International Relations

Preventing Moldova from Becoming Russia’s Next Victim

Late last month, Vladimir Putin unilaterally revoked an agreement recognizing Moldovan sovereignty. Many international observers interpreted this as a sign that the Russian President may be planning an invasion of Moldova, a European nation sandwiched between Romania in the West and Ukraine in the East.

This nation’s vulnerability to Russian aggression was precisely why ALEC’s Federalism and International Relations Task Force first adopted A Resolution in Support of Deepening Euro-Atlantic Integration of the Republic of Moldova model policy in 2011 and updated it last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The model resolution is one of ALEC’s Essential Policy Solutions for 2023. Strengthening Moldova’s integration into the rules-based world order and increasing multilateral engagement has the potential to create the conditions for political stability and economic prosperity and deter Russian aggression.

While the West deepens ties with Moldova, Putin has turned to a familiar playbook of threats and false flag operations to justify an attack on the nation and undermine Moldova internally in order to wield authority over this former Soviet Republic. Russia has interfered in Moldova’s democratic processes for years, and now there are credible reports that the Kremlin is attempting to topple the government of Moldova’s pro-western President Maia Sandu either through a coup with the Russian-supported Sor Party staging anti-Sandu protests in Chisinau, the national capital or political assassination – a not uncommon Putin tactic. Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy company, sharply curtailed energy exports to Moldova, one of the poorest nations in Europe, doubling energy prices there. Before Putin’s attack on Ukraine, 70% of the country’s electricity was generated from Russian gas at the Cuciurgan Power Plant in Transnistria, a breakaway Moldovan republic that has been controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 1992 and is home to 1,500 Russian troops.  Romania quickly provided gas to fill the gap, however, this energy still must be routed to the Transnistrian Power Plant, giving Moscow a stranglehold on Moldovan energy. Add to that, a 34% inflation rate, and Moldovans, many of whom were already struggling financially, are justifiably anxious and primed to find fault with their current government.

Russia also seems poised to launch a false flag operation, claiming that Ukraine is preparing an attack against Transnistria to justify an offensive against Moldova. However, President Sandu, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy and a host of western intelligence services have roundly rejected Russia’s claim. Putin has used false flag operations as a pretext to seize territory before, and recent Russian statements and actions toward Moldova echo those leading up to Russia’s annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – two Georgian provinces – in 2008, the annexation of Crimea and occupation of the Donbas in 2014 in Ukraine as well as last year’s invasion of Ukraine.

For Moldova, a nation with a population of 2.6 million that has welcomed 460,000 Ukrainian refugees,  the war raging in eastern Europe is perilously close. Russian missiles have violated Moldovan airspace, occasionally dropping debris on their way to targets in Ukraine. It appears that Moldova might be Putin’s next target, so accelerating this nascent democracy’s integration into western institutions, an idea supported by ALEC model policy, takes on greater urgency. Steps have been taken – last June Moldova was awarded European Union candidate status. And last month, President Biden met with President Sandu in Warsaw as the White House issued a statement affirming Moldova’s territorial integrity signaling US resolve. Unfortunately, there are no current plans for Biden to visit Chisinau, which would send a powerful international message. As with all of Europe, eliminating Moldova’s dependence on Russian energy is key to securing this small nation’s sovereignty, and progress on energy security will make Putin’s expansionist ambitions much more difficult to realize.