IN FOCUS: Ukraine & Moldova Brief

Review of August 2023

Petra Bošková, Laura Ďorďová, Sára Gregová, Katarína Žiaranová


The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Photo: President of Ukraine.

European Commission recommends EU accession talks with Ukraine

On November 8, the European Commission recommended initiating accession negotiations talks with Ukraine. It has endorsed the 2023 Enlargement Package, providing a comprehensive assessment of the current status and progress made by various states, including Ukraine, on their respective paths toward accession to the European Union.

Despite the ongoing war, granting EU candidate status to Ukraine spurred a strong reform drive, supported by the steadfast backing of the Ukrainian populace. „Ukraine continues to face tremendous hardship and tragedy provoked by Russia’s war of aggression,“ stated European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “And yet, the Ukrainians are deeply reforming their country, even as they are fighting a war that is existential for them.”

The head of the European Commission also highlighted Kyiv’s achievement in fulfilling “well over” 90% of the required steps outlined by the EU’s executive last year. She specifically emphasised progress in judicial reforms and anti-corruption efforts.

According to the Commission’s report, Kyiv demonstrated determination in making substantial progress on the 7 steps outlined in the European Commission Opinion issued in June 2022. Notably, Ukraine has implemented a transparent pre-selection system for Constitutional Court judges and restructured judicial governance bodies. The nation has enhanced its track record in conducting high-level corruption investigations and securing convictions while fortifying its institutional framework. Additionally, Kyiv has undertaken proactive measures within a broader, systemic initiative to counter the influence of oligarchs. Remarkably, despite wartime challenges, the country has demonstrated its capacity to make strides in aligning with the EU acquis.

Formal initiation of the talks is contingent on Kyiv meeting the outstanding conditions, which include intensifying fight efforts against corruption, enacting a lobbying law consistent with EU standards, and bolstering safeguards for national minorities. The Commission emphasises that the remaining reforms are in progress, which is commendable.

The subsequent action involves EU leaders endorsing the Commission’s enlargement recommendation during their regular summit scheduled for December 14-15. EU leaders will also decide on a top-up to the EU budget, which has caused a delay in the approval of the €50 billion support package for Kyiv.

Nevertheless, the European Council is not obligated to adhere to the recommendations, and there is no assurance that leaders will unanimously agree to do so, particularly with Hungary and Slovakia expressing some reservations about Ukraine’s ambitions to join the EU.

The recommendation marks a significant milestone in Kyiv’s journey toward Western integration and represents a geopolitical move for the EU. This comes as Ukraine has been contending with a substantial Russian invasion for almost two years. Ihor Zhovkva, an adviser to Zelenskyy, expressed that Kyiv is targeting negotiations to commence in early 2024. “We will fulfil 100% of the conditions for the start of negotiations…by the middle of December this year,” Zhovkva stated, highlighting that this would pave the way for Kyiv to “obtain an absolutely clean political decision on the start of negotiations.”

The Commission will continuously monitor the progress and compliance in all areas related to the opening of negotiations and report to the Council by March 2024.

Presidential election in Ukraine

According to the constitution of Ukraine, presidential elections should be on the last Sunday of March of the fifth year of the incumbent president’s term of office. According to this regulation, the elections should be held on March 31, 2024. However, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian government has enacted martial law, and Ukrainian law does not allow elections to be held when martial law is in effect.

As the date of the election approaches, the debates about the organisation of the elections are getting more intense. At the beginning of November, President Zelenskyy said that he didn’t believe it was the right time for elections while the country fought against Russia’s invasion. “We all understand that now, in wartime, when there are so many challenges, it is absolutely irresponsible to throw the topic of elections into society in a light-hearted and playful way,” Zelenskyy said. “Now, everyone should think about defending our country. We need to pull ourselves together, avoid unwinding and splitting up into disputes or other priorities,” he said. “If there is no victory, there will be no country. Our victory is possible.”

These statements apparently ended weeks of speculation that Kyiv could try to find a way to hold the vote in March despite it being prohibited by martial law. The election was widely discussed in Ukraine after US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said it should go ahead despite the war, even as Western observers said privately it would undermine unity and be easily exploited by Russia.

According to some Ukrainian sociologists, polls indicate a darker mood creeping into Ukrainian society, with surveys showing many people do not trust the government or parliament. However, President Zelenskyy´s own ratings remain high, although they have decreased since the first year of Russia´s invasion.

Also, the voting would be logistically difficult due to the large number of Ukrainians abroad and soldiers fighting on the front. Former presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovych has announced that he would run against his former boss after criticising Zelenskyy over the slow pace of the counter-offensive.

  • Euractiv. Zelenskyy calls for Ukrainian unity after rift with top general.

  • Euractiv. Ukraine president says ‘not the time’ for elections.

Slovakia deepens the ban on Ukrainian agricultural imports

In a recent move that deepens trade tensions, the Slovak government has expanded its ban on Ukrainian agricultural products. The Agriculture Ministry’s proposal, greenlit on November 29, now includes honey, barley, wheat flour, soybeans, and cane or beet sugar, in addition to the original ban on wheat, corn, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds. Initially set to conclude by the end of 2023, the ban persists due to the “absence of a systemic pan-European solution” and references to unilateral bans by neighbouring countries, particularly Poland and Hungary.

Despite a September 21 agreement between Ukraine and Slovakia to establish a licensing system for grain trade, hopes of lifting the import ban have dimmed. The political landscape adds complexity, with Robert Fico’s SMER party, victorious in the September 30 parliamentary elections, pledging to curtail support to Ukraine, including an immediate cessation of military aid.

The roots of the dispute trace back to the European Union’s May 2023 import ban on select Ukrainian agricultural products, prompted by concerns from member states—Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria—about the impact of cheaper Ukrainian products on their farmers. While the EU measure expired on September 15, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary sustained restrictions domestically, sparking a diplomatic row.

In response, Ukraine considered filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization, though recent indications suggest a pause in these plans. Ukraine’s Trade Representative, Taras Kachka, emphasises the nation’s commitment to seeking a “constructive solution within the framework of the entire EU” regarding agricultural imports.

The Slovak government’s recent decision to tighten the transit rules for specified agricultural products further complicates the situation. With the international community closely monitoring these developments, the evolving trade saga remains a focal point of political and economic interest.

  •  Court, Elsa. 2023. ‘Slovakia to Extend, Expand Ban on Ukrainian Agricultural Products’. The Kyiv Independent. 29 November 2023.
  • ČTK. 2023. ‘Slovensko rozšíří zákaz dovozu zboží z Ukrajiny, rozhodla vláda’. 29 November 2023.


Moldovan and  Russian Flags. Photo:

Moldova’s Main Orthodox Church retains its ties with Russia

The Metropolitanate, or Metropolis, of Moldova, the main Orthodox Church in the country, received a request submitted by a group of priests in Chisinau to transfer to the Romanian Patriarchate. However, this request was rejected by the Church on Thursday, November 16.

Pavel Borsevschi, rector of St. Dumitru Church in Chisinau, and a group of priests from the Archdiocese of Chisinau wrote a letter to Metropolitan Vladimir, where they asked to initiate the process of passing to the jurisdiction of the Romanian Patriarchate. The main reason for switching allegiance should be „the unjust and treacherous war that Russia is waging in Ukraine”.

The Metropolitanate Church is canonically subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate. Ioan Mosnegutu, who is currently the vicar bishop of the Metropolitane, announced that the Church would maintain its status and would not discuss accession to the Romanian Patriarchate. This was declared after the meeting of clergy and abbots of the Church. “During the meeting, a decision was adopted according to which the Orthodox Church of Moldova maintains its status. The clergy and the people remain faithful to Moldova’s Orthodox Church and His Holiness, Vladimir. Discussions on the accession of the Orthodox Church of Moldova to the Romanian Patriarchate will not be initiated,” said Mosnegutu.

On November 17, thirteen churches from different districts switched from the Metropolitanate of Moldova to the Metropolis of Bessarabia. More than 60 priests have defected to the Metropolis of Bessarabia since the start of the war in Ukraine. The Metropolis of Moldova has over 1.000 churches and monasteries in Moldova, while the Metropolis of Bessarabia has about a quarter of them.

On September 18, Metropolitan Vladimir wrote a letter in which he accused the Russian Patriarch Kirill of abandoning him and leaving him unable to stop the rise of the Metropolis of Bessarabia.

  • BalkanInsight. Moldova’s Main Orthodox Church Rules Out Cutting Russia Ties.


European Commission proposes opening EU membership talks with Moldova

On November 8, the European Commission recommended initiating accession negotiations talks with Moldova. It has endorsed the 2023 Enlargement Package, providing a comprehensive assessment of the current status and progress made by various states, including Moldova, on their respective paths toward accession to the European Union. “The country has undertaken significant reform efforts, despite constant destabilisation efforts against its democracy,” the Commission said.

According to the Commission’s report, Moldova had made significant progress in meeting the nine steps set out in the Commission Opinion on Moldova’s EU membership application issued in June 2022. Notably, Moldova has progressed in the justice sector. It initiated a comprehensive justice reform, which included the evaluation of prominent judges and prosecutors. Chisinau restructured its anti-corruption bodies, resulting in an increased number of investigations, and it has implemented a de-oligarchisation action plan. Additionally, new legislation establishing a confiscation mechanism has been adopted to combat organised crime.

The country has embraced a public administration strategy, overseeing reforms at all levels, and worked on reforming public finance management, including legislation for public procurement reform. Moldova has also bolstered the participation of civil society in decision-making processes and reinforced the protection of human rights.

Nevertheless, further reforms are anticipated in combating corruption and organised crime. The report highlighted concerns about the prolonged duration of legal proceedings, low clearance rates, and the substantial backlog of cases adversely impacting the efficiency of the judicial system. “There was no significant progress in the prosecution of high-profile corruption cases and long-standing criminal cases,” stated the report.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu commended the EU report, stating that her country is steadfastly progressing towards EU membership. “We’ve got a lot of work to do as the path we’ve chosen is full of challenges. Work does not scare us, and our goal is for Moldova to be ready to join the EU by 2030,” Sandu stated.

The EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated: “Moldova belongs to the EU. The EU’s door is open. You have made remarkable efforts to progress on the path towards the EU.”

 Similarly to Ukraine, the next step entails EU leaders endorsing the Commission’s enlargement recommendation during their regular summit scheduled for December 14-15. Additionally, the Commission will continuously monitor the progress and compliance in all areas related to the opening of negotiations and report to the Council by March 2024.

Moldova’s National Security Strategy

Moldova, a nation nestled at the crossroads of Eastern Europe, is gearing up to fortify its security apparatus by submitting the Draft National Security Strategy on November 24, 2023. The draft decision for the ratification of the strategy undergoes public scrutiny via the Parliament’s Commission for National Security, Defence and Public Order. This transparent process underscores Moldova’s dedication to participatory governance, ensuring the strategy aligns with the collective insights and aspirations of its populace.

Against the backdrop of contemporary geopolitical challenges marked by volatility and unpredictability, the imperative for adopting the strategy becomes apparent for Moldova. The accompanying informative note uncovers the strategy’s core objectives—enhancing the state’s capacity to preempt and counteract national security risks while concurrently advancing European integration and collaboration with partner states. The impulse for this strategic recalibration stems from the profound repercussions of Russia’s conflict in Ukraine on Moldova’s national security landscape, extending into economic, financial, energy, and public order domains. To address these multifaceted challenges, an updated security strategy emerges as a requisite to safeguard Moldova’s interests comprehensively.

The draft strategy articulates Moldova’s six-year trajectory, offering a robust framework for delineating security objectives and principles. It addresses critical domains, encompassing the national defence security system’s consolidation, development, and modernisation to safeguard sovereignty and integrity. Additionally, it underscores fortifying resilience against hybrid threats, cultivating a robust security culture, and institutional consolidation to combat corruption.

Significantly, the strategy underscores the expansion of strategic partnerships. Moldova endeavours to cultivate collaboration with the EU, Romania, the US0, NATO, and international allies, aligning with its overarching aspiration of European Union integration.

It merits attention that Moldova’s prior national security strategy dates back to 2011, with a subsequent draft in 2016 failing to secure parliamentary adoption. The present initiative to revise and augment the strategy reflects Moldova’s commitment to adapting to evolving geopolitical realities, fortifying its international standing through a comprehensive and contemporary security framework.

  • MOLDPRES. 2024. ‘New National Security Strategy of Moldova Subjected to Public Consultations’. 4 December 2023.

  • MOLDPRES. 2024. ‘Draft National Security Strategy of Moldova Submitted to Parliament for Consultations’. 24 November 2024.

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