Central Europe Activ

Still on the European mapThe opposition Liberal Party has organized a demonstration against Russian troops in Moldova, which was crushed by the police. A break-away region ‘invited’ more Russian troops into the small Eastern European country. Familiar story?

Moldova (still on the map in the right hand corner) is a former Soviet republic between the European Union and Ukraine. Its Russian minority is ‘protected’ by Russian peace-keepers since 1992. The Romanian president sometimes laments on redrawing its borders, without any serious rebuff from his EU and NATO allies. It looks that something stirs here, too.

The opposition Liberals call for Moldova’s EU and NATO membership. Moldova do not possess full sovereignty over its territories. Russia has 1500 ‘peace-keeping’ troops in the breakaway province of Transnistria. It looks that the European-Russian rivalry will find a new buffer state to fight for: similarly to the South Ossetian and Abkhazian leaders, the Transdnistrian dictator has invited more Russian troops to the country.The opposition has organized a demonstration, Caravan for Russian Troop Withdrawal from Moldova, which was stopped by police forces and citizens who are said to be loyal to Russia.

Everything is ready for a civil war or another Russian military invention precisely 0 kilometers away from the EU and NATO borders. I think Vitaliy on the The 8th Circle has hit the nail on the head with the question: does the European Union have a zone of influence?

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  1. Dear Vitaily – I would like to encourage everybody for corrections, so I will not delete your comment, thanks :) The redesign is the work of the maintainers of the whole Blogactiv community, I hope it will encourage all readers to spend more time in the improved environment… Thanks!

  2. Great description of how our president acts :) What’s even more interesting is that his displays of grandeur seem very impressive for our fellow Romanians, who view him as some sort of messianic figure. Anyway, you are very much right about Transnistria and Moldova. The conflict was mocking for quite a while now. During the recent conflict in Georgia, there were a lot of signals coming in from Moldova that something is cooking in there. As for the EU sphere of influence, I disagree with Vitalyi and I believe there is one. How about the candidate countries (Western Balkans, Turkey)? Or about some of the countries included in the neighbourhood policy? Albeit, we are talking here about countries culturally speaking quite far away from the ideals and history in Western Europe, but nonetheless there are a lot of ties, so we can indeed speak about a sphere of influence.

  3. My contacts on the ground (in Moldova) are not as worried, and due to my work I have quite some, including people working locally in international organisations, EUBAM, business men, as well as locals.

    Relations seem rather quiet these days.

  4. I would define a sphere of influence as an area over which a state exerts or claims some kind of indirect cultural, economic, military or political domination.

    The EU’s softpower (as defined by Joseph Nye) is immense across its borders and beyond – around the world. Thus it exerts cultural, economic and often political domination (in a benign sense of the word) over states in its immediate vicinity, such as the Balkan countries, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Turkey.

    What I had in mind though was whether the EU recognizes a sphere of influence in the way that Russia does? This seems to be largely confined to the political and military domination, and secondarily but arguably not less importantly to economic and cultural domination.

    It seems – and I may be wrong – but the EU does not claim a sphere of influence to its East (specifically former Soviet republics), and this can be seen through its lack of interest in asserting itself in the post-Soviet space.

    In closing, I have to clarify myself. I have used the EU as a unitary actor when in fact it is a composition of states which still espouse national interests upon which they act on. This is largely not the case on matters related to trade and economy (although the response to the current financial crisis is challenging even that perception), but on matters of security and politics, the EU has at least a two or three distinct blocs that stand in contradiction to one another.

    Thus one could argue that the EU claims a sphere of influence, but delegates that authority to EU regional power states such as Poland who takes charge on relations with its Eastern neighborhood, while Brussels is too divided to act in unison.

  5. I guess that nobody rely delegated any power to Poland (maybe the case of Belarus is an exception, for some good reasons) and it just filled a vacuum. I think most EU member states had been very unhappy with the previous Polish government’s foreign policy, and do not really know what the current one does. If there is a member state that act in the name of the Union in the East that is Germany, but I again, the other few who are interested are not very happy with it. (The Polish, for example).

    I think that in many ways the EU does have a zone of interest, but it does not have a policy how to respond to the new militaristic Russian foreign policy.My bet is that there will be more Russian troops in Moldova, every day life will not change much, and the EU will do nothing about this.

  6. Julien – I do not think that there will be a violent escalation, rather a diplomatic one: more Russian troops in a sovereign state without UN mandate will not help to promote Moldova’s progress into any direction, weather it want to join EU or NATO or not.

    Corina Murafa – I agree with you and I also commented in Vitaliy’s blog that the EU does have a very-well institutionalized sphere of interest: the Western Balkans, the EEA, Switzerland, and part of the Mediterranean world. Certainly Moldova is not here, although it could well be. But it would require a positive Romanian attitude. Given the economic, cultural ties with Romania and the small size of the Moldovan economy, I think there is not any more EU member state that would be seriously interested in taking Moldova in.

  7. Daniel,

    you are generally right with what you say, but so far I haven’t heard anything from the side of Moscow concerning the sending of more troops. And Mr Smirnov can tell a lot – it doesn’t seem as if the Kremlin woud be interested right now to provoque more conflict.

    The last time Smirnov met Medvedev in Sotchi, he flew away with quite strong language and came back with a diplomatic tongue.

    And from a security point of view, there is no reason to deploy troops in Transnistria – Moldovan president Voronin has even called for a demilitarisation of Moldova in the state newspaper “Moldova Suverana”.

    What I wanted to say is: Yes, Moldova and Transnistria have received much more attention during the last weeks than they did before, but the conflict situation did not change considerably, my feeling (based on local contacts) is rather the contrary.

  8. Daniel I don’t think a conflict will start in Moldova. Nobody wants war and the Moldovian government will definitely not attack Transnistria (as Georgia did in South Ossetia).

    Related to the Romanian president comments I think you misunderstood them. Basescu comments (however silly they may sound) were a rebuttal to some Ukrainian plans of acquiring Transnistria. The argument went something like this: If they (Ukrainians) want to return to 1939 borders (when Transnistria was part of Ukraine/USSR) then they should also consider returning the 2 territories mentioned (taken in 1940) to Moldova (and not Romania). The comment was intended to support Moldova’s territorial integrity (by mentioning that Ukraine can’t just take Transnistria). My opinion is that the comment was not very helpful or inspired but it definitely was not intended to destabilize the Ukraine or Moldova.

    Romania was the first country to recognize Moldova’s independence and it is its main supporter in the EU accession process. Romania also supports Ukraine’s EU and NATO ambitions (there are a lot of reasons to want Ukraine in NATO and the EU).

  9. Paul – I think you belive Moldovan-Romanian relations better than they are. I think the Romanian president was by no coincidence that ‘mystic’: not few people believe in his country that Moldova should be divided up between Romania and Ukraine, as they do not recognize Moldovans to be a separate nation from Romanian. I guess these kind of remarks ‘to support Moldovan territorial integrity’ may sound quite threatening to the other parties involved.

    Currently, I do not claim that we will hear cannons and no rockets will be launched. Any more Russian troops, or any more provocation from Russian puppet leaders in Transdnistria is indeed puts another dose of tension into the already existing conflict.

    I think it is a very strong euphemism to deny that there is a conflict between Europe and Russia in Moldova.

  10. Daniel I am Romanian myself so I know the Romanian views on Moldova; I’ve also been there. I do not believe Romanian-Moldovan relations are better then they are; the relations between the two governments are quite bad.
    The number of Romanians wanting Moldova to unite with Romania declined in the last 15 years, the causes being: disappointment over Moldovan reluctance to union in the 1990s, anti-Romanian policies and speeches by their communist (most of the time pro-Russian) president, the economic decline in Moldova etc.. Of course there is still a high number of Romanians that would like to see Moldova united (the western, Romanian half of Moldova with the eastern half – the present Republic of Moldova). Most Romanians learned in school that the majority of the people in Moldova are Romanians that were forcibly taken from the motherland (which is not very far from the truth if you want to ignore a few things related to identity). However, that doesn’t mean that Romanians will do something about it. Union with Moldova doesn’t make it in the top 10 pressing issues in Romania. The main view is that on the union issue the ball is on the Moldovan side and it is for them to decide what they want to do. If all their young want to abandon their country and leave behind old people that keep regretting the USSR and keep electing creepy communists that lead them to economic ruin then so be it. Of course the Romanian state gives them free electrical power when the Russians cut the supply and quite a lot of scholarships in Romanian high-schools and universities (after their studies very few of them return home).

    Identity is a big issue in Moldova. Some think that they are Moldovan, others that they are Romanian. Some look west (EU), some look east (including most of the minorities in Moldova – Russian, Ukrainian, Gagauz etc.. – that tend to be Russo-phones/philes and oppose a union with Romania). And then they have the conflict in Transnistria. Moldova is a poor, weak, torn country with a big identity problem.

    Of course there is a conflict between Russia and Europe in there. However, I don’t think the conflict will heat up in a military fashion. Even if the Russians increase their troops in Transnistria, the Moldovan state is too weak to do something about it. It will protest and so will Romania,the rest of the EU and the US but that will be it.

  11. Paul – I think your president plays for those people who either have a sentiment for the union of the two countries and do nothing about it. It may seem harmless for a Romanian, but in a weak and torn new nation state that is very destabilizing, I guess. I agree with everyone here: I don’t think there will be a military conflict in Moldova. I diplomatic clashes and provocations, and if the EU is not cautious enough it will seem that it is toothless around its borders. That’s all I mean, and I think this would perfectly serve the interests of the Russian diplomacy. Otherwise thank you for the clarification on Romanian-Moldovan issues!

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