Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

How the presidential election in Moldova will affect Ukrainian-Moldovan relations

Maia Sandu, the former Moldovan prime minister won the second round of the presidential election in Moldova held on 15 November. She has a Western education and will be the first woman president in the history of her country. In her interview, Sandu has already announced a course to restore relations with neighboring countries, including Ukraine and Romania. According to Sandu, Kyiv may become the first capital to be visited by the newly elected president. President Zelensky had already met with Maya Sandu in Kyiv when she was Moldova's prime minister. At that time, Volodymyr Zelensky noted that Ukraine would continue to provide full support to Moldova's territorial integrity and to take an active part in the negotiations on the Transnistrian settlement. An important point for the Ukrainian side is that, unlike her predecessor as a President of Moldova, Maya Sandu stated that she supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine over Crimea. The election of a pro-European candidate in Moldova opens a window of opportunity for the development of Ukrainian-Moldovan relations, which were frozen during the term of Igor Dodon and for the solution of the problems accumulated in previous years.

Igor Zhovkva, Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine and Diplomatic Adviser to the President, in his column on «European Pravda» suggested the possibility of establishing a Presidential Council for the annual meetings of the two heads of state. Mr. Zhovkva also stressed the need to combine efforts to restore trade and economic cooperation that has been negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Other representatives of Ukraine also spoke about the need to develop a long-term strategy for Moldova. Bohdan Yaremenko, a member of the parliamentary committee on foreign policy and interparliamentary cooperation, stressed the need for understanding that «preserving Moldova as a state that professes European principles and European integration, and democracy and the rule of law within the country is important for us and ultimately, it will give us the opportunity to solve the Transnistrian problem, and to remove all other issues that we have with Moldova.»[1]

Maya Sandu has declared the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Moldova as one of her foreign policy priorities. She reminded that there was a 1992 agreement between Russia and Moldova on the peacekeeping mission. «But since there is no danger of hostilities for a long time, this mission should be replaced by civilian monitors under the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). This is the position of Moldova, which I emphasize», Sandu said.[2] By the way, this point was spelled out in Yushchenko 's Plan on the Transnistrian conflict resolution, which failed to materialize back then in 2000s.

Given the situation inside Moldova, its economic and institutional weakness, it remains unclear how the Moldovan president will intend to persuade the Russian Federation to withdraw Russian troops from Moldova. Maya Sandu exclusively emphasizes the peaceful scenario of the withdrawal of Russian troops. An access to Transnistria is possible only from the territory controlled by Chisinau and from the territory of Ukraine, so in case of a possible blockade of Russian peacekeepers on both sides, there would be two options. The first is the creation of a corridor for the withdrawal of Russian troops if Kremlin recognizes its defeat. The second scenario is a direct confrontation with Russian troops. Moreover, Russia can start hostilities both against Moldova and Ukraine. In fact, Russia has been waging war against Ukraine for almost seven years. Therefore, even Russian experts consider "breaking the corridor" through Ukrainian territory to be the most acceptable option and a plausible scenario. The Russian edition «Политическое обозрение» («Political Review»), referring to the military expert, Doctor of Science Konstantin Sivkov, reports: «The scenario with the corridor through Ukraine should be a demonstration that Russia will fight to the end. And it is necessary to take over Odessa, landing there a Russian landing party, which will overcome a dozen kilometers to the target to achieve the goal»[3]

However, the probability of such a scenario seems insignificant, since Ukraine itself has repeatedly offered to provide its transport services to withdraw Russian troops from Transnistria. However, it is a different matter when Russia's plans are not just to withdraw Russian troops from Transnistrian enclave but to capture the entire southern part of Ukraine.

Therefore, it is more likely that Maya Sandu will conduct a pragmatic policy, trying to maintain a partnership with the Russian Federation. In confirmation of this, she said in an interview with «European Truth»: «We have a busy agenda with Russia. Many Moldovans work there, and we must provide them with decent working conditions and social protection unless acceptable economic conditions are created at home, in Moldova. I want to unblock exports to Russia, because a number of products are under export ban after Moldova has signed the Association and Free Trade Agreement with the EU. Russian market is importante for some our companies - so I will work to ensure the possibility of exporting to both the EU and Russia.»[4]

Since the party of the current President of Moldova Igor Dodon retains many seats in the Moldovan parliament, the newly elected president faces the task to hold early parliamentary elections in a legal way in the near future, on the wave of popularity, to have the support of the new parliament.

There are prospects for Ukraine and Moldova to develop their relations through the exchange of experiences in implementing reforms, fighting corruption, developing economic and cultural cooperation, as well as building common infrastructure. It is important for Ukraine, which at the present stage has rather difficult relations with a number of neighboring countries, to create a favorable environment around the state. Pro-Western candidate election and further sustainable development in the Republic of Moldova is in Ukraine's strategic interests. Given this, the state leadership needs to lay the foundation for further bilateral cooperation and mutually beneficial cooperation in the framework of regional initiatives, in particular, in the framework of the BSEC (The Black Sea Economic Cooperation), the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, the Eastern Partnership program. At the same time, stable and democratic Moldova with a strong economy will help to reduce Russia's influence in the region. Therefore, Ukraine must take a proactive stance and take the advantage of the opportunities that have emerged following the election of Maya Sandu.