Moldova Deserves Western and Canadian Support
Moldova has been under increasing threat ever since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine
Many Canadians probably missed the early May visit to Canada by the President of Moldova, Maia Sandu. She came to meet Canadian political leaders to discuss the war in Ukraine, Moldova’s response to it and the threat to Moldova by a possible Russian incursion. The last time a Moldovan president visited Canada was over thirty years ago, in 1992.
The fact that Moldova is in the news again is not surprising. Landlocked between Romania and Ukraine, the country was a Soviet Socialist Republic from 1940 to 1991. Part of wider Bessarabia, Moldovans are essentially of Romanian origin and many also hold dual nationality with Romania, a country which is a member of both the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The Moldovan language is akin to Romanian but Russian is frequently heard in the streets of the capital city, Chisinau. But that is only half the story. There is a strong Russian minority also resident in Moldova, a remnant of its Soviet past, in part due to the retirement of many Russian military officers in the country given its fair weather and very drinkable wines.
Unfortunately, Moldova is frequently beset by political turmoil and various corruption and related scandals, including the embezzlement of $1 billion of state assets in 2015, which has never been thoroughly investigated. Lack of rule of law is also an issue. The country is also fragmented with a breakaway territory called Transnistria, a largely criminal entity supported by Russia and a scattering of Russian troops. This frozen conflict defies settlement and gives Russia a foothold on Moldova’s legal territory.
Further complicating matters is that Moldova is hugely dependent on Russian energy supplies – most of its gas comes from Russia. Roughly 80% of Moldovan electricity is also supplied from generators in Transnistria.
Moldovan governments have also see-sawed between pro-Moldovan and pro-Russian parties in recent years. The newly installed pro-Western government under Prime Minister Dorin Recean holds two thirds of seats in parliament with pro-Russian parties holding the rest.
Early in 2023 Moldova claimed that there was a Russian conspiracy to topple the government and Russian missiles, fired at targets in Ukraine, are alleged to have violated Moldovan airspace on several occasions. Indeed, the country has been under increasing threat ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Were Ukraine to fall, Moldova would clearly be seen as low hanging fruit for another Russian takeover. And if Moldova did fall under Russian control, this would clearly signal to the Baltic states that they too could be vulnerable despite their NATO membership.
To ensure its stability in the face of Russian provocations, Moldova has embarked on a major effort to fulfill the requirements needed to join the EU. Moldova, for example, has been a candidate member since June 2022, admitted to that status at the same time as Ukraine. Moldova is also an active member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program and aspires to join the Alliance. But there remains much work to be done in the areas of defence and security sector reform.
Which brings matters full circle to President Sandu’s recent visit to Canada. She highlighted the pressure the country has been under since the war began next door with more than 800,000 Ukrainians initially finding refuge in Moldova where they received immediate humanitarian and other support. As it stands right now, just over 100,000 Ukrainian refugees are currently in Moldova, where keeping them safe, well-fed, and secure comes at a tremendous logistical and financial cost for a small country of some 3.4 million people.
As for Canada, the government announced during President Sandu’s visit several new initiatives to support the Moldovan government. One will provide $2 million over eighteen months to support the training of the Moldovan national police to respond to community security threats. Canadian judges will also be dispatched to Moldova to share best practices regarding judicial accountability and integrity. And in relation to Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine the government also announced its intent to establish a new set of sanctions targeting individuals and related entities in Moldova “who are committing systematic human rights violations, endangering international peace and security, or who have engaged in significant acts of corruption.”
No doubt these initiatives will help bolster Moldova’s security and follow on from other successes such as Canada’s demining program in Moldova dating back to the late 1990s. In 2018, Canada also donated protective suits for use by Moldovan military engineers involved in mine clearance missions throughout the country.
With Russia continually testing the resolve of countries in the region as it battles Ukraine, Moldova is certainly worthy of greater direct support from not only its European neighbours but also Canada to help support security sector reform and growing its economy. Trade between Canada and Moldova, for example, is quite limited with Canadian exports to Moldova at just over $3 million and imports from Moldova totalling some $20 million.
At the end of the day, Moldovans want to be part of a free and democratic Europe. Canada needs to support them, diplomatically, economically and militarily, in getting there.