regional, and potentially global levels. The biggest challenge for Moldova is the unresolved Transnistrian conflict, which is unreasonably prolonged, and tensions around it have arisen amid the intensification of the Russo-Ukrainian war, which aggravated Moldova’s security problems. The intensification of potential security threat has led to a rethinking of the importance of military modernization of the country and strengthening defense capabilities. It is essential for the Moldovan authorities to condemn any provocations and attempts to draw it into actions that may endanger its domestic peace, particularly with regards to the Transnistrian conflict.