Before February 24th 2022, Moldova was one of the least discussed countries in Europe. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe regained the spotlight and many started raising the question of whether it will be the next on Russia`s plate. These are legitimate concerns, and Moldova may be Vladimir Putin`s next direct target.
In March, Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenkoappeared to broadcast Russia`s plan to invade Moldova. Suppose the invasion had happened a few years ago. In that case, Moldova could serve as a vassal state for the Russians, similarly to Belarus under Lukashenko nowadays, to launch another attack on Ukraine from a different direction. However, Maia Sandu, who won the presidential elections in 2020 and replaced Igor Dodon (who was highly sympathetic towardsMoscow), set the country’s course towards Western integration. The snap parliamentary elections in 2021 cemented the course as the pro-Western parties won. The government, the parliament and the president are currently working jointly towards the same goal: membership in the European Union.
Moldova gained the EU candidacy status on June 23rd 2022, receiving the green light for its European goals. The unprecedently swift decision of the EU was crucial in the midst of the war in Ukraine. This was a clear signal that Moldova was moving out from the Russian orbit toward membership in the EU, and the EU welcomed its efforts. The results of the last elections in Moldova are signaling strong support for EU membership among the population, but pro-Russian forces will exploit the current unfavorable global socio-economic situation due to the economic downfall during the pandemic for their hybrid warfare. Whether the current course towards membership will remain is questionable, but the political stability for the next two years can bring many positive changes, which can secure support for the pro- EU government in the future.
The population remains politically divided between the East and West. President Sandu banned the Russian ribbons of Saint George as well as the prowar signs „Z“ and „V“. Indeed, pro-Russian voices have amplifiers deeply embedded in the Moldovan society, namely the Orthodox Church and the media. Around 90% of the churches in Moldova are under Russian Orthodox influence, while half of all media is owned by the Russians or pro-Russian groups with an extensive track record from the past decades of working towards a pro-Russian narrative. Although their voices are not strong yet, as the population opposes the war, the sympathy towards Ukraine can change due to high inflation and socio-economic hardship. The future course of the country will rely on the new elites and new politicians. And they can rely on vast international support, including financial one. Pro-Russian attitudes are present not only in Transnistria but also in other parts of Moldova too, namely in Gagauzia. Russian state media remains dominant. Although the Moldovan government is working relentlessly to reform the country, there is the elephant in the room: Transnistria. The breakaway state effectively blocked and continues to block Moldova from any pursuit of EU or NATO membership. Would the EU import with Moldova`s membership a new territorial issue that is closely tied to Russia?