IN FOCUS: Ukraine & Moldova Brief

Review of March 2024

Petra Bošková, Sára Gregová, Chiara Mihalčatinová, Lydia Chobotová



The government approves the Ukraine Facility Plan

On March 18, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted the Ukraine Facility Plan, which will serve as the foundation for the EU’s Ukraine Facility program in 2024–2027. The draft will now be sent to the European Commission for examination and approval, after which the Ukraine Facility program will go into effect.

Earlier this year, the European Union gave the final approval for the four-year 50-billion-euro Ukraine Facility, which is designed as a part of the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework. The Facility will pool the EU’s financial support to Ukraine into a single instrument, which will be structured around three pillars. Pillar I. focuses on providing financial support to the Ukrainian Government through a combination of grants and loans. Under Pillar II., the Ukraine Investment Framework aims to mobilise public and private investments in support of the Ukraine Plan, leveraging guarantees and finance mechanisms. Pillar III. emphasises technical assistance and supporting measures, including capacity-building initiatives and support for civil society organisations.

With a total budget of up to 50 billion EUR, the Facility will cover only a fraction of Ukraine’s reconstruction needs, as the estimated overall costs over the next 10 years amount to 384 billion EUR. Still, it underscores the EU’s wide-ranging support for Ukraine, enabling the country to advance on its path towards EU membership. The effort is complemented by the recent agreement of EU leaders on processing further with the utilisation of revenues generated from Russian frozen assets. Under the plan, the bloc estimates to provide 3 billion EUR each year, dividing this sum into two channels: around 90% of the money would be put into a special fund to get reimbursed for arms and ammunition, and the other 10% would be put into the EU budget to help bolster Ukraine’s defence industry. The country could thus receive the first billion on the sequestered assets by early July.

Some leaders, such as Prime Minister Alexander De Croo of Belgium, advocated for different utilisation of the Russian frozen assets – as a complementary resource to the Ukraine Facility, therefore financing the country’s reconstruction. However, Joseph Borrel, the EU’s foreign and security representative, stated that “the best thing is to avoid that anything is destroyed” in the first place.

Allegations of US pressure on Ukraine to stop attacks on Russian oil refineries

On March 22, the Financial Times reported three unnamed people confirmed to them that the USA allegedly warned Ukraine to stop drone attacks on Russian energy infrastructure, mainly oil refineries, as such attacks can provoke (military) retaliation and spike global oil prices.

The warnings were delivered to senior officials of the Ukrainian Secret Service (SBU) and military intelligence directorate (HUR), as these institutions are largely behind the drone attacks on Russian oil infrastructure – oil refineries, terminals, depots and storage facilities.

Allegedly, Washington´s frustration over the Ukrainian attacks grows, as the administration fears could retaliate by lashing out at energy infrastructure relied on by the West and rising global oil prices. Based on official Ukrainian reports, since 2022, there have been at least 12 drone attacks on major Russian refineries. Two of those attacks occurred this March when seven Russian refineries were targeted in consecutive days. These recent attacks helped to boost oil prices by nearly 4%. Further increases in oil and gasoline prices in the US would weaken President Joe Biden’s ratings and undermine his re-election chances. Even military retaliation has been present, as Russia launched massive missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure and the Dnipro hydropower plant, leaving around one million people without electricity.

Both the US and Ukraine declined to comment at first, however, later, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, Olha Stefanishyna, expressed that Ukraine “understand[s] the appeals of our American partners. At the same time, we are fighting with the capabilities, resources and practices that we have today.” The drone attacks are meant to deprive Russia of its financial resources coming from oil and fuel and thus reduce the financing of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Ukraine Abandons „Sponsors of War“ Blacklist

Ukraine has decided to discard its “sponsors of war” blacklist, the cornerstone of its campaign to exert pressure on companies doing business in Russia. This decision follows a backlash from countries from Austria to China. The blacklist has no legal standing but has been an embarrassment for around 50 major companies singled out for operating in Russia and helping the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, such as through tax payments.

The end of the blacklist represents a significant retreat by Kyiv in its efforts to uphold delicate international support. As the challenge of sustaining global support for its war effort intensifies, especially over two years since the onset of the large-scale invasion.

Critics argue that the campaign was impetuous and biased, whereas proponents contend that it exposed the extent to which certain industries remained aligned with Moscow. B4Ukraine, a coalition of civil society organisations, lamented the demise of the list, asserting that most governments had made minimal efforts to compel companies to cut ties with Russia.

While some companies changed course in their business dealings with Russia as a result of appearing on the list, the majority instead expressed indignation and sometimes used political pressure to get off the blacklist. Tara Van Ho, Associate Professor of Law and Human Rights at the University of Essex, stated, “international law recognises that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights throughout their supply chains, and that includes not financially supporting a state like Russia.”

Getting rid of the list means companies that are not under Western sanctions may face little public pressure to leave Russia. People familiar with the talks leading to the dismantling of the list said that there had been concerted pressure from countries angered by the naming of their companies.

One source revealed that China wasn’t the only actor pressuring Kyiv to remove entities from the list. France also exerted pressure to exclude a French retailer. In February, Beijing, a major importer of Ukrainian grain, demanded Kyiv remove 14 Chinese companies to avoid negative consequences. Despite being seen as an ally of Russia, Kyiv hopes China will participate in an upcoming summit to promote President Zelenskiy’s peace vision.

Another source disclosed that Austria, China, France, and Hungary all applied pressure on Kyiv regarding the blacklist, although the foreign ministries of these countries refrained from commenting on the matter. In 2023, Orban threatened to hinder EU military support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia unless Hungary’s OTP Bank was delisted, a demand met months later. Similarly, Austria, reliant on Russian gas and serving as a conduit for Russian capital, took a similar stance. Last year, its Government declared it wouldn’t agree to EU sanctions until Raiffeisen Bank International, the largest Western bank in Russia, was removed from the list, resulting in Raiffeisen’s suspension.

The list’s ending coincided with Russia’s largest air strike on Ukrainian energy facilities to date. The missile and drone attack left over a million people without electricity, forcing Kyiv to seek emergency power supplies from Poland, Romania and Slovakia.




Moldova to promote EU referendum, Russian plans to obstruct it emerge

As Moldova moves with its EU accession process, the country plans to hold and promote the EU referendum to ensure its EU path in case of a potential change of Government. Meanwhile, the secret service warns that the referendum and other upcoming elections in Moldova will be targeted by a Russian disinformation campaign.

On March 18, Moldovan President Sandu announced the launch of a campaign to promote an upcoming referendum on Moldova’s bid to join the EU. The referendum will be held later this year, possibly in October, almost two years after Moldova´s EU membership application and several months after accession talks have been opened. Sandu highlighted the need for the referendum to ensure the EU trajectory for Moldova, preventing any future reversal or stalling of the EU membership in case of a change of power, as Sandu will also face re-election later this year. “Member states of the European Union are more open than ever, we have the necessary political will for this step, and our citizens want to be part of the EU,” she said. If successful, the referendum would ensure that Moldova´s EU ambitions are codified in the constitution.

Moldovan Parliament adopted a declaration adhering to EU membership as the country´s top priority national project, saying “only joining Europe can ensure the future of the country as a sovereign, neutral and full-fledged democratic state”. However, the vote was boycotted by the pro-Russian opposition parties, who walked out of the room before the voting took place.

Previously, at the beginning of March, the director of the Moldovan Intelligence and Security Service, Alexandru Musteata, declared Russia is involved in a malign operation to compromise Moldova’s EU accession hopes by interfering in its electoral processes, possibly targeting and interfering with the upcoming presidential elections and EU referendum. “We have information that attempts are being implemented to compromise the referendum for European integration, to interfere in the presidential elections, and to denigrate political institutions and candidates that will promote EU accession,” said the director. The Russian propaganda is to be spread through Telegram, TikTok, and TV channels owned by pro-Russian Moldovan oligarchs.

  • EURACTIV, “Moldovan Parliament backs bid to join EU, but divisions remain”,
  • EURACTIV, “Moldovan president launches campaign to promote EU referendum”,
  • Madalin Necsutu, Balkan Insight, “Russia Plans Election Meddling to Obstruct Moldova’s EU Path: Spy Chief”,
Moldova remains intolerant of the LGBT community

A recent study conducted in March 2024 by the Partnership for Development Centre in Chisinau has shed light on the prevailing intolerance towards marginalised social groups in Moldova, particularly the LGBT community. The study revealed alarming statistics, indicating that approximately 70% of Moldovans would not accept LGBT individuals as neighbours, while 50% expressed unwillingness to accept people infected with HIV or those who have been detained.

Almost twelve years after passing landmark legislation to protect minorities (Law on Ensuring Equal Opportunities), Moldova has made significant legislative improvements. In 2023, Moldova’s score of 39% on rights for the LGBT community placed it above all other post-communist countries outside the former Yugoslavia. Furthermore, Moldova made the highest year-on-year climb of any of the 48 evaluated countries and organised the largest LGBT march in the country’s history. The event required minimal police presence, unlike previous years when the marchers were often confronted by specialised police units.

Although the degree of legal protection has been steadily rising, social trends offer a different picture. A national survey conducted in 2023 displayed that 64% of respondents would “exclude” LGBT people from Moldova. Only a year later, a new study published by the Partnership for Development Centre found out that 70% of Moldovans would not accept members of the LGBT community as neighbours. The authors account for the development of widespread misinformation, which is often propagated through Russian media sources, but also to hate speech from influential people. For instance, in June 2023, Ion Ceban, the mayor of Chisinau, suggested that LGBT individuals have their Pride march at home. Another example is Diana Caraman, a member of the Bloc of Communists and Socialists, who made homophobic remarks in October during a legislative discussion on legalising sexual assault.

Moldova was granted EU candidate status in June 2022, however, its failure to address societal intolerance and discrimination may raise concerns among EU officials about its commitment to these values, thereby slowing down or complicating its accession process.


Moldova’s Pursuit of EU Accession Amidst Regional Tensions

On March 21, Moldova’s Parliament endorsed a motion to pursue accession to the European Union, despite the opposition’s abstention from the vote and calls from separatists in the Transnistria region to renounce territorial claims.

President Maia Sandu, emphasising Russia’s perceived threat to Moldova’s security, has prioritised EU membership during her tenure. Sandu and her administration ascended to power with three key pledges: EU integration, combating corruption, and instituting reforms, particularly within the judiciary. However, advancements in addressing corruption and, notably, in implementing judicial reforms have fallen short of expectations.

Following discussions coinciding with an EU summit in Brussels, the 101-seat Parliament unanimously passed a declaration asserting, “The future of our nation as a sovereign, neutral, and fully democratic state lies solely in European integration.” The declaration highlights EU integration as Moldova’s foremost national objective. The opposition, aligned with Moscow, walked out of the session.

In Transnistria, a breakaway region formed during the Soviet Union’s dissolution, self-declared President Vadim Krasnoselsky called on Moldovan authorities to recognise his territory and abandon all claims to it. Despite heavy reliance on Russian financial assistance, Transnistria lacks international recognition, including from Moscow.

Moldova also contends with disputes from another southern region, Gagauzia, whose leader recently conferred with Russian President Vladimir Putin and maintains connections to fugitive pro-Russian businessman Ilan Shor, convicted in absentia for substantial fraud.



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