Russia responds to Moldova’s pro-EU steps with warnings of “hybrid war”

Russia responds to Moldova’s pro-EU steps with warnings of “hybrid war”
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's rhetoric indicates a change in plans on Russia’s side.
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest December 4, 2023

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking at the OSCE meeting in Skopje, warned Moldova is "the next victim of the hybrid war launched by the West against Russia”. 

Lavrov’s rhetoric seems to announce a change in plans on Russia’s side, forced by the modest results delivered by the authorities in the pro-Russian separatist Transnistria region and by the modest performance of Moscow’s newer proxy Ilan Shor, who focused on Gagauzia and the northern part of the country.

There’s no doubt that Russia has carried out extensive hybrid operations on the territory of Moldova since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022, but so far the damages have been contained by the pro-EU authorities in Chisinau and Transnistria’s officials avoided risky confrontations. taking a more opportunistic approach.

Moldova’s pro-EU steps involved joining the same regime of sanctions as that of Brussels, including most of the sanctions against Russia. 

Pulling out of the Russia-led Community of Independent States (CIS) is a laborious process that from time to time prompts warnings from the Kremlin and, more recently, the resumption of the embargo of Moldovan apples (or any other fruit/vegetable). As Moldova stopped using natural gas purchased directly from Russia, Moscow’s instruments of coercion are increasingly limited, though. Transnistria itself is more concerned with getting European certification for its products and delivering electricity at an affordable cost to Chisinau, produced with virtually free Russian gas.

Lavrov specifically spoke of the breakaway Transnistria region. Lavrov accused the EU and Nato of “killing” the 5+2 negotiation format, which he said was  “the last thing left of the joint efforts for a Transnistrian settlement”. He also recalled the Kozak memorandum on the federalisation of Moldova, which he defended as the best option for the Transnistrian settlement.

"The Kozak memorandum, which could have reliably solved the situation in Moldova 20 years ago, is also among the failed attempts to solve the problems of our continent according to OSCE principles. Nato and the EU have recklessly torpedoed the document already initiated by Chisinau and Tiraspol, and now they are killing the 5+2 format, the last thing left of the joint efforts for a Transnistrian settlement. In fact, Moldova is destined to be the next victim in the hybrid war launched by the West against Russia,” said Lavrov, quoted by NewsMaker.

For its part, the ruling party in Moldova, the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), has not pursued sufficient irreversible reforms in key areas such as the judiciary during the window of opportunity after it won the general elections in 2020, which may close after the parliamentary and presidential elections at the end of 2024 and early 2025. The support enjoyed by PAS among voters is fragile as revealed by the local elections in 2023 and maintaining the majority in parliament is highly unlikely. With a minority government from early 2025, President Maia Sandu (who is likely to get a second term) will have a much more difficult task in driving the country along the accession negotiations road that it may embark on in early 2024.