Note: This analysis has been developed within the project of the Foreign Policy Association "Exploiting regional expertise and experience for developing predictable and viable relations with Russia ". The project was implemented in partnership with the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, German Marshall Fund. One of the major goals of the project was to identify the premises, obstacles and options for building a realistic, credible and beneficial Moldovan-Russian partnership for both sides.
The Russian Federation is one of the most important, influential and omnipresent economic and political partner of the R. Moldova. Despite this, in the past 20 years, the Moldovan - Russian relations have had a sinusoidal evolution, marked by uncertainty and inconsistency. Moscow and Chisinau have partially or totally different views on a number of domestic and foreign policy subjects as: the condemnation of separatism, the status of the Transnistrian region, the withdrawal of Russian ammunitions and troops deployed on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, the transformation of Russian peacekeeping mission, the status of the Russian language, the interpretation of historical events in the Soviet period, the prospects of the CIS integration, partnership with the North Atlantic Alliance, cooperation within GUAM, European integration option, etc.. The lack of a common denominator to these and other topics affects the mutual trust and this has a negative impact on building a sustainable partnership with the Russian Federation. The refusal of ex-President Vladimir Voronin to sign, in the autumn of 2003, the Kozak memorandum, has decreased the trust between Moscow and Chisinau at the lowest level.
As a result, the relations between R. Moldova and the Russian Federation have entered a glacial period of five years and its effects are still felt. The peak of Moscow's dissatisfaction was reached in 2005-2006 when agricultural products and Moldovan wines were boycotted, and political negotiations in the 5 + 2 format were interrupted until 2011. In 2009, the Alliance for European integration (AIE) took over the governance and this has opened a new window of opportunity for re-launching the Moldovan - Russian relations on a pragmatic platform. The AIE Government intended to develop strategic partnerships with key regional and international partners: EU, USA, Romania, Ukraine and, of course, the Russian Federation. In the period 2009-2012, the new Moldovan authorities have managed to set up a regular dialogue with the Russian authorities in the framework of the Moldovan - Russian Intergovernmental Commission for economic cooperation, as well as at the level of ministries, Governments and legislatives.
However, R. Moldova and the Russia Federation are far from institutionalization such an arrangement. In addition, neither one part, nor the other has a well defined vision concerning it. Furthermore, neither Chisinau nor Moscow has made great efforts in this regard. Analyzing the regional priorities of the Russian Federation, stipulated in the Foreign Policy Concept and the National Security Strategy, we can conclude that according Moscow, a possible Moldovan -Russian strategic partnership should contribute to:
1. Development of bilateral and multilateral cooperation within the CIS;
2. Exploiting the potential of CIS as regional organization, forum of multilateral political dialogue and mechanism of multidimensional cooperation;
3. Promote modern forms of economic integration in the CIS area;
4. The interaction between the CIS Member States in the humanitarian sphere, protecting and developing cultural heritage;
5. Deepening cooperation with CIS countries in order to ensure collective security;
6. Assertion of the Collective Security Treaty Organization as a key instrument for the maintenance of security and ensuring stability in the CIS area;
7. Supporting Russian compatriots in CIS countries;
8. Settling conflicts in the CIS area, while respecting Russia's role of mediator and peacekeeper.
What are the chances of such a strategic partnership in the current context? In order to be able to answer this question using arguments is necessary to analyze equidistantly its premises and obstacles. If the answer would be negative, of course, we should ask ourselves which are the realistic options for the development of viable and predictable cooperation relations with the Russian Federation.
The premises of the strategic partnership with the Russian Federation
The idea of developing a strategic partnership with the Russian Federation is not new, it emerged once with the affirmation of the Republic of Moldova as an independent state. Although it was promoted, in one way or another, by mostly all the Governments in Chisinau, it has never been conceptualized and remained at the level of political discourse. In the early 2000s, the Communist Party of Moldova (PCRM) took over the governance promising Moldovans the country's accession to the Russia - Belarus Union. This promise, which was very soon forgotten, was the only and the most advanced attempt of conceptualizing a strategic relation with Moscow.
In the fall of 2009, the idea is taken up by the first Government of the Alliance for European Integration (AIE) and included in its activity programme as a foreign policy objective. It can be also found in the activity programme of the second AIE Government for the period 2011-2014, entitled "European Integration: Freedom, Democracy and Welfare". According to the latter, "the Government of the Republic of Moldova will continue to strengthen good - neighborly relations and strategic partnership with the European Union, Romania, Ukraine, the United States and the Russian Federation". However, the content of a possible strategic partnership with the Russian Federation is still vaguely formulated and its strategic objectives and principles are not defined. Also, it is not clear how such a partnership would match the R. Moldova’s European integration policy, proclaimed as the primary strategic objective of the AIE Government. However, despite these shortcomings, there are a number of premises which may facilitate the development of a strategic partnership with the Russian Federation, in particular:
1. Moldovan-Russian relations are based on a comprehensive legal framework. Legal framework of the Moldovan-Russian bilateral relations is comprised of 162 documents aimed at bilateral cooperation in all fields of common interest. The defining legal document is the Treaty of friendship and cooperation signed in Moscow on 19 November 2001. In November 2011, that Treaty was extended for another 10 years.
2. Russia is a strategic economic partner. More than 28% of Moldovan exports to Russia are assimilated. At the same time, the share of imports from the Russian Federation represents more than 15%. In the R. Moldova are registered 344companies with Russian capital. On 1 January 2011, the total amount of investments in Moldovan economy amounted to 181.8 million dollars, and about 7.7% of direct foreign investments are from the Russian Federation. However, it is possible, that a large part of foreign direct investments from Cyprus, are carried out by Russian companies and investors. Therefore, the total amount of Russian investments in Moldovan economy could be in reality much higher. Also, at least 300 thousands of Moldovan citizens work temporarily or permanently in the Russian Federation, and the figure of remittances sent home by them in 2011 is about 800 million dollars of the total amount of 1.4 billion USD.
3. Energy dependence on Russia. R. Moldova is fully dependent on imports of natural gas from Russia. Gazprom has 50% of the shares of the Moldovagaz Company, which holds the exclusive monopoly on imports of natural gas from the Russian Federation. The rest of the shares are divided between R. Moldova with 35.33% and its Transnistrian region with 13.44%. Furthermore, the breakaway region of Transnistria owes almost 3 billion dollars, while its shares at Moldovagaz worth about 15 million USD. However, the Russian side considers that the debt for natural gas of the separatist region of Transnistria is officially R. Moldova’s debt, even if it cannot exercise its constitutional control over the region on the left bank of the Nistru River. The Russian Federation strengthened its economic presence in the Transnistrian region, the Russian investors taking control of the most important industrial enterprises, Metallurgical Factory from Ribnita, the Russian Corporation Metalloinvest, Moldavan Hydroelectric Power Plant from Cuciurgan by Inter RAO EES, Cement factory in Ribnita by Inter RAO EES, Engineering and construction Plant (Mashinostroitelny Zavod) in Bender by Russian Corporation Salut, Pumps Factory in Ribnita and Moldavcabeli Plant in Bender. The eventual reintegration of Transnistria will turn the Russian Federation into the most important and influential investor and owner of strategic properties on the territory of the R. Moldova.
4. Russia is a key partner in ensuring R. Moldova’s internal and external security and stability. Moscow plays a decisive role in settling the Transnistrian issue, which represents the greatest threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country. In addition to its growing economic influence, Russia exercises a significant political influence over the Transnistrian administration, representatives of which are citizens of the Russian Federation. At the same time, in the Transnistrian region is located a military contingent of about 1,500 Russian soldiers, of which about 1,000 are guarding the twenty thousand tons of Russian weapons remained in the region from the former USSR 14th Army and approximately 500 are part of the peacekeeping mission in the conflict Security Zone. Moreover, Russia has the status of mediator in the 5 + 2 format of negotiations regarding the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict and is considered to be the guarantor of future political arrangements.
5. The status of permanent neutrality of the R. Moldova. AIE Government considers that maintaining R. Moldova’s status of neutrality in parallel with its Europeanization will create favorable conditions for the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict and country’s reintegration. In principle, AIE’s position coincides with that of the Russian Federation, which opposes the North-Atlantic Alliance's expansion in CIS area and considers that the neutrality status of the R. Moldova is an essential condition for the ultimate settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.
6. The influence of Russia’s "soft power" in the R. Moldova. The Russian Federation has at its disposal a substantial set of tools design to influence R. Moldova. The Moldovan media environment is largely dominated by Russian mass-media. About 98% of Moldovans are Orthodox Christians and most of them are under the ecclesiastic jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. Over 20% of the R. Moldova’s citizens are Russian-speaking, Ukrainians (8.4%), Russians (5.8%), Gagauz (4.4%) and Bulgarians (1.9%). According to the public Opinion Barometer (BOP) in November 2011, 60,5% of citizens want Russia to be the main strategic partner of Moldova, while 45.6% of Moldovans would opt for Republic of Moldova joining the Customs Union Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan.
7. R. Moldova is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and has observer status within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC). For Moscow the CIS is the area of "its most privileged interests". After the presidential elections from March 4th, Vladimir Putin, the new elected President of Russia, stated that the countries of the CIS will be of the highest priority of Russian foreign policy. However, for R. Moldova, CIS is first and foremost a vital market for its agricultural products. In 2011, the volume of Moldovan exports to CIS represented 41% and imports 33%. In view of the importance of these trade flows, in 2011 R. Moldova has signed a new CIS Free Trade Agreement. At the same time, CIS is perceived by Chisinau as a beneficial forum for high-level political dialogue between the ex-Soviet States and an additional platform for the development of bilateral cooperation with key countries, especially with the Russian Federation. Since May 2002, R. Moldova participates as an observer at the meetings of the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC). The primary objectives of the EEC are creating the Customs Union and Unified Economic Space within the CIS.
Obstacles for a Strategic partnership with the Russian Federation
In line with the listed premises, there are a number of internal and external impediments which make the strategic partnership between R. Moldova and the Russian Federation very difficult, if not impossible, to build. In particular, we mention the following impediments:
1. Lack of conceptualized strategic vision on the strategic partnership with the Russian Federation. Currently, Chisinau does not have a clear, well structured understanding on a possible Moldovan - Russian strategic partnership. Although included in the Government’s programme activity as a major foreign policy objective, it is rather a figure of speech, traditional reverence of Moldovan political discourse towards Russia. No one has tried to give substance to this idea. There is no foreign policy or national security document, which would conceptualize or, at least, would give a coherent and credible content to the idea of strategic partnership with Russia. We do not have the answers to a series of questions which would help us better understand the need for this document, the place and the contribution of this partnership to the current paradigm of internal and external development of the R. Moldova. In particular, we do not know which should be the strategic objectives, principles of interaction and its mechanisms of action? However, first of all, it is essential to formulate realistically the stake and role of such a Moldovan -Russian partnership in the context of European integration policy of the R. Moldova. Without answers to these questions, any discussions about a possible strategic partnership with the Russian Federation are mere words with no substance.
2. R. Moldova’s European integration policy. European integration is the main goal of the R. Moldova’s domestic and foreign policy, stated in the Government’s activity programme and the National Security Strategy. According to Chisinau, European integration represents the most effective way to achieve political, economic and social modernization of the country. By following this path, R. Moldova intends to become eligible for accession to the EU. Meanwhile, due to the Eastern Partnership, our country is on the path of political association and economic integration with the EU. Political association will bring a higher level of consultations and political coordination on matters of domestic, regional and international policy. It will also initiate a much more intense and advanced cooperation and common policies in the field of security and defense. Economic integration will mean gradual inclusion of R. Moldova in the EU common market. The set up of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area will be the first step in this direction. This will dictate the progressive harmonization of our country’s legislation to the EU’s Acquis Communautaire. The political association and economic integration with the EU will alienate even more R. Moldova from the models of political and economic integration promoted by the Russian Federation in the CIS area: Customs Union Russia – Belarus - Kazakhstan, Eurasian Economic Community or the future Eurasia Union. However, this is in contradiction with Moscow’s "privileged interests" in the CIS area, set by the outgoing Russian President Dimitrii Medvedev in august 2008, after the Russian - Georgian war. Moreover, want it or not, it is a challenge to the Russia’s status of regional power.
3. Integration of the R. Moldova in the European Energy Community. European Energy Community comprises the EU Member States and those of South-East Europe, the aim being to create a common market of electricity and gas between the EU and other countries. It activity started on 1 July 2006. R. Moldova became a full member in the framework of the Energy Community on May 2010. Accession to the European Energy Community implies gradual integration of Moldovan power lines and natural gas pipelines with those of the EU. In addition, the regulations of the European Commission and EU standards in the field of energy become obligatory for producers, exporters, importers and distributors of electricity and natural gas from R. Moldova. This does not coincide with the interests of Russia and, in particular, with those of Gazprom in the R. Moldova. The current negotiations on the new agreement for the supply of natural gas brought by the Government in Chisinau with Gazprom are clear evidence in this regard. Negotiations were practically suspended owing to the absence of compromise over the new price and the method of its calculation. However, Gazprom would be willing to reduce the price of natural gas delivered to R. Moldova, requesting instead for the refusal to implement the III legislative Package on energy adopted by the European Commission and assumed by the R. Moldova in October 2011. The III energy package consists of a set of regulations and directives of the European Commission, which involve the creation of a single market for natural gas and electricity in the EU on the basis of the Division of supply and distribution companies. The new rules of the European Commission dissatisfy Russian authorities and, in particular Gazprom, which believes that its patrimonial rights and commercial interests are deprived. In fact, Russia is unsatisfied that the III Energy Package jeopardize the status of monopolist of Gazprom in the field of production, transit and delivery of natural gas in Europe, including in Moldova. Moldovan authorities assumed the responsibility to implement the III energy Package by 2015, the main aim being to ensure the country's energy security through diversification of energy sources and providing a lower cost to end-users.
4. Strategic partnership with Romania for European integration. On 27 April 2010, R. Moldova and Romania have initiated a strategic partnership for European integration of the R. Moldova by signing a joint declaration at the level of heads of state. On March 3, 2012, at the first joint meeting of the Governments of the R. Moldova and Romania in Iasi, was signed the action plan for the implementation of the Joint Declaration regarding the establishment of strategic partnership between both countries. The action plan includes actions and projects in areas such as European integration, political and institutional cooperation, economic cooperation, cultural and educational cooperation, cooperation in the field of youth and sports. Thus, the strategic partnership between Chisinau and Bucharest has a concrete content, which falls within the paradigm of modernization and Europeanization of the R. Moldova. By signing this document, the parties undertook to deepen bilateral cooperation, in view of the accession of the R. Moldova to the EU. This commitment requires, in particular, strengthening the dialogue on foreign policy, providing support during the negotiation and implementation of the Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between R. Moldova and EU, assistance to reinforce the administrative and institutional capacities of R. Moldova, intensification of cooperation in the field of Justice and Home Affairs, deepening of the dialogue on issues relating to European integration through the creation of a Joint Committee focused on this dimension, promoting bilateral contacts at all levels of Central and local administration, development of cooperation in order to ensure energy security, in particular through the interconnection of national systems for the transport of natural gas and electricity. In addition, both countries will support their cultural integration process in order to strengthen cultural and spiritual space of R. Moldova and Romania. The implementation of the Action Plan will contribute to the strengthening of the R. Moldova’s economic and energy security, by connecting them to the political, economic, infrastructural, social and cultural space of the EU, including Romania. Of course, this will mean, neutralizing the political impact of the economic and energy influence that the Russian Federation currently has in our country. At the same time, the objectives of the strategic partnership between Chisinau and Bucharest are in direct collision with Moscow's efforts to develop its regional and sub-regional potential of integration and coordination on the territory of CIS Member States.
5. The Transnistrian conflict and the illegal deployment of Russian troops on the territory of the R. Moldova. The lack of tangible progress in the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict as well as the stop of the withdrawal of Russian troops and munitions from the territory of the R. Moldova feeds the suspicions of the political class and of a good parts of the Moldovan society regarding the true intentions of the Russian Federation in relation to our country. As of 2006, 136 thousand of retirees on the left bank of the Nistru River have an increase of 15 dollars USD to basic pension, supported by the Russian Federation. In the period 2007-2011, the total volume of humanitarian assistance provided by Russia for the payment of pensions was around 75 million dollars. Also, Moscow is ignoring the immense debt, nearly 3 billion dollars that the Transnistrian authorities has accumulated for the consumption of natural gas imported from the Russian Federation. However, officially these debts are considered to be of the R. Moldova, though it does not control the Transnistrian region. At the same time, there are other forms of economic aid and technical assistance. An example in this sense is the Transnistrian security structures, for which the accountability is hard to be kept on track. In parallel, Moscow maintains on the territory of the Transnistrian region about 20 thousand tons of munitions and approximately 1,000 soldiers than have the mission to secure it. These troops were to be withdrawn completely and unconditionally from the territory of the R. Moldova in 2002, in accordance with the adapted Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) and the Declaration of the Istanbul OSCE Summit in 1999. In 2007, Russia suspended its participation in the adapted Treaty and stated as a precondition to the complete withdrawal of its troops and munitions from the R. Moldova the political settlement of the Transnistrian conflict. However, this position does not coincide with that of the Chisinau authorities, which stand for the complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops and ammunition.
6. GUAM partnership (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova). The association of the R. Moldova to the GUAM Group was determined, first of all, by political considerations, in particular by the necessity to make the Chisinau’s position better heard and taken into account in the negotiations on the adapted version of the CFE Treaty, as well as in order to counterbalance the influence of the Russian Federation in the process of Transnistrian conflict settlement. Economic calculations have played a secondary role in the formation of GUAM and, especially, in the R. Moldova's adherence to this regional for. Creation of GUAM was based, first, on a package of common strategic interests, namely: Russia honoring its commitments concerning the reduction of conventional armed forces in Europe taken under the CFE Treaty; the coordination of their positions with regard to the settlement of frozen conflicts in the framework of international organizations (Council of Europe, the Organization for security and cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations (UN)); ensuring energy and economic security by developing alternative transport corridors that would link Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, bypassing Russia, etc.. . In 2006, the GUAM initiative has been institutionalized as the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, and one of the fundamental priorities of the new regional structure becomes deepening of European integration in order to create a common space of security, democracy, economic and humanitarian cooperation. For Chisinau authorities, GUAM is a complementary platform for its efforts of European integration, emphasizing the strengthening of economic and trade relations, the development of energy and transport infrastructures and combating organized crime. Focusing on economic cooperation, Chisinau wants to avoid contradictions with Moscow, who continues to regard GUAM as an organization that neglects "privileged interests" in CIS area.
7. Russian Federation’s lack of interest for a strategic partnership with R. Moldova. As long as R. Moldova is engaged on the path of political and economic integration with the EU, defining a Moldovan - Russian strategic partnership does not constitute a priority for Russia. Chisinau pro-European policy comes in contradiction with Moscow's plans to build its own sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space with Russia as central point. In the view of the Russian society and political class, in the new multi-pole world, Russia's regional ambitions with global projection of its influence will depend on its affirmation as a leader in the CIS space, which is, increasingly, redefined by Russian politicians, geopolitically, geo-economically and geo-culturally, as the Eurasian world. Russia wants to become the only speaker of the Eurasian world with the West, embodied by the US, EU and NATO. However, in order to see fulfilled this geo-strategic desire, Russia needs for international partners, particularly the USA and the EU to recognize its status of leader in the framework of regional organizations promoting political and economic integration in the CIS area and respect its area of "privileged interests". The Chisinau policy of European integration doesn’t comply with Moscow geostrategic design. On the contrary, it is perceived by Russia as representing the intentions of the West to expand its area of influence in the post-Soviet space, thus undermining Russia’s status of regional power by gradual erosion of the main platforms designed to promote political, economic and military power in the region. In the case of R. Moldova, these platforms are energy dependency, trade - economic dependency, the Transnistrian conflict, the illegal deployment of Russian troops on the territory of the country. Given these reasons, Russia is not at all pleased by the participation of the R. Moldova in the framework of the EU Eastern Partnership. Although, lately, Russian diplomats and politicians have been less critical with regard to this regional initiative, the Russian distrust towards it has remained unchanged. The Eastern Partnership is for the R. Moldova the path to economic integration, energy integration, infrastructural integration and political association with the EU, which will have the effect of a gradual neutralization of Russian influence in the field of energy, trade and politics. However, this will not be easily accepted by the Russian strategy - makers.
R. Moldova’s options: conclusions and proposals
Despite the real preconditions that exist for the set up of a Moldovan - Russian strategic partnership, it has minimal chances to succeed. According to the EU enlargement policy in Central Europe, the modernization and Europeanization of the R. Moldova is opposing Moscow’s vision concerning the integration processes in the post-Soviet region. In fact, they exclude each other. In these circumstances, the stated intention of Chisinau to build a strategic partnership with Moscow is neither credible, nor feasible. What are, then, the real options of the R. Moldova for the development of sustainable and predictable relations with the Russian Federation?
The room for maneuver available to the R. Moldova in relation to the Russian Federation is extremely limited. In addition to structural obstacles referred to in this analysis, there are also a number of external factors that will shape in the coming years Chisinau’s options towards Moscow’s policy in the region.
Firstly, Russia is a conservative power which prefers rather to preserve the regional status quo, than to take risks of changing it with uncertain results. From this point of view, the return of Putin to Kremlin will not bring big changes in Moscow’s policy towards R. Moldova and the region. Putin will rather continue the policy of his predecessor aimed towards affirmation of Russia as a regional power with global impact, giving it a new impetus.
Secondly, it is clear to everyone that the partnership for modernization between EU and Russia failed before it begun. The causes of this fiasco are not so much related to the debt crisis in the EU, but, more to different expectations of Moscow and Brussels from this partnership. While Moscow wanted to bring in more European technologies and investments in Russian economy without further obligation, Brussels hoped that the new partnership will encourage democratic transformations and structural reforms, essential for attracting investment and European technologies.
Thirdly, taking into account the role played by the EU in supporting the "Arab spring" in the States of the Maghreb (Libya, Tunisia and Egypt), Moscow does not see anymore Brussels as a neutral actor, only with economic and regulatory interests. This shift will inevitable make Moscow reassess its attitudes towards the EU policies in the post-Soviet space. Russia haste to institutionalize the Eurasian Union announced by Putin in October 2011 is a clear sign that the process has begun.
Fourthly, the Euro zone crisis has changed EU priorities. Thus, in the next 10 years, EU will be focused above all on its domestic consolidation and economic revival, while the expansion to the East will be suspended, awaiting better times. For Russia, the weaknesses of the EU are a good opportunity to take advantage of them in order to implement their own integration project in the post-Soviet space, first, economic and then political as an alternative to the EU project. The Treaty establishing the Eurasian Union is planned to be signed on 1 January 2015, this was stated by President Dmitri Medvedev at the meeting of Interstate Council of the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) in Moscow, on 19 March 2012. In the same context, he stressed that states which will be part of the future Union will naturally benefit of privileges, while the ones that will opt to remain outside will have, of course, problems.
Fifth, resetting Russian-American relations has failed to produce a compromise on the American missile shield in Europe. Both for Russia and USA the missile shield has become a question of principle. Despite multiple assurances given by US and its European allies that the missile shield is not directed against Russia, it continues to perceive the shield as a direct threat to its own security. Considering that some elements of future missile shield will be installed in Romania, the possible escalation of Russian - American tensions around this topic could affect R. Moldova.
Six, Vladimir Putin is convinced that the West understands only the language of force and tough negotiation. The 2008 war with Georgia stopped the expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance in the former Soviet area, and the new START agreement allowed Russia to join the World Trade Organization, after 20 years. This, we can not exclude that Moscow will be tempted to apply harsh measures against those who undermine strategic interests in the region. Appointing Dmitri Rogozin, the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the Industrial Defense Complex, as the special representative of the President of the Russian Federation to Transnistria and co-Chairman of the Moldovan - Russian Intergovernmental Commission for economic cooperation , fits perfectly in this Russia’s logic of action.
Therefore, taking into account the aforementioned external factors and trends, ignoring or, challenging openly Moscow is contraindicated and unreasonable. Russia will not hesitate to apply coercive instruments towards R. Moldova and the consequences will be disastrous for the internal stability of our country and its relations with its major partners, particularly the EU. Judging by the experience of Georgia, we can assume that neither the EU, nor the USA will approve the deterioration of our relations with Moscow.
At the same time, a strategic partnership with Russia is, currently, a chimera. In the past three years, stating the idea of Moldovan-Russian strategic partnership has resulted in releasing the tension and subsequently partial normalization of the dialogue between Chisinau and Moscow. However, this is not enough, the idea lacks credible content. Of course, our politicians may flirt with a Moldovan-Russian strategic partnership design, but it is unlikely that Russian politicians will be charmed by the Moldovan colleagues. Neither the exemplary participation of our officials as observers at the meetings of the Eurasian Economic Community will make the Kremlin strategy makers forget the European orientation of Chisinau and be less consistent in promoting Russian interests in our country. In fact, Dmitri Rogozin's appointment to the posts of special representative of the President of the Russian Federation to Transnistria and co-Chairman of the Moldovan-Russian Intergovernmental Commission for economic cooperation should be a cold shower for the Chisinau’s decision makers.
However, for the development of a stable Moldovan - Russian relationship is needed the elaboration of a realistic predictable and credible policy towards Russia, which would facilitate the achievement of our strategic objectives of modernization and Europeanization, developing at the same time, specific/utilitarian partnerships with Moscow on areas of common interest: energy, trade, cultural-humanitarian cooperation, settlement of the Transnistrian conflict. Such a policy would offer Russia a proactive role and, in particular, constructive one, in the current paradigm of the R. Moldova’s development, in partnership with EU.
Of course, such a policy seems incredible, but what is the alternative? The alternative is the inevitable confrontation of the two integrationist projects European Union and Eurasian Union on the territory of our country, with unforeseeable consequences for the R. Moldova. One of these consequences could be even accepting Transnistrian Customs Union Russia – Belarus -Kazakhstan or/and the Eurasian Union, a thing that is easy to accomplish, especially in the case when Chisinau would be forced to recognize the principle of “legal equality” between Tiraspol and Chisinau.
In fact, this confrontation has begun. The first step was the announcement made by President Vladimir Putin regarding the creation of the Eurasian Union. Even if the project is vaguely designed so far, and for some experts is slightly realistic, its symbolic and psychological significance should not be neglected. The announcement concerning Russia's intention is undoubtedly a signal transmitted not only for the CIS states, but especially for the European Union with regard to the limits of its expansion to the East. Therefore, we cannot exclude that Russia will be, from now on, keener to use tough measures for defending its sphere of "privileged interests" in Ukraine and R. Moldova, while the internal and external pressures exerted on both states will increase. From this point of view, Dimitri Medvedev's statements on 19 March 2012 seems to be only friendly warnings addressed to Kiev and Chisinau.
If this scenario will be followed, then Moscow's actions to convince Chisinau to get involved in CIS integrationist processes will increase. Also, Russia’s efforts to prevent alteration of the status quo in the R. Moldova will become more evident. Maintaining the status quo is the guaranty of the Russian influence in our country. Being perfectly aware of this fact, Moscow will use negotiations on the new agreement for the supply of natural gas to determine Chisinau authorities to slow down the III energy Package, approved by the European Commission, which will have as an effect the fragmentation of Gazprom monopoly on the R. Moldova’s natural gas infrastructure. In the field of economics, Moscow, at the level of public awareness, will encourage the creation of a real alternative for the economic integration with the EU by promoting the idea of the R. Moldova’s accession to the Customs Union Russia – Belarus -Kazakhstan and the future Eurasian Union , and the energy and trade blackmails will stand upon Chisinau as the "sword of Damocles". In the political field, nothing unusual will happen, official dialogue will continue, however, the problems will remain the same, and the uncertainty will continue to press on Moldovan - Russian relations. Settling the Transnistrian conflict will not move forward, as long as Russia will not get from Moldova the recognition of so-called “legal equality” of the Transnistrian region. Therefore, Moscow will do everything to maintain the current state of affairs, supporting politically and financially the separatist regime and in parallel imitate actions meant to encourage and facilitate dialogue between Chisinau and Tiraspol. Russia also vehemently opposes the efforts of transforming the current peacekeeping mission in a civilian one under international mandate and will continue to support financially the Tiraspol administration, in order to prevent its economic and political collapse. Furthermore, on 16 March 2012, the Security Council of the Russian Federation has already decided, to allocate the Transnistrian region a package of assistance worth 150 million dollars. The grant of such assistance along with the appointment of the nationalist and anti-western Dimitri Rogozin as Russian President's special representative for the Transnistrian region has only one purpose: strengthening the military and political control of Russia and stop the penetration of Western influence in Transnistria.
In the present context and, in particular, in the absence of a consensus at the level of society and of the Moldovan political class regarding the essence of the Moldovan - Russian partnership, it is extremely difficult to elaborate a realistic, predictable and credible policy in relation to Russia. According to the public opinion Barometer (BOP) in November 2011, 60.5% of citizens want Russia to be main strategic partner of the R. Moldova, while 47% wish county’s adherence to EU, and 45% would prefer the Customs Union Russia – Belarus - Kazakhstan. Moldovan political class is equally divided and confused as the society. The consensus of the Alliance Government for European Integration (AIE) towards Russia is fragile and threatened continuously by different visions of the three constituent parties concerning the identity of the majority population, historical events that have marked the destiny of the R. Moldova in the last 200 years, (particularly the Soviet period), the nature of relations between R. Moldova and the North Atlantic Alliance, the nature and intensity of the partnership between Chisinau and Bucharest, R. Moldova’s cooperation in the framework of CIS and the Eurasian Economic Community etc... At the same time, consensus between the Government, represented by the AIE (Liberal Party, the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party) and the opposition, represented in particular by the Communist Party (PCRM) and the Social Democratic Party (PSDM) is lacking in this respect. Currently, the PCRM and PSDM advocates for the creation of a common economic and customs space with Russia by joining the Customs Union Russia –Belarus - Kazakhstan and Eurasian Union proposed by Vladimir Putin, which comes in absolute contradiction with the strategic objective of European integration promoted by the IEA.
In the past 10 years, Russia's interests in the R. Moldova have become more specific and perceptible: no accession to the North Atlantic Alliance; maintenance of permanent neutrality; maintaining military presence on the left side of the Nistru River; total control of its natural gas transit to Europe; control of at least the majority of domestic natural gas pipelines; federalizing R. Moldova by recognizing the “legal equality” of the Transnistrian region; protecting Russian investments in key sectors, including in the Transnistrian region; respect and development of the Russian linguistic and cultural identity; formalizing the accession to the CIS free trade zone; participation in the CIS integration processes, etc.. Most of these interests are unacceptable for R. Moldova, however, they reflect, like it or not, the main concerns of Moscow in the region: to protect their strategic interests in European security matters and maintaining its dominant influence on the periphery of the post-Soviet space.
The EU enlargement towards East, even in its lightest form of the Eastern Partnership, is a direct challenge to Moscow's interests in the R. Moldova and undermines the attractiveness of its integration projects in the region. It is easy to assume that Russia, headed by President Putin will not accept and will not tolerate disrespect/decreasing its status as regional power. However, R. Moldova is not prepared to face the eventual increasing pressures of Russia. Despite progress on the political association and economic integration with the EU, European integration of the R. Moldova has not yet reached the point of irreversibility. Optimistically, the association agreement would be in force in the next 3-4 years, while the deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Zone, which will require the economic integration with the EU, will become a reality in the next 10-15 years. Incidentally, Ukraine is the same situation. It is obvious, that the next decade will be decisive for the success of R. Moldova’s modernization paradigm through its integration with the EU. Without any doubt, Moscow is aware of these realities. Moreover, it will try to take advantage of them in the next 2-4 years, in order to promote their own plans for economic integration in the region, while Transnistrian problem, the price of imported natural gas and access of Moldovan goods to the Russian market will be the spearheading of its anti-EU "counter-offensive" in our country.
R. Moldova is not prepared, neither politically, nor economic, to cope with such an anti-European "counter-offensive”, worse, it does not have a credible policy of Russian engagement with a long term vision. Currently the main purpose of Chisinau’s policy towards Russian is to prevent Moscow’s anger and/or minimize its negative political and economic effects on the R. Moldova when this anger would be unleashed. We are dealing with an intuitive, situational and reactive behavior without strategic and creative thinking, which, actually is inhibited by the eternal and hereditary fear of Moldovan politicians not to provoke Kremlin’s anger, as well as their desire to exploit the goodwill of internal political competition in Moscow. Such a "policy" is doomed to failure. It's enough to take a retrospective look on those 20 years of diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation in order to understand this fact.
Without a realistic strategic long term vision, Chisinau policy towards Russia is lacking credibility in the eyes of Moscow. As far as R. Moldova – EU strategic partnership is shaped by the Association Agreement, updating and redesigning the Moldovan - Russian partnership is becoming an imperative. Otherwise, we risk alienating Moscow and sabotaging the agenda of Europeanization and the country’s reunification. The current Russian policy of appeasement is not viable and will come sooner or later in a stalemate. Therefore, Chisinau need a policy that would make a realistic vision for the next 15-20 years, with the objectives and principles of a partnership that would give Russia reliable economic, political and security stakes, convincing it to give up on keeping the status quo-and and support the current paradigm of development of the R. Moldova. Of course, these objectives and principles should enjoy a broad consensus on the part of society and Moldovan political class, in particular, of the main political parties. The latter condition is crucial for the positive engagement of Moscow. The lack of such visions makes Chisinau vulnerable to Moscow’s pressures, which will not delay in imposing its own rules of engagement to Moldovan politicians. It is not excluded that soon, Dimitri Rogozin, the Kremlin's new envoy for "Transnistria", will inform Chisinau about these rules.