Moldova: the “vacuum zone” at the crossroads of geopolitics

Moldova is located on the southern edge of the Eastern European Plain, with a territory of only 33,800 square kilometers and a population of approximately 3.5509 million. The country has a special geographical location. It borders Ukraine to the east and north, Romania to the west across the Prut River, and the Black Sea to the southeast. It has always been one of the battlefields of Russia and the West. Today’s world is facing major changes unseen in a century, and the game between major powers is becoming increasingly fierce. Moldova, located in the cracks of major powers, has once again attracted attention from all sides.

The Historical Evolution of the Conflict in the German-Left Region
Moldova is a republic of the former Soviet Union. In August 1991, the country declared its independence. Moldova has a relatively short history as an independent country, and its state formation is to a large extent the result of the Soviet Union’s national policy and administrative management experiments. However, the re-delineation of national borders and the great migration of nations and populations during the Soviet era paved the way for today’s conflicts in Europe and Asia. The conflict on the left bank of the Dniester River in Moldova (hereinafter referred to as the German Left) is one of the remaining problems.

From 1988 to 1989, Gorbachev implemented reforms in the Soviet Union and advocated new thinking. Moldova has also undergone social and political reforms and democratization. In the early 1990s, the country implemented a series of “Romanian” policies in the fields of public life, politics, culture and language, which aroused panic and protests among ethnic minorities including Russian citizens , And eventually led to the declaration of independence in the De Zuo region, where Russian citizens in the east were concentrated, in the autumn of 1990, and the establishment of the Republic of Moldavia along the Transnistria. In July 1992, a large-scale armed conflict broke out in the German-Left region. After the leaders of the German left region, the Moldovan government, and Russia signed the “Agreement on the Principles of Conflict Resolution in the Transnistrian Region”, military operations were frozen and Russian peacekeeping troops stationed in the region. Since then, the OSCE and Ukraine joined the peace process negotiations in 1993 and 1995 respectively, and finally formed the “5+2” model of conflict resolution, which included Moldova and the German Zuo region as the host of the two parties. Organizations and as mediators and observers Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States.

Although a conflict resolution mechanism has been established, the negotiations have never achieved substantive results due to political differences between Moldova and the German-Leo region and other countries participating in the “5+2” model. Until 2003, the Kozak Memorandum (also known as the “Memorandum of Fundamental Principles for the Construction of the United Nations”) proposed a solution to the German-Left conflict. The plan was proposed by Russia, and its purpose was to resolve the German-Left conflict through the federalization of Moldova. According to this plan, Moldova will become an asymmetrical federal state, and the two regions of Germany and Gagauz will receive special status. The then President of Moldova Voronin initially accepted the plan in principle, but the Moldovan opposition believes that the plan may lead to permanent division of Moldova. Later, the United States and Europe made it clear that they did not support the Kozak Memorandum. Under strong internal and external pressure, the Voronin government finally refused to sign the Kozak Memorandum.

Until the Ukraine crisis in 2014, Crimea’s withdrawal from Uzbekistan into Russia and the outbreak of the Uzbek conflict, the geopolitical situation in Eurasia has undergone profound changes, and it has had a real impact on the German-Left conflict that has been frozen for many years. Especially when the pro-Russian presidential candidate Doton won the presidential election in 2016, people began to wonder: whether Moldova will become the next Ukraine, and will Germany and Left be the next Crimea?

Why is it so difficult to become the next Ukraine
However, it is difficult for Moldova to become the next Ukraine. This is mainly determined by the characteristics of the conflict between Germany and the Left, the two-way nature of the Moroccan government’s diplomacy, and the consideration of the interests of major powers.

First, there is no tension between the various ethnic groups in Moldova. This makes the German-Left conflict different from the conflicts of Naqa and Abkhazia rooted in ethnic or religious differences. There is no background of ethnic relations between the Moldovan and Russian ethnic groups. Moldova’s geographic location at the forefront of Russia’s confrontation with the West has become the most important driving force behind the conflict. In addition, Moldova does not border Russia, and the German-Left region has deployed Russian peacekeeping forces. This reduces the possibility of armed conflicts similar to that of Udong in the German Zuo region.

Secondly, during the 29 years of independence, Moldova’s domestic political situation has always been turbulent, with pro-Russian and pro-European governments alternately in power, and the country’s position has been oscillating between Russia and Europe. On the one hand, Moldova is influenced by Russia in terms of politics, economy, and security, and its relations with Russia are one of its most important diplomatic directions. On the other hand, the westward transition has always been the main direction of Moldova’s foreign policy adjustment. Especially during the period of the pro-European government from 2009 to 2016, it strengthened the country’s policy of joining the EU and establishing closer cooperation with NATO, and its cooperation with the EU under the policy framework of neighboring countries has also achieved good results. On the whole, the successive governments of Moldova since independence have always adopted a two-way diplomatic strategy to seek a balance between Russia and Europe, regardless of their political tendencies. This has made the country always at a crossroads in geopolitics.

On December 3, 2020, President-elect Sandou of Moldova (right) left after giving a speech outside the parliament building in Chisinau, the capital.

Finally, whether it is Russia or the European Union, the main forces in the Eurasian geopolitical game are accustomed to seeing Moldova as a “political vacuum zone,” and all parties are unwilling to integrate it into their sphere of influence due to some factors. For Russia, Moldova lacks access to the Black Sea and is of low strategic importance. Poor economic conditions have potentially adverse effects on the Eurasian Economic Union. The expansion of Moldova into a Russian-led collective security organization may cause the deterioration of Russia-West relations and prompt Georgia and other countries to accelerate the process of reconciliation with NATO and the European Union. These undesirable consequences make Russia unwilling to get more involved in the Moldova issue.

For the EU, although Moldova’s accession to the EU has a strong symbolic meaning and can prove the flexibility of the EU’s soft power in the post-Brexit era, Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, lacking competitive industries, corruption, and population loss. The problem seriously restricts its economic and social development. If Moldova is to meet the conditions for joining the EU, the EU needs to invest a lot of money under the framework of the Eastern Partnership, and faces various risks caused by the massive loss of youth population after Moldova’s accession to the Schengen area. Therefore, the EU adopted a similar attitude to Russia on the Moldova issue. The game between Russia and Europe in the Eurasian region has formed a relatively stable balance at this point in Moldova, and the conflict in the German-Left region has been frozen for a long time.

However, with the global outbreak of the new crown in early 2020, the situation in Eurasia has undergone major changes, making people wonder whether the next regional hot spot will be Moldova. On November 15th, the pro-European candidate Sandou upset the pro-Russian current President Doton. Will the frozen German-Left conflict break out again?

Prospects of the situation in Moldova
I am afraid that the answer to the above question will be no. On the one hand, Moldova’s political situation often undergoes unexpected overturns. In 2019, few people predicted that Sandu and Dordon, two political forces with different positions, could form a ruling coalition and join hands to expel Moldovan oligarch Vladimir Polahotnyuk. In this sense, the result of this presidential election is not unexpected. It only confirms once again that Moldova’s political environment is volatile and unstable, and it does not necessarily bring about reconciliation between Moldova and the West, thereby undermining the strategy formed by Russia and Europe in Moldova. balance. At the same time, although the two pro-Russian and pro-European factions in Moldova have differences in foreign policy and relations with Russia, there is a consensus on the German-Left issue, and they all support the federalization to recover the German-Left region in a peaceful manner. Maintain the territorial integrity of the country. In addition, Moldova’s balance of pro-Russian and pro-Western forces has not fundamentally changed. Moldova implements a semi-presidential and semi-parliamentary system. The president has certain powers, but is subject to greater restrictions by the parliament. Moldova’s current parliament was elected in 2019, and a coalition of political parties led by the pro-Russian Socialist Party occupies the majority of seats in the parliament. Therefore, the victory of the pro-European candidates in the presidential election does not mean that Moldova’s power structure has undergone a substantial change.

In fact, the political changes caused by the results of this presidential election did not break the usual logic of Moldovan politics. Sandu will not be able to get rid of the inertia of the country’s foreign policy at least in the short term after he takes office, and will still maintain the two-way diplomacy. Sandu has stated that he will establish a good relationship with Russia. It is not difficult to foresee that the domestic situation in Moldova will remain stable for some time to come. But at the same time, there is still the possibility of sudden changes in its situation. At present, Moldova’s domestic social pressure to hold parliamentary elections in advance is increasing, and Sandu is actively looking for political allies in the parliament to promote related agendas. This will undoubtedly lead to a major change in Moldova’s existing political power structure. The balance of power between Russia and Europe in Moldova has caused a shock, increasing the uncertainty of the situation in Moldova.