IN FOCUS: Ukraine & Moldova Brief

Review of October 2023

Petra Bošková,  Sára Gregová, Katarína Žiaranová


Ukraine and European Union Flags. Photo:

Progress to the accession of Ukraine to the European Union

Leaders of the EU declared support for adding new members to the bloc but set no target date and warned candidates such as Ukraine that there would be no shortcuts. They proclaimed that EU enlargement is an “investment in peace, security, stability, and prosperity” at a summit in Granada, on October 6th. Ukraine, Moldova, and Western Balkan states must make a substantial change to be ready for an enlarged union. The statement also mentioned, that: “Aspiring members need to step up their reform efforts, notably in the area of the rule of law.”

Although Ukraine is fighting with Russia, it has made EU membership talks one of its top priorities. The goal is to get a green light from the EU at a summit in December. European Council President Charles Michel also claimed that EU leaders should give the green light to open formal accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova at the December European summit. He also set himself the goal of 2030 for EU enlargement. “Why is this date important? Because it is a clear incentive for all of us to prepare and accelerate our efforts. Without a date, there was a common goal, but it was easy to procrastinate and not make the necessary decisions,” Michel added. To set a date like this could encourage both EU and candidate countries to step up their reform efforts. Some of the saying the focus should be on candidate countries meeting EU standards. One of the reasons is the massive budget rise after enlargement. “Given that a bigger EU would need more resources, and that newly acceding Member States would become net beneficiaries of the EU budget, enlargement will have a far-reaching impact on the EU budget,” said the internal EU report, prepared in July.

Ukraine has made progress in implementing EU-mandated reforms, which are key for starting its accession talks, but more will be needed further. On September 20, 2023, Ukrainian MPs voted to open an electronic asset declaration registry, an advanced system of reporting the incomes and assets of Ukrainian officials and their family members. One of the first moves that EU candidate status unlocked was the appointment of Oleksandr Klymenko as the head of the Specialised Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office in July 2022. The new director of the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine, Semen Kryvonos, was selected and appointed in March 2023. The candidate status also pushed important reforms in Ukraine’s judiciary. The de-oligarchisation recommendation suggested the amendment of the 2021 de-oligarchisation law based on the Venice Commission’s opinion. It arrived late in June 2023, offering a comprehensive anti-monopoly reform instead of amending the initial law. This problem could not be fixed by one law and further actions will be needed. Positive steps were also reported at the progress on national minorities’ rights or reform of media.

Unrest at Dagestan Airport Sparks Tensions Between Russia and Ukraine

In an incident that has drawn widespread attention, Dagestan’s main airport witnessed an outbreak of unrest on October 29, during the arrival of a flight from Israel. The Russian government has attributed the disturbance to what they describe as „external interference.“ This disruption led to the closure of the airport in Dagestan, a region with a Muslim-majority population. Russian authorities have emphasized that they will not tolerate any actions aimed at dividing Russian society.

The Kremlin has pointed to Ukraine as playing a significant role in fueling the anti-Israel protests and the subsequent violence at the airport. They have also alluded to Western interference in this matter.

The incident saw hundreds of individuals storming the airport under the guise of protesting the arrival of a flight from Israel during the conflict in Gaza. The crowd breached security measures, with some even reaching the airport’s runway before being removed by security forces. This resulted in injuries, with twenty people, including nine police officers, reportedly harmed. The authorities have subsequently apprehended 60 individuals actively involved in the unrest.

Russia’s foreign ministry specifically accused Kyiv of being involved in orchestrating the airport turmoil. Dagestan’s governor, Sergei Melikov, also laid blame on a particular social media channel called „Utro Dagestan,“ which he claims is operated by individuals in Ukraine he referred to as „traitors.“ This channel, boasting approximately 60,000 followers, had called for a mass gathering at the airport to prevent „undesirable“ passengers from boarding the scheduled flight from Israel.

Additionally, Moscow has accused unnamed foreign entities of inflaming the situation by using images of suffering from Gaza to stoke tensions. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, stated that the events at Makhachkala airport were, to a significant extent, a consequence of external interference.

President Vladimir Putin is set to hold discussions with Russia’s defense minister and intelligence chiefs to address what has been described as „the West’s attempts to use the events in the Middle East to divide Russian society.“

The unrest at the airport was marked by an angry crowd, reacting to the landing of a Russian Red Wings airline flight from Israel. Social media footage from the protests revealed demonstrators breaking glass doors, running through the airport, and, regrettably, chanting anti-Jewish slogans. On the airport’s landing field, some individuals were seen waving Palestinian flags, while others checked the passports of incoming passengers.

Despite the volatile situation, it’s important to note that Israel is expanding its ground operations in the Gaza Strip. Officials in Gaza report a significant number of casualties, primarily among the Palestinian population, since the conflict began.

In conclusion, the incident at Dagestan’s airport underscores the complexities and challenges surrounding the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, with potential repercussions in other regions.

What Israel-Hamas conflict mean for Russia’s war effort in Ukraine?

The Israel-Hamas war affects not only the Middle East region but also the international community, including Russia and Ukraine. The war may help Kremlin to draw attention away from Ukraine, squeeze U.S. military resources, recover economically and bolster anti-Western narratives. On the other hand, the conflict could potentially jeopardize Moscow’s influence in the region. The impact of the conflict on the war in Ukraine will depend on its length and the extent of its reach. If the conflict remains confined to the Gaza Strip, its impact will be only limited.

 The conflict strategically benefits Russia by diverting and diminishing Western attention on Ukraine. The Middle East turmoil redirects focus from Russia’s invasion, exploiting Western weariness with the Ukraine’s prolonged war. Should the conflict between Hamas and Israel evolve into a protracted, regional conflict, doubts regarding the U.S.’s capability to offer military support to both Ukraine and Israel will heighten. The repercussions are not expected to manifest until the following summer. A brief conflict is unlikely to have a significant impact. Washington has enough resources to support both Israel and Ukraine in the short term. On October 15, Biden stated that the United States possesses the military capabilities to support both Israel and as well Ukraine. He emphasized that the U.S. can handle both situations while still maintaining its overall international defense.

However, even prior to the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East, indications surfaced that the financial support for Kyiv might face uncertainty. This concern heightened, particularly following the U.S. Congress’s approval of a temporary funding bill that halted additional aid to Ukraine for a 45-day period. On the other hand, Israel’s pressing requirements revolve around air-launched precision-guided munitions and the replenishment of interceptors for its Iron Dome system. And there is no competition between the two countries concerning these capabilities.

Moscow, a major oil producer, benefits as well from an increase in crude prices amid the conflict. The war’s potential to involve neighboring territories has led to a consecutive rise in the global oil market. The escalation in crude prices serves as a boon for Moscow, as it reinforces its reserves. This is crucial for the economically isolated country, which increasingly relies on oil export revenues. Rising oil prices allow for sustained spending on arms production and help cover budget deficits. Russia plans a substantial increase in defense spending in 2024, aiming for a budget equivalent to 6% of its GDP.

The Israel-Hamas conflict offers Russia an opportunity to assert its diplomatic influence in the Middle East, marking a return to the global stage after a period of relative quiet. Russia stands out as one of the few nations maintaining positive relations with both Israel and the Arab states.

Moscow has sought to position itself as a peace broker while attributing the responsibility for the current Middle Eastern conflict to past Western mistakes. The Kremlin could act as a mediator between traditional adversaries like Israel and Iran. Moscow has initiated discussions with Iraq, linking them to OPEC+ cooperation, discussed a ceasefire with Egyptian political authorities, and engaged with Turkey regarding Palestinian civilians.

However, while Moscow might temporarily profit from a renewed Israel-Hamas conflict, Kremlin does not want the conflict to spill over and spread across the broader region. An expanded conflict would likely extend beyond Lebanon to include Syria, where Russian-controlled air and naval bases play a pivotal role in Moscow’s influence over the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa. However, with the majority of its active-duty military and hardware dedicated to Ukraine, Russia would lack the capacity to engage in a larger Middle Eastern upheaval.



President of the Republic of Moldova, Maia Sandu. Photo: Presidency of the Republic of Moldova

Moldova’s New Security Agenda

On October 11th, Moldovan President Maia Sandu set out Moldova’s new security agenda. Her vision is the transformation of the Republic of Moldova into a high-performing economy, protected by a modern security sector, supported by strong government institutions and a public service brought to high standards of accountability, integrity, incorruptibility, and efficiency. The goal is to build a prosperous state, where citizens can feel safe and free. To fulfill this vision, they want to uphold the values of democracy and the rule of law, foster a close partnership between state institutions, the private sector, and the diaspora abroad, actively pursue preparations for EU membership by 2030 and develop a modern and adequately funded professional defense and national security sector capable of providing for the broad national security needs.

The strategic document identifies hostile actions undertaken by Russia and deep-rooted corruption as two main persistent threats to the country. Enhancing the security sector become increasingly urgent since the military invasion in Ukraine and massive hybrid attacks against Moldova.

According to the President, the national defense and security sector has been mismanaged, neglected and under-resourced for too long. President Sandu envisions addressing this by creating a modern, properly equipped, well-trained army, interoperable with other countries’ forces. To achieve this, Moldova will strengthen its partnerships with the EU (which is viewed as a platform for comprehensive security enhancement) and its member states, including Romania, France, and Germany, as well as with the United States, United Kingdom, and other NATO allies.

As a key to security president also indicated Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and full membership of European institutions. Moldova would like to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Transnistrian conflict and the unconditional withdrawal of illegally stationed Russian troops and munitions as well.

This new strategy is an official public document that characterizes Russia as implacably adversarial, acknowledges the threats to Moldova as existential, and outlines a strategy to deal with those threats.

European Parliament suggests beginning talks on Moldova’s EU accession this year

In a resolution adopted on 5 October, MEPs have voted to reassert their dedication to Moldova’s prospective EU membership. They call for accession talks to begin by the end of 2023, if Moldova fulfills the nine steps identified by the European Commission. The resolution was adopted by 448 votes in favour, 45 against with 43 abstentions.

According to MEPs, the Chișinău government has shown both determination and capability in meeting the nine requirements proposed by European Commission. They include, among others: completing justice system reforms, addressing deficiencies highlighted by OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe/the Venice Commission, taking decisive anti-corruption and de-oligarchization measures, strengthening efforts against organized crime, enhancing reform implementation and public services, increasing civil society involvement and strengthening human rights protection, focusing on vulnerable groups. Moldova must swiftly finalize the outstanding measures as time is running out. The European Commission is set to release the Annual Report on Moldova’s accession progress on 31 October.

In a resolution, MEPs emphasize that Moldova’s accession to the EU would constitute a geostrategic investment in a unified Europe. The importance is underscored for the Chișinău government to persist in the ongoing reform process, emphasizing that this is crucial not only for achieving the political goal of EU accession but, more importantly, for bringing about tangible improvements in the living standards of Moldovan citizens.

The Parliament urges all Moldovan political entities to pursue consensus on pivotal and immediate reforms. The objective is to enhance alignment with EU standards in the country’s legislation. MEPs stress the significance of sustained efforts in the realms of justice, and anticorruption reforms. Additionally, they call upon Moldovan authorities to persist in endeavors related to de-oligarchization, reform in public finance management, restructuring public administration and combating organized crime.

The resolution adopted by MEPs emphasizes that the EU and its member states ought to enhance their financial and technical support to Moldova. This is aimed at expediting and ensuring the efficient integration of Moldova into the EU. MEPs specifically call for the prompt disbursement of a new instalment of the ongoing Macro Financial Assistance by the European Commission.

It is important to realize that not initiating EU membership talks with Moldova by year-end would be a strategic mistake, susceptible to exploitation by Moscow. A stable, secure, and pro-European Moldova is pivotal for fortifying the security and stability of the EU’s Eastern Flank.

Opting for a Moldova dominated by pro-Russian forces would expose the EU to numerous vulnerabilities and pose significant security threats to Ukraine’s southwestern border. The EU should now embrace a more pragmatic and geopolitically informed enlargement policy.

Moldovan Authorities Block Pro-Russian Media Amid Local Election Controversy

 On October 30, the Moldovan Information and Security Service took a bold step ahead of the local elections, blocking access to 31 Russian-language media websites. Accused of spreading false information, these actions have stirred controversy, with demands from NGOs for concrete evidence to support the shutdown.

Alexandru Musteata, the head of the Moldovan Information and Security Service (SIS), announced the decision to the media on Monday, citing the need to halt the spread of pro-Russian disinformation. Among the 31 blocked websites, 21 have direct links to Russia, including well-known Russian-language sites like Tass and Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Musteata emphasized the potential for the content disseminated by these websites to incite tensions or social conflicts in the public sphere. While the move was explained as a preventive measure, media NGOs criticized the decision, urging the SIS to provide substantial evidence to justify the website closures.

In addition to website blocks, Moldova’s media regulatory body, the Audiovisual Council, suspended the broadcast licenses of six TV stations, namely Orizont TV, ITV, Prime, Publika TV, Canal 2, and Canal 3. The management of these stations, owned through intermediaries by fugitive Moldovan oligarchs, protested the government’s actions, claiming there were no legal grounds for the suspensions.

Media NGOs, including the Centre for Independent Journalism, the Electronic Press Association, RISE Moldova, and the Access-Info Centre, echoed these concerns. They called on the authorities to promptly provide detailed arguments and evidence that underpin the decision to close the websites and suspend the licenses of the six television stations.

In response to the controversy, President Maia Sandu defended the measures as necessary to protect democratic values and shield Moldova from Russian interference in the country’s electoral process. The Moldovan media landscape is replete with Russian-language outlets, despite ethnic Russians comprising only four percent of the nation’s population.

  • Balkan Insight, „Moldova Secret Service Blocks Pro-Russian Media Ahead of Local Elections“,

  • Radio Free Europe, „Moldova Blocks More Russian News Outlets For Alleged Election Influence“,
  • Euractiv, „Moldova blocks access to Russia’s main news agencies“,

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