Time to join NATO?  Moldova intends to join ‘a larger alliance’ – POLITICO Europe

Time to join NATO? Moldova intends to join ‘a larger alliance’ – POLITICO Europe

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DAVOS, Switzerland — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked intense debate in neighboring Moldova over whether the country needs to abandon its constitutional neutrality and lock itself into a “larger alliance.”

When asked about a possible NATO entry, Moldova’s President Maia Sandu said in an interview with POLITICO that the country was still weighing up its next move and whether it would need a constitutional amendment.

“Now there’s a serious discussion … about our ability to defend ourselves, whether we can do it ourselves or whether we should be part of a larger alliance,” she said. “And if at some point we come to the conclusion as a nation that we need to change neutrality, it should be done through a democratic process.”

In her response, Sandu was careful not to name-check NATO, an anathema to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is already trying to destabilize Moldova’s pro-EU government. Russia has warned of further military cooperation between Moldova and western allies.

Although Moldova is not a member of NATO, it cooperates with the organization and contributes to the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

Sandu, along with other leaders, met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during the United Nations General Assembly in New York last September. Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu attended December’s NATO meeting in Bucharest – the first time a Moldovan foreign minister had attended a NATO ministerial meeting. At that meeting, the allies reaffirmed their support for Moldova, including by providing training to the Moldovan Defense Forces. Neighboring NATO member Romania is also particularly keen to increase military cooperation.

The most glaring obstacle to Moldova’s further integration is that Russian soldiers are stationed inside the country, in the breakaway region of Transnistria.

Nevertheless, the military calculation is becoming more and more urgent. Moldova is dangerously close to the conflict that began almost a year ago. Rocket debris was again found in the north of the country last week. Attacks on the energy infrastructure in Ukraine also paralyze electricity in Moldova.

Moldova must perform a delicate dance: while remaining true to its pro-Western and EU course, while not angering Russia to the point where it might use military force.

“Peaceful Land”

Russia has repeatedly warned Moldova against military cooperation with the West and considers the former Soviet state within its sphere of influence.

But Sandu defends against any perception that Moldova’s attempt to strengthen its defenses – either by increasing its own military capabilities or by forging closer ties with other allies – is provocative, saying that Russia, not Ukraine or Moldova being the aggressor.

“Moldova is a peaceful country. It’s not Moldova that started a war against its neighbors,” she said. “Russian propaganda managed to convince part of the population that neutrality means you don’t have to invest in your defense sector, that neutrality means you don’t do anything and have no ability to defend yourself, which is wrong. “

Sandu, a former World Bank official, was elected in 2020 as part of an anti-corruption campaign. In June, the country will host the second meeting of the European Political Community, a pan-European forum for EU and non-EU countries that met for the first time in Prague last year.

Moldova, which has pledged to join the EU under the pro-Western Sandu government, was granted candidate status in June. While accession talks are ongoing, the prospect of membership is years away.

Nonetheless, the EU has stepped up its support to the country, allocating hundreds of millions of euros in loans and grants to Moldova since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. To facilitate Moldova’s move away from Russian gas, the country’s power grid was synchronized with the EU last year – a significant further step westward.

Overall, Sandu says the country remains very “vulnerable” and exposed to a Russian hybrid war through propaganda and misinformation. But for now, it doesn’t face any military threats. The reason? Ukrainian bravery and resilience. “Thanks to the courage and resistance of the Ukrainians, we are not currently facing any military threat,” she says. “We face a number of risks, but none of them compare to the situation in Ukraine and the price Ukrainians are paying.”